Lome (Agenzia Fides) – Seven candidates are running for Head of State in the elections that open today, March 4, in Togo. There are little more than 3 million voters called to the polls. The strongest candidates are the incumbent President Faure Gnassingbé Eyadéma, candidate of the “Rassemblement du Peuple Togolais” (RPT, the former sole party in power for 43 years), and his main opponent Jean-Pierre Fabre of the “Union des Forces de Changement” (UFC).
Faure Gnassingbé is the son of Gnassingbé Eyadéma, who ruled the country from 1967 until his death in February 2005. Immediately after the death of his father, Faure Gnassingbé, was chosen as his successor by the army, but was forced to resign under pressure from international and domestic opposition protests. He was later elected head of state in April 2005, in a poll disputed by the opposition and marked by violence.
Togo was a German colony until 1914 when, after the outbreak of First World War, it was conquered by French and British troops. In 1922, it was divided into two mandates, one French and one English, and in 1946, it was submitted to the protection of the UN. In 1956, British Togo choose to be incorporated into Ghana, and French Togo gained its independence in 1960. In 1963, its first president, Sylvanus Olympio, was killed in coup fomented by Gnassingbé Eyadéma, who seized power in 1967, with another coup that ousted Nicolas Grunitsky, who succeeded Olympio. Eyadema was proclaimed Head of State and confirmed by a plebiscite in 1972 and re-elected as sole candidate in 1979 and 1986. In the 1990s, because of domestic and international pressure, other candidates were permitted to run in the presidential elections, but Eyadema has always been the confirmed winner.
Togo has an area of 56,785 kilometers ², a population of 6.5 million people whose average income is 400 dollars. 60% of Togo's population live below the poverty line, with half of the poor living in extreme poverty.
In the late 1990's, agriculture accounted for 35% of the GDP and employed 75% of the workforce. Most farmers are small farmers who use traditional methods. More than one third of the population lives in the southern coastal region, home to the capital Lomé. In recent years, the capital was affected by strong urbanization caused by an exodus from the countryside. At the end of 2000, Lomé employed 1 million people, with an annual increase of 6%. The growth rate of 3.1% is one of the highest in the world and leads to a population density of 72 inhabitants per km ², which exceeds that of most West African countries.
The Catholic Church has 1,606,000 faithful, divided into 7 dioceses. There are 8 bishops, 426 diocesan priests, 141 religious priests, 167 religious, 844 religious, 5,549 catechists. The Catholic Church runs 206 pre-schools, with 2,969 children, 548 primary schools with 106,547 pupils, 51 secondary schools with 12,826 students, 13 hospitals, 51 clinics, 3 leprosy care centers, for a total of 138 establishments for service and charity. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides 4/3/2010)