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Last Updated: Thursday, 24 February, 2005, 14:25 GMT
Lome looking the worse for wear
By Elizabeth Blunt
BBC News, Lome

Togo has endured sanctions from Western countries for more than a decade, and its once glossy little capital, Lome, is looking the worse for it.

Togolese sitting outside a closed Lome business
Togo's economy has suffered from years of sanctions
The paint is peeling, what was once shiny is now dusty, and weeds are sprouting on the beach.

Over the course of President Gnassingbe Eyadema's 38-year rule, Togo evolved from a military dictatorship to a multiparty state, but the same man stayed immovably in power.

Protests from the European Union about human rights abuses and rigged elections had little effect.

Togo got no more European Union aid and was also out of favour with the World bank and the International Monetary Fund.

It was only shortly before the President Eyadema's death that the EU finally started thinking about resuming aid.

Now things are back where they started. But Togo's economic problems have other roots as well. Lome has always done a lot of business.

The town is one big market place, with duty free shops, supermarkets, and an army of petty traders hawking everything from cough sweets and sticking plasters to smoked fish.

Bypassed

Its businesswomen were once so notoriously rich that they got the nickname "Nana Benz".

A woman carrying a bowl of fresh produce in Lome
Lome's once successful businesswomen were nicknamed "Nana Benz"

But much of the trade was built on the economic problems of its neighbours. When there was nothing to buy in Ghana, Lome was the place to go shopping.

Import restrictions in Nigeria meant more business opportunities for the Togolese.

Banned goods poured in through Lome before being smuggled across the Nigerian border.

Now that neighbouring countries have normal economies, Lome is not needed any more.

Everywhere in the market the story is the same - no-one has money to buy; there is no business.

Change

In the three weeks since the start of the political crisis, life in Lome has already developed a new rhythm.

On demonstration days the city is tense, the streets deserted apart from the protesters, the shop-fronts shuttered.

Soldiers and gendarmes gather in groups in every patch of shade.

The demonstrations have brought out thousands of people calling for political change and an end to the Gnassingbe dynasty, and there have been a number of violent incidents.

But just a day later, and Lome is back to being a sleepy little town, with nothing but some charred patches in the road to show the demonstrations ever happened.

Girls plait each other's hair, boys play football on the beach, women roast plantain on street corners, and men set the world to rights in Lome's many beer bars.

But everyone is listening to the radio, tuning from station to another, to catch the latest twist in the unfolding political drama.




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