Comprised of about seven million people (including only about 325,000 internet users), Togo represents one of the least-developed countries in Africa – and perhaps in the world. It therefore makes for a fascinating case study on the most intractable problems of technological governance and development, since it can be observed at its earliest stages and against severe economic and political stressors. The nation gained independence from France in 1960. While the official Togolese language is French, a number of local languages are spoken, and the majority of religious practitioners observe local religions, with Christianity and Islam retaining minority presences.
Togo’s slow introduction into global marketplaces, population flows, and cultural interactions recalls its seventeenth- through nineteenth-century history as a major slave-trade hub, as well as its struggles after colonialism. Seven years after its independence, Gnassingbé Eyadéma took over leadership of the country in a coup. He proceeded to remain in power until he died in 2005 – when his son took o
ver. Recent and ongoing political unrest has accompanied economic uncertainty in the country. Contributing to this uncertain environment has been the lack of a cohesive national policy on ICTs. Though it lacks a unified policy, the Togolese government insists that access to ICTs (especially to mobile telephony but excluding broadband internet) a political priority. Meanwhile, despite the continuing efforts of smaller institutions such as the national universities and international schools that have roots and programs in Togo, popular demand for broadband service has not established a foothold in mainstream discourse.
About half of the population lives below the international poverty line (subsistence on $1.25/day or less). Only about 5.4% percent of the population are counted as internet users by the ITU (meanwhile, the average rate in Africa is between 12-13%). These users can connect through one of two ISPs. The capital and largest city, Lomé, is a landing point for several of the major submarine cables at the coast, which may lead to more and quicker ICT development down the line. Indeed, hundreds of cybercafes dot the city’s streets. However, broadband internet subscription remains entirely unaffordable for that impoverished majority of the population, especially in the upland rural areas away from the coast. Although it hosts a monopoly on landline and broadband services, Togo’s market for satellite services is partially liberalized. This allows a measure of competition, one outcome of which is to drive down costs. That change can be observed in the adoption of mobile telephony, where nearly 40% of the population now keeps a cell phone with service, up from only about 6 percent eight years ago. Togo’s location on the Bight of Benin places it in the middle of a dense field of satellite signal coverage, and this strengthens the potential for mobile phone internet access to continue to grow. Though further data on the country’s technological development will brighten or darken this outlook, it is clear that Togo is approaching a time of significant change, since its ongoing political and economic shifts continue to roil the institutions and standard practices that comprise its status quo.