On May 13, the West African country of Togo experienced its first deadly terrorist attack. According to the government, jihadists killed eight soldiers and injured a number of others. If Togo is to face this threat, it must adopt democratic reforms.
West Africa has become a sanctuary for various armed groups, such as Al Qaeda, Islamic State, and their affiliated groups. The Sahel region appears to be one of three main geographical areas of operation for terrorist groups on the African continent. According to the Global Terrorism Index 2022, the Sahel counts three – Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso – of the ten countries with the most significant increases in deaths from terrorism. Moreover, it has the world’s fastest-growing terrorist organization, Nusrat al-Islam, and the world’s most lethal terrorist group, the Islamic State of West Africa.
Togo has largely been spared compared to its neighbors. The recent cross-border attack that killed Togolese soldiers last week occurred near the border with Burkina Faso. It was the second attack in the last six months. It is now undeniable that Togo is a clear target for groups operating in Burkina Faso. The recent attack should resonate with Togolese leaders as a warning and a call for action.
This threat is an existential danger to Togo and its citizens. The time for declarations of good intentions must give way to concrete actions and measures. The fight against terrorist groups requires new strategies. Togo needs to increase its military and security expenditures, acquire modern equipment, create a national terrorism advisory system, and give special training to security personnel.
It also requires cooperation with various partners, especially ECOWAS, the Accra Initiative, and France and other countries. However, close cooperation with the United States is critical. The U.S. has more resources, experience, highly efficient training capacity, and a strong commitment to fighting terrorism.
During his visit to Togo last year, U.S. Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of U.S. Africa Command, was open to establishing a partnership with Togo through more “focused bilateral training and assistance.” The partnership will give Togo valuable expertise in intelligence gathering, combat experience, special forces training, and the acquisition of modern security equipment.
Poor, and politically unstable, Togo is vulnerable to future attacks. Its border with Burkina Faso is less populated, extremely poor, and less developed, which makes it easier for raids by terrorist groups. Although the government has made improvements in infrastructure, transport, health care, and logistics, most of the population still lives on less than $1.25 a day.
On the political side, President Faure Gnassingbé, who replaced his father in 2005, after 38 years in power, has embraced authoritarianism. The opposition leader, Agbéyomé Kodjo, has accused the Togolese authorities of widespread fraud. The opposition accused the government of fraud during the previous presidential elections and demanded the end of the ruling family dynasty that has been in place since 1967.
A divided and mismanaged nation will eventually fall apart. In this fight against jihadi terrorism, the Togolese government should adopt democratic reforms that can lead to national cohesion. The intimidation or imprisoning of journalists, politicians, and civil society groups whose views do not align with the government must stop. Democratic reforms will help create trust in the government and its actions to fight this threat.
The fight against terrorism is grueling and never-ending. West African countries must take the threat seriously. Togo will undoubtedly experience more attacks in the future. There is a critical need to work with countries like the United States who have experience combating jihadi groups in Africa. But importantly, the Biden administration will be reluctant to engage with Togo if the government continues to crack down on politicians, civil society groups, and journalists.
*Komlan Avoulete holds a Master’s degree in Diplomacy and International Relations, specializing in International Security and Africa, from Seton Hall University. He is a freelance writer at International Policy Digest, where this article was published.