Togo is a small slice of land streaking down the West of Africa. From sandstone plateaus in the north, down through the mountains running along its spine, sits the capital, Lomé, on the Gulf of Guinea. Each day, large giant shipping containers use the city’s deep-water port, with incoming goods being taken on to Mali, Burkina Faso, Nigeria and exports such as coffee, cocoa and clinker going out via the Cape of Good Hope and beyond. But the country of just 7 million, more than half of whom are under 25, has big ambitions: it wants to build on its infrastructure to become a global gateway into the region. It wants to become more connected to the global economy, more open and, in doing so, increase the prosperity of its people and those in the region.
I visited the country shortly before they took on the chairmanship of ECOWAS – the economic community of West African states – with plans to enhance trade and lift barriers across the region. Within hours of arriving at Lomé’s glistening new airport, I’d seen a raft of first rate infrastructure, including the port, which plays such a huge part in powering an economy that has grown by 5% across each of the last three years.
I also met with Ministers from across the government, who explained their vision for development to me and their plans to invest in health, education and agriculture. It was immediately clear that although this country has its challenges – like anywhere else – it is packed with potential and I’m delighted that the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change will be partnering with the government to help them achieve this.
The Institute will have a team of advisers working in the capital to support the development of a long-term programme to meet the ambitions of the government. In particular, we will focus on increasing Togolese people’s access to electricity and creating jobs for them in new industries. We work with line ministries and at the centre of government, leader to leader – through the advice and support of Tony Blair – and shoulder to shoulder – with our advisers embedded in the leader’s office.
This provides us with great insight into the communities we help serve, which includes more than 10 African nations to date and many other developing nations around the world. By supporting governments to deliver better and more widespread access to health services, education and energy, it has resulted in dramatic improvements in the lives of millions of people. For example, in Guinea we supported the government to provide electricity to around three million more people through the Kaleta Dam hydroelectric project, while creation of the Nigerian Development Bank aims to provide credit for 200,000 small and medium enterprises in its first five years.
Our philosophy is straight forward.
First, we are convinced that the most decisive factor in a country’s success is the quality of its governance and the ability of its leadership to deliver on its priorities. For proof, you only need to look at the Korean peninsula – good governance is the difference between a thriving modern state in the South and impoverishment and even occasional famine in the North. Too often, donors and international partners believe government should take all of the blame for a country's problems and own none of the solution. We believe that governments and ministers in countries we work in are integral to their success, which is why we work in partnership with them.
Second, good governance is about delivering results. It is about reforms that benefit the people in the countries we work, and this is why building local capacity is a core component of everything we do. We want to help support the skills, systems and structures that help lock in reform for the long-term. In Togo most of our staff team will be recruited locally. It's a similar approach that we take in some other countries for example in Ethiopia where the head of our team and more than a dozen others are Ethiopian.
Third, reform has to be government-led, in line with the priorities of the country. In our experience what governments need is support to deliver their reform programme, and not well meaning but ultimately ineffective prescriptive solutions.
And related to that is my final point: context matters. Yes, good ideas can be helpful across multiple countries, and our experience across the continent means we have a wealth of best practice to draw on, but a simple ‘off the shelf’ approach won’t work. We know that for change to work it must be locally owned and driven.
This approach shapes our work across Africa and beyond. If we are to make globalisation work for the many, not just the few, then we have to support governments seeking to deliver reform that benefit their people. That means working alongside leaders to strengthen governance and deliver economic growth that alleviates poverty and changes the lives of citizens for the better.
In Togo, this is what the government is looking to do. It may only be small geographically, but they have big plans to drive jobs and growth not only for the Togolese people, but across the region. It is an important time for the country and we are excited to be working with them as they look to build for the future.