What people of Togo can say about France (3)


Estimated reading time: 11 minutes 

This piece is the third of a three-article series in connection to the GLEN program I’m enrolled in and has originally been published on GLEN Slovakia’s blog. It has been written while I was still completing my internship in Togo, from 15th July to 15th October 2016.

This article is the last piece of a series of three articles written in relation to my 3-months internship in Togo. In the first one, I was explaining why degrowth, in its broad meaning, is a necessity for both the North and South. In this article, I had added an “end note” which consisted on points of views and additions from Togolese people whom I had shared the article with before sending it. It turns out that after sharing the final article to them, I received even more additions, insights, and points of view. So I decided that this piece will be only about what they told me.

I’m doing this because I have the privilege to have a platform of people who can listen to me, via this blog, and all the technology associated to it. I mean to use this privilege in the best way. It’s not that Togolese are “voiceless”, far from it, however they are generally not heard. Or we choose not to hear them.

And many of the Togolese I have met told me: “I wish everyone could think like you in Europe” (in reference to my first article), or “I wish everyone in Europe could hear that” (in reference to what is following now).

The title says “about France” because of the particular influence of France had, and still has, due to the past colonization. But in several aspects, the ideas can be extended to Europe.

I cannot transcribe in the exact words what the Togolese people that I met told me, but I will try to share as precisely as possible the messages I received. I purposefully didn’t fact-checked what was said. I want my fellow Europeans to see what’s in the mind of an ordinary Togolese person today.

  • While our native language is Ewé, speaking French is mandatory in every circumstance at school and in the administration. Nobody can hope to be successful in the media or in politics knowing only Ewé. Ewé is practised only for communication within the family or the community. An educated woman or man who is successful in life is recognized by the quality of her/his French, not by the quality of her/his Ewé. Many artists sing or express themselves in French. Video clips almost always show European or American cities, or borderless luxury (big cars, luxurious villas, pools…). Local cultures, traditions, and ways of life are seen as secondary, having less value, inferior. Schools are exclusively in French.
    You, French people, imagine if Germany won the war. If you had been exploited by the Germans like slaves to work in factories, if Germany had forced you to adopt its administrative and economical model, and then left, at least officially. If, despite the end of occupation, the obligation to speak German was still in place in schools and in the administration, if the administrative model was still the same, if French and your culture was considered as inferior, if German history was more taught in school than your own history, if you knew better how to write German than your own language because French is not taught at school, if the media were almost only in German, if your politicians, despite being perfectly French, were speaking to you in German, if Germany decided itself on the price of your wheat and your grapes that it imports massively for its comfort and daily use, if, in order to eat bread and wine, you had to pay very expensive prices to Germany because only Germany owns the factories to transform wheat in bread, and grapes in wine (reference to coffee and cocoa), if your mother had given you a German name in the hope that it would help get you out of poverty, and allow you to fit more easily into the Germany society. How would you feel? Would all of this sound just to you?All of this wouldn’t be more normal for France in relation to Germany, than it is for Togo in relation to France and its past colonization. If some (powerful) Togolese are themselves responsible for these things, France seems not to see any problem with this, not to feel any shame, and on the contrary, France finds it interest at the economical and cultural level. France, despite all its great ideas, remains an oppressor and an occupation force for Togo, even if this is hidden.
  • Did you know that France sold to Togo railways? France sold both the idea of having railways, so that Togo would modernize, and the railway itself. But economically, Togo was not strong, and couldn’t afford it. So Togo got in debt towards France in order to pay for it. But since Togo was in debt, France imposed its conditions. The railway would not serve to carry people. It would serve to carry uranium from the countryside to the sea. This uranium was supposed to be sold to France, but again, since Togo had to refund the debts, France managed to have the uranium for free. This uranium had one purpose: feeding the nuclear power plants in France. As for the trains, they were old trains that France didn’t know what to do with them. How convenient.
    Cheery on the cake, the French engineers who worked on the spot for the constructions let behind them a good number of kids… because of course they had to fulfill their sexual needs with the locals. Most of these kids were not accepted by their fathers, and were disinherited. Once back in France, they quickly forgot their deeds.
    Today, Togolese people don’t benefit from any kind of train transportation.
  • Anytime an African country put in power a leader that would defy the power of France, France did everything to maintain its position of power. M.Gbagbo in Cote d’Ivoire was put down by France via M.Watara, the leader of the opposition party, who was more in favor of France’s economical interest. As an illustration, there was a big mansion built by the French colonists. After the colonization, Togo had to send money to France to pay the rent. Gbagbo, for example, wanted to stop paying this absurd rent to France.Another example is the M.Khadafi in Lybia. He was one of the only one to hold a free speech on the face of Europe. As soon as he started to threaten Europe’s economic interests, he was put down by France. The “soft” techniques of manipulation or financing opposition groups or rebells having fallen, he was put to death violently.
  • Similarly, France bribes, or use its economic superiority, to force current African leaders to never go against French interests, even if it means impoverishing the people of the country.
  • Prices of exported goods such as coffee, cacao, or cotton are fixed by European countries. Our farmers don’t even get to choose at what price they are going to sell their own products.
  • “Also, please tell your European friends to stop abusing of their economic superiority to have sex with our wifes, girls, husbands, and boys. We have enough of this.”
  • Africa is the trash bin of Europe. In many domains, but especially regarding food and medicines, and technologies. In order to make profit with products otherwise unsellable in Europe, industries sell them in Africa. As a result, “we eat food that makes us sick, and the pills we take to recover are at best little efficient, at worse they make us even sicker”. As for technologies, under the official reason of charity, France send us their old computers that are either totally outdated, or need reparation. But we don’t have the knowledge here to repair them. If you go to the municipality house, you will see, there is a room full of old computers given by France to “help” us. In reality, France just found an “ethical” way to get rid of a burdensome rubbish.
  • Why is it that you French are everywhere, it’s like the planet is yours! What are you doing here? Do you see my shop? I’m working hard everyday to gather money to send my son to Europe. Would you take him with you (when you come back)? Why can you be here in our country, while my son cannot go to yours? And even when I will have enough money, I’m not sure if I will ever be able to obtain a Visa from your country. Do you know that France refuses requests for Visa sometimes for no particular reason? They say there is a quota. How easy was it for you to come here? Can you tell me?
  • In another shop. “Are you French? You know, we should kick you out of our country! You have nothing to do here, you, French people, you, white people. We suffer, we suffer you know!” Since it was the first time I was facing such a frontal speech, I forgot a bit what followed, but the shopkeeper was speaking about the prices of oil, that somehow was too high because of France.

