To Go or Not, Togo?

At less than 40 miles and just over an hour by road, the distance between Grand-Popo and Lomé is so short, it’s possible to live in the quiet Beninese fishing town and work in the bustling Togolese metropolis, as thousands do everyday, traversing the border. Yet the process of crossing the frontier, of leaving Benin and entering Togo, and vice versa, is so fraught with frustration, it unnecessarily lengthens the journey and dampens any enthusiasm for the fallacy of frictionless travel, the reality of a borderless ECOWAS region ultimately betraying the dream.

Nevertheless, we arrived in Lomé by bush taxi at around 8.30 on a Saturday morning, when the hustle and bustle of commercial activity was nearing its peak and the taxis, taxi-bikes, and trikes were vying for supremacy on the city’s streets.

Our schedule was unusually tight. We were due to meet seven women who’d been selected by our fixer, Charles, all of whom, he assured us, were eager to talk. But soon after sitting down with the first, it became apparent that it would not be possible to speak with them all, that each of the women deserved the time and attention that would enable them to tell their stories and do them justice. 

Here’s a snippet of the stories we heard:

  • Madam Kouevi: A rebel spirit who came of age in an era of strict gender conformity, she spoke of how she had dreams of becoming a mechanic or a soldier, but her father and brother forbade her from pursuing these male careers and she became a trader instead.
  • Madam Djan: Born in Togo of Ghanaian Krobo heritage, Madam Djan, “at least 75 years of age,” has clear memories of Togo’s independence because she was “this tall and hadn’t yet grown breasts,” but decries the state of the country and the lack of progress since.
  • Madam Ayabavi’s parents were actively involved in Togo’s struggle for independence. Her mother, who was one of a group of women activists, was brutally abused by the authorities. Now in her 90s, Madam Ayabavi believes her life then was better than her children’s lives now.
  • Madam Ameyo: Describing marriage as suffering, the mother of 10, with four children who have pre-deceased her, says life has taught her many painful lessons. When asked what her advice to young women would be, she warned, “It’s better to be alone than to be in a bad marriage.” 

These are just a small selection of the stories that Togo’s senior women have to tell. 

With a coastline of just 32 miles and a population of just over eight million, Togo is one of the smallest countries in Africa, as well as one of the narrowest countries in the world. Sandwiched between Ghana to the west and Benin to the east, we travel through Togo to get from our base in Ghana, to one of the four countries that are part of this project, Benin.

Yet Togo is not one of the countries supported by our grant, and we would like to take advantage of our proximity to the country and our contacts to incorporate Togolese women’s stories into the oral archive.

Support us to include Togo as part of this project. Donate to our crowdfunder at Your contribution will enable us to interview more women with fascinating stories to tell to get a more complete picture of the many ways in which #africanwomenarehistory. Visit

Image by Seth Avusuglo

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