When the African Sun Goes Down

— By Charles from Togo

This project was completed as part of a special course on electricity in partnership with the Enel Foundation.

The sun is often already present at eight o’clock, and sometimes even earlier in almost all the towns and villages of Togo. The sun is energy, energy that allows every living being to move, work, and produce results. Can life continue after sunset?

Many parts of the cities of Togo and Africa are not electrified. These localities have primary schools, colleges, and sometimes high schools. For programs that require electricity, students in these environments are exempted. When evening comes and they have to learn, these students study mostly by streetlights installed along certain streets for those who are lucky to have one close. For those who do not, the exercises are treated, the revisions are done, and the exams are prepared with oil lamps or lanterns. This is not without consequences on their results. Today, there is a decline in the level of schooling in rural communities.

What about people living in areas without electrification? The night begins earlier and lasts longer. Part of the long night, which usually begins at 7 pm, could have been used to prolong the activities of the day and thus contribute to the economic development of the localities, the country, and even the continent. Moreover, the populations would be more flourishing with the diversity of entertainment activities. The lack of electricity is a brake on development not only at the local level, but also at the national and even the continental level.

“When there is a power cut, we stop production,” says a Togolese company official who produces organic chocolate. The problem of load-shedding affects most professionals: dressmakers, hairdressers, computer scientists, and companies. The peak period is from December to March. The energy used in Togo comes from hydroelectricity, but Togo imports the energy of its neighbors, Benin and Ghana. With demand being greater than supply, especially in the dry season, when heat is at its height (December to March), the load-shedding becomes untimely, leading to a drop in production and thus in income.

Fortunately, the affected people are looking for solutions. Many have turned to alternative sources, namely the generator, and some to renewable energies such as the start-up Solar Africano. Solar Africano offers a solar kit to the inhabitants of villages at a very affordable cost and its payment is spread over three years. The government has also embarked on a solar-based rural electrification project.

When the African sun sets, indeed everything stops. But with the technology and power of sunlight for up to 10 hours a day, more energy can be provided to raise the level of study in rural areas, development of economic activities, both in towns at the time of shedding and in non-electrified villages. We can make the African sun shine after it disappears from the horizon to make the smile last longer.

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Togo Women Anguish for Democracy

farida (1) — By Farida from Togo

In a country of 6 million people, the over half who live in poverty are the backbones of the society: the most abused, the most neglected, the most discriminated against, yet, the hardest workers. 


These women bear the cost of bad governance at all levels. From the difficult conditions in which they deliver their babies on the floor in public hospitals that lack the bare minimum including beds, to working long hours at farms or in the markets just to make enough money so they can school their children that the government has abandoned, to supporting their jobless husbands who officially are the bread winners but are still awaiting a call for an office job at one of the zillion companies they have applied to, these strong, resilient and powerful ladies are the women of Togo. 


In August 2012, they made history and received the long-sought attention on the abuse they have been going through with a 5 decades old regime that only operates through brutality. After protesting every week for 2 consecutive years without having an iota of attention from international medias and institutions to look into the severe human rights abuses that they and their families had been facing, these ladies decided to take action. “A sex strike! Who does that?” – a question I heard a political commentator in the United States ask when the news blew out. Togolese women called for a sex strike on the 25th of August 2012 and it was the very first time in the history of my country that an article reporting an event happening in Togo was published on over 400 news sites in over 80 countries from Australia to Japan, from the United States to Ecuador. Yes! It took a while but I did count every single one of them on Google News.


For the first time, the world paid attention to us. The world listened and questioned the motive behind such an uncommon political action. For the first time, major international medias brought Togo from the “Who Cares Planet” and acknowledged the suffering of its people. As a young 22 years old activist who has been involved in the struggle for democracy in my country from a very tender age, for me that was a victory. None of the hundreds of letters we sent to foreign countries and international institutions ever worked. None of the hundreds of protests we organized in every corner of the world as Togolese in the diaspora ever worked. None of the massive killings and incarcerations our people have been going through were shocking enough for the world to share our pain. It took the self-dignity of our mothers, our sisters and our aunties who had to organize naked protests and call for a sex strike for the world to pause for a second and say, “Oh, this is serious!” And that is the reality we are living in. 


We are living in a world in which women have no voice unless sex is involved and this applies to politics even more. The war in the Democratic Republic of Congo that had 7 million people killed (the deadliest war since World War II) only gained attention in recent years when cases of massive rapes were reported. In Congo, rape is used as a weapon of war not because the warlords and rapists are in dire need of sex but because they want attention from the world and they know that violating women is the best and fastest way to get noticed and make a statement. 


The events in Togo left a trail that followed me wherever I went to raise awareness on torture and abuses in my country. People ask me if that’s not the country whose women called for a sex strike. We used to be invisible and would still have been if the women of Togo at some point in their life didn’t feel so powerless that they had to put their cultural values aside and step out naked in front of cameras and discuss the most tabooed topic within their society: sex. At first, I was proud of them. I still am and am grateful for their courage and their sense of selflessness as I know they took such steps for us, the youths, their kids who they so wish to save from the misery and the abuses they have faced their whole life. But after the buzz, I reflected on the whole thing and my heart started aching. It devastates me to live in society that only gives value to what’s between women’s legs. And I hope that someday, the daughter I might have or never have will not need to go that far for her voice to be heard.

