Dresden to go

Togo is a small country occupying a long and narrow strip. It is sandwiched between Ghana and Benin, with Burkina Faso looming from the north. This sliver of a country, however, is surprisingly packed with sandy beaches, dense forests, swampy plains, coastal lagoons, and bushy savannahs. Togo has national parks that are home to bio-diverse tropical birds and safari wildlife. In Togo, you’ll also find good examples of colonial architecture and ancient sites that have earned UNESCO World Heritage designations.

Togo faces the coast of the Gulf of Guinea, enjoying a clear opening to the South Atlantic Ocean. The country has a diverse landscape of hills, coasts, flat plains, rivers and lagoons. The most important river is the Mono, which forms Togo’s border with Benin. The larger rivers of Mono, Oti, and Ogou flow year-round, but there are several smaller streams that dry up during droughts.

Togo’s best tourist attractions are its national parks, which include the Fazao National Park near Sokode, the Fosse aux Lions (or Lions’ Den) southwest of Dapaong, and the Keran National Park in Kara. These parks offer wildlife viewing of elephants, buffalos, antelopes, and hundreds of tropical birds.

Another major attraction is the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Koutammakou in Togo’s northeast. This 50,000 hectare site features Takienta tower houses that provide a great example of a traditional, yet still-living-and-active settlement of the Batammariba people. The buildings are two stories high and feature a spherical form founded on a cylindrical base. The thatched roofs are conical in shape and flat. The houses are grouped together and surrounded by ceremonial spaces used for the Batammariba’s practice of their longstanding rituals and beliefs.

Colonial architecture and atmosphere can be viewed and experienced at historical Aneho, the old colonial capital of Togo. It includes the 19th century Protestant Church, Peter and Paul Church, and the German Cemetery.

Togoville is also worth a visit. It is where the African ruler, Mlapa III, signed the 1884 colonial treaty with the Germans. Copies of the treaty are available at the village, which is decorated with a colonial Roman Catholic Cathedral and several voodoo shrines.

Outdoor sports enthusiasts will enjoy the lakeside resort of Porto Segura, where tourists flock to swim, fish, sail, and water ski, among other entertaining endeavors. Lake Togo is another popular destination for water sports. The best beaches are around Lome, which is lined with several modern hotels. While the sea is unsafe there, the beaches all have pools for people to swim. Whale-watchers should visit the Gulf of Benin and watch the whales migrate in October. Scenic hiking is best done around Kapilme where trails traverse through Togo’s hill country.

The climate in Togo is generally tropical. The north has temperatures that fluctuate from 18°C (65 °F) to 38°C (100 °F). The south is typically humid with temperatures averaging between 23°C (75 °F) to 32°C (90 °F). Agricultural crops in Togo are quite sensitive to the succession of rainy and dry seasons. In the north, wet season occurs from April to October, followed by months of virtually no rain. In the south, there is a rainy season between April and July, followed by a second shorter season from October to November. The major crops are harvested during the dry season from November to March.

More than 40 different languages and dialects are spoken in Togo and many different religions are also practiced. The mountains in the north have kept groups largely separated from each other, allowing distinct cultures to develop and flourish. The largest group is the Ewe, who live in the southern portions of the country. They are generally the most wealthiest and best educated, and live in the border areas near Ghana. Most of them are farmers, but a few of them are involved in business and trade. The Akposo and the Aria are the next biggest groups. Both live in the mountains in the central regions of Togo. Other groups include the Kotokoli, Bassari, Kabrai, and the Konkomba, all of whom live in the north.

Not much is known about Togo’s history prior to the arrival of the Portuguese in the late 15th century. It is believed the region was settled by the Ewe and various other tribes from Nigeria, Benin and Ghana between the 11th and 16th centuries. Unfortunately, from the 16th to 18th century, Togo became known as the “Slave Coast” for the numerous raids for slaves conducted by Europeans.

In 1884, Togo signed a treaty with the Germans, which allowed missionaries to settle the north. The Germans became the colonial rulers of Togo until British and French troops invaded in the early days of WWI. When the war ended, Togo was divided into a British and French section. In 1960, Togo was granted independence.

In its early days following independence, the country experienced a few military coups before Eyadema assumed the presidency. He made Togo a one-party state in 1969, which it remained until 1991 when Eyadema was stripped of his powers by a national congress and plans for a multiparty government were initiated. Eyadema again won both the 1993 and 1998 elections, but largely because no one was willing to oppose him. When he died in 2005, he was succeeded by his son, Faure Gnassingbe, who won a 2005 election that has been alleged fraudulent by his opposition. The EU has cut off aid to Togo due to its human rights record under the dictatorship of Eyadema and continues to question the legitimacy of its commitment to democracy. Many people have died and continue to flee to neighboring countries as a result of the political violence surrounding the presidential election.