Some facts might not be 100% true, or might be biased. It doesn’t matter. What matters is to understand what some of our fellow human beings think of us, or how they see us. Us, the European (mainly French) people who rarely think twice of what is happening in some African countries.

I am mad at France, I’m mad at my own country. I knew France was not clean on many aspects, but I thought most of those things ended after colonialism. At school, I remember it like this. I hate that I had to go to Togo to learn about that. I hate that it has been hidden to me, despite that I am someone constantly reading about those kind global issues.

Very often I felt shame for being French, speaking the same language of those responsible for this, either in the past and in current days. I also felt sadness for seeing the impacts on my friend’s everyday life. And finally anger, anger against this childish, immature, imperialistic behavior of those in power in France.

Many Togolese people insisted to me on the fact that some Togolese themselves supports this situation. This is true. But who played the game of “divide and conquer” in the first place? Who implemented in the Togolese’s mind the sickness of having always more power and unlimited expansion? Who exploited the existing divisions of various communities? What’s done is done, but I believe the consequences are still present today. And when the richest Togolese exploits their own people even when there is no pressure from France, indirectly I see the hand of France. Am I wrong to think like that?

These topics need to be discussed openly in our societies. There need to be public debates. Getting the false from the right. We need to communicate with one another in both continents.

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About me
I'm passionate about sustainable lifestyles and urban agriculture. I believe that community-supported initiatives and bottom-up policies are key to foster necessary societal changes. I'm an advocate of degrowth, agro-ecology, sharing economy and participatory democracy. Based in Bratislava, Slovakia, I like learning, reading, writing, sharing, hiking, dancing, eating, and celebrating.
Nicolas Giroux
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