Stolen Hope

farida (1)

— By Farida from Togo

On February 5th, 2005, the national television of my country, Togo, went blank, only showing an image of the president. The neighborhood went silent, shops closed, lights were turned off, doors shut: there was panic everywhere. This was the first time ever in our country that all televisions stations went blank showing only the picture of the president. Rumours started circulating that maybe he had died. A neighbor came to our house and confirmed the rumors to my father, the president had passed away. Gnassingbe Eyadema was his name, and he ruled Togo with an iron fist for 38 years. He was the most feared person in the country, and at some point he was considered immortal. 
Deep in my heart I was relieved because I had longed for so many years to see my country freed from that dictator. I had silently prayed for it every time my father or one of his activists’ friends was jailed and tortured by the military at the command of Eyadema. I wanted to celebrate that moment with my dad, who was sitting in the dark; it was dark throughout the entire capital city because of a power outage  For the first time in my life, I saw my dad crying. I was very much surprised because I expected him to be relieved. This was the man who had jailed him numerous times in the past, tortured him for months, broken thirteen of his ribs, 9 of his toes, expelled him from the university for life, and killed several of his friends. I asked, “Dad why are you crying?” and he replied, “All my life, I was hoping that one day, Togo would be freed from this regime and this man will face trial for all the atrocities he has committed. And when I think that he gets to die, and my friends who were killed will never have justice, I feel devastated”. All I could tell him was sorry. At 8pm, the General of the Army appointed the son of the deceased president as the new head of state, even though our constitution states clearly that the president of the National Assembly was to take over when the president dies. Everybody was shocked and confused by this, a military coup, and this was the beginning of a new horror story in Togo. However, thanks to pressure from the opposition and protests, the regime finally accepted to allow the Vice President of the National Assembly take over as president, because the President of the Assembly was exiled to neighboring Benin. Elections were announced for the 24th of April. 
The electoral campaign of 2005 was extremely dramatic. The opposition formed a coalition to support one candidate and all predictions were pointing at his victory. Never in my life have I witnessed such vivacity in my country. Every campaign day was a celebration with almost everyone wearing yellow, which was the color of the main opposition party. “Ditia Kpoe Leyi,” was the slogan for the opposition militants, and it substituted as a greeting wherever you went. Then came Sunday April 24th 2005; the very day we believed would forever mark our history, like April 27th did when we got our independence 55 years earlier. Polls were to be opened at 7am, and by 5 in the morning polling stations were already overcrowded. People were determined to vote, and stay to protect their votes. There was lots of excitement and militants were touring polling stations to report on the voting activities and the trends at each station. At 5pm, polling stations closed and the vote counting started. At the station in my neighborhood, people gathered outside the school classrooms that served as voting rooms to hear the polling agents give the results. The screamings that came with the announcement that the opposition candidate, Bob Akitani, was the winner of that station, was close to the screaming that followed the victory of our soccer team at the African Cup of Nations qualifications. People were singing and dancing, and people all throughout Lome, the capital, were celebrating the victory of their candidate. Although I was 15 and didn’t vote, I also took part in the celebration. That was without knowing the worse had yet to happen.
As people were chanting victory songs in the whole city, militaries attacked every single polling station, teargassed and arrested numerous people, and seized the ballots. We were all in shock and couldn’t believe what had just happened. Two days later, at night on Tuesday April 26, which was the day before the celebration of Togo’s 45th independence day, militaries were sent in all the opposition stronghold neighborhoods to “neutralize” the youths, as the electoral commission was declaring the son of the deceased president, Faure Essozimna Gnassingbe, the winner of the elections against all predictions. Over 1,000 Togolese people were killed that night. In a country of 6 million inhabitants, that was a huge number. Over 60 thousand people fled the following days to Ghana and over 30 thousand fled to Benin. The city was torn completely and there was smoke, blood, and debris all over the place. On May 3rd 2005, I was reading about the victims of the massacres in a newspaper when I found the name of two students from my high school. One was in his freshman year, like me, and the other was a senior. Like about 1,300 other Togolese, their only crime was to live in a neighborhood tagged as an “opposition stronghold.” 
I was angered, sad, and had never felt that helpless in my life. And whenever I imagined that it could have been me, or a sibling of mine, I couldn’t help but cry. That was when I started writing about dictatorship, military repression, and human rights abuse in Togo. I wanted the world to know about us, to hear our stories, to feel our pain and our helplessness. From then on I have never stopped, and as of today I have published over 400 articles on Togo and have become one of the most known activists from my country. When I started blogging in 2009, I never expected my voice to be heard. I was just a 19 year old trying to express her anger against injustice and hoping for change to come. But the more I wrote, the more audience I built as people were connecting to my stories. People will contact me and ask me to write about their stories, because they are afraid to do it themselves. They assumed that I was not afraid of anything, because the multiple threats and attempts on my life never stopped me from voicing my opinion. But the truth is, I too am scared. I am scared of crying just like my father for failing to one day bring justice to my friends. And whenever I think of that moment, I say: “Farida, you must keep going. You must keep going, you must keep going.”
Writing not only gave me a voice, it also made me an opinion leader, and my attempt to reject that leadership role was a failure. I became someone that others wanted to hear from and seek guidance from. Whenever there is a political turmoil in Togo, people will reach out to me to seek my opinion. So I am trying to improve myself so that my words will not create more division, but bring more closure and have an impact for the betterment of my community.