The masses decide the direction of history. Yes it is a cliché. Thanks for observing that. At least you know your cliché’s. And also: thew image is never as bad as reality, especially if you talk about so called African countries with political tension. Examples? My first visit to Nigeria years ago, I did not get the AK47 roadblocks every 200 meters that people prepared me for. I neglected the advice of friends (who had never been to Africa), asking me if a story is worth my life. I went and I met a crazy country, but not the roadblocks. And I have had the experience before and often. Anyway: travelling to Togo is was prepared for soldiers and harassment during election time. The immigration officer in neighbouring country Ghana had already warned me when he asked my profession. Don’t tell the neighbours that you are a journalist, every year journalists are disappearing. I laughed and thanked him for his advice when he returned my passport over the counter.
Hours later, I got a warm welcome, again, by a very friendly immigration officer at the Lomé international airport. I had to fly because the overland border was closed, not very promising, indeed. Of course the usual bureaucracy (‘We can not allow you in, when you can’t show us the boarding pass of the plane you were on, sir’, the plane with the engine on meters behind me).
-‘Could you please join me to my office?’
-‘Sure sir, I understand.’
The next day, elections passed. Calm and as the BBC reported with long qeus at the polling stations which is a reason to believe that a high percentage of people went out to vote. No violence reported, only some harassment around the border, which is a less than ten minute-moto-taxidrive from the city center.
Days passed, without any violence being reported. From the capital Lomé, I travelled over well maintained tarmac-roads, hardly counted any potholes nor roadblocks manned by angry drunken soldiers asking for money. Not that you would expect when you hear the name Togo? Excellent! My starting point is an average Kenyan road, that is like it has been bombarded recently and is full with roadblocks. Anyway, I stayed in hotels, that served nice breakfast, had rooms with cold and hot water and a friendly staff that understands hospitality.
Days later, I returned to the capital and I got a different feeling. Everybody in capital Lomé seemed to be full of fear the evening the results of the elections were to be announced. The beautiful waitress of the pub were I enjoyed a cold Eku-beer, came to me, bowed over, looked me deep in my eyes, and asked me extremely friendly with an extremely beautiful smile if i could leave ‘Parce que on ferme tot ce soir. On attend les résultats.’ I gave her my best ‘Pas de problème’ since long.
Arriving at the hotel, I found a panicking old white madam from the reception who called me on my room to tell me in a high voice ‘de pas sortir’, not to go out, or even better leave the country now, because even last time ‘they’ came and destroyed part of the hotel. I could not tell her my profession, so I accepted her advice calm with a polite smile and ‘Merci madam’. Coming from the North, I had not felt anything like tension. Talking with people about the elections, they seemed to be happy that they were able to bring out their vote, although they knew that their voice would not make a difference. And they told me and it seemed that people were discussing politics in the open. At least the president had brought some good things I learned: a year ago there was no water, there no electricity on a lot of places, but now there is. I saw police officers, ok, but they seemed friendly and not of the bullying-bulldog-type. It seemed that the whole nation was ready not to spoil this time. It’s the Togo-complot against the West 😉