Since 2018, the terrorist threat long confined to the Sahel is spreading to the coastal countries of West Africa. For Togo, this risk began to be confirmed on February 15, 2019 during an attack on a customs post, in Nohao, in the Boulgou province of Burkina, close to the Savannah region of Togo. This incident resulted in five victims, including four customs officers and a Spanish priest. This region was hit by several deadly attacks by terrorists on the night of Thursday, July 14 to Friday, July 15, 2022, leaving some twenty people dead and several others seriously injured. They were part of a macabre series of simultaneous attacks that took place in Kpemboli, in the canton of Pogno, in Souktangou, Lidoli and Blamonga. The jihadists left some twenty dead and dozens wounded in their wake.
Unlike the actions of terrorists in the surrounding countries, the particularity of these attacks is that the jihadists did not use firearms, preferring the more traditional use of knives to slit the throats of villagers. These tragedies confirm the intelligence analysis of threats of infiltration by armed gangs wishing to carry out terrorist attacks against localities in the area north of Dapaong.
At sea, the port of Togo’s capital, known to all shipowners for its naturally deep waters, is generally the final destination of only a minority of all ships that are moored there. Most have anchored there, not to take shelter from storms, but from the pirates, mainly Nigerian, who infest the area. They are kept in check by radar and the four patrol boats of the Togolese National Navy that secure the 75 kilometers of the national coastline. The attention paid by Togolese authorities to securing their maritime border becomes a significant argument, a real asset in the regional maritime trade competition. But the problems that this country faces are not only related to the fight against terrorism.
Reminder of recent events in Togo
The Savannah region of Togo borders the eastern and central-eastern regions of Burkina Faso, which are experiencing an increase in attacks attributed to violent extremist groups active in the Sahel.
These are mainly known terrorist groups such as the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), Ansarul Islam, or the Jama’at Nusrat al Islam Wal Muslimeen (JNIM). To address this threat, the Togolese government has adopted several measures, including the creation of the Interministerial Committee for the Prevention and Fight against Violent Extremism on May 15, 2019. This is a non-military mechanism that complements the measures Togo has taken since 2017 to prevent violent extremism on its territory.
As a curative measure, the Togolese government launched Operation Koundjoare in the Savanes region in September 2018. It aims to prevent the infiltration of terrorists on its territory and to strengthen the link between the local population and the defense and security forces through the conduct of actions for the benefit of communities.
According to experts, several vulnerabilities exist in Togo that can be exploited by violent extremist groups to infiltrate the country. The absence or inadequacy of public services in some regions is the major cause and the one most sought after by these terrorist groups. But there is also the relatively weak relationship between the population and the defense and security forces, as well as past conflicts that were poorly managed. These disputes stem from inequality in the distribution of territory, the authority of traditional chieftainship, community tensions, and transhumance. In addition, there are recurring political tensions around the elections that have been held in the country since 2006.
Creation of the Togolese Armed Forces and evolution of the workforce
The Togolese Armed Forces is unevenly distributed throughout Togo. More than half of their strength is located in the capital, while other garrison towns are almost empty. The city of Kara, the former village of the head of state, is the second largest military city in the country with 20.27% of the military personnel.
Since 1961, the Togolese Armed Forces have included the Togolese land Army, the Togolese National Navy, the Togolese Air Force and the Togolese National Gendarmerie. They retain as a colonial heritage their constitution on cultural and ethnic criteria. Of their 14,000 men, 10,000 come from the northern part of the country and the remaining 3,000 from the south. Of these 10,000 men from the north, 7,000 are Kabyè, and of these 3,000 are from Pya, the President’s home village. While the Kabyè make up between 10 and 12 percent of the population, they account for 53.84 percent of the Armed Forces. It is this latter ethnic group that is usually at the head of the various corps and command units.
The Togolese Land Army is the backbone of the Togolese Armed Forces with its 12,212 men. It is composed of infantry and melee units with their support and back-up. The special forces, which make up more than half of the Togolese Land Army, are the real armed wing of the government. With two rapid intervention battalions and a para-commando regiment, this force is reinforced by the Commando Regiment of the Presidential Guard. The latter ensures the close protection of the Head of State.
Finally, the Togolese Land Army is equipped with old-generation Russian, English, German and French armored vehicles. The artillery is American and Russian, and the infantry is French, Belgian, German, Swiss, Russian, Austrian, English, Spanish, Israeli and American. The Togolese National Navy is very small (226 men) compared to the Togolese Land Army. This does not prevent it from being operational to monitor its 55 km of coastline thanks to its 3 patrol boats donated by the Americans and 4 French-made patrol boats.
The Togolese Air Force, made up of 636 men, is marked by a great influence of French machines despite the presence of Canadian and American-made transport aircraft, and German and Italian-made fighter planes.
The Togolese National Gendarmerie is an integral part of the Togolese Armed Forces. It ensures the protection of people and property in rural areas, the surveillance of roads and communication routes and participates in disaster relief. In 2014, Togo chose a professional army to counter external aggression and especially to ensure internal security.
Political guidelines for the fight against terrorist groups
Today, Togo is governed by the son of the former president. Faure Gnassingbé promises to guarantee stability and security in Togo. Insisting that the country is located in a region highly threatened by jihadist pressure, he has decided to counter this threat to ensure the smooth running of development projects.
Togo’s Prime Minister, Mrs. Victoire Tomégah-Dogbé met on Thursday 04 August 2022 with the leaders of political parties to address concerns about insecurity in the country. She unveiled the provisions and measures taken from a security, military, economic and social point of view. Wishing to pool forces to fight effectively against terrorism, it collected proposals from different political sensibilities.
For the political parties, the government must ensure that precariousness is not the breeding ground for terrorism. They want accompanying measures that do not throw young people into the arms of terrorists. They expect real cohesion between the local populations and the defense forces. For them, everything must be done with respect for fundamental rights and equity. Focusing only on the savannah region is a mistake in their eyes, but continuing to fight against poverty throughout the country is an absolute necessity.
External operations and foreign aid
Since 2014, the Togolese Armed Forces have been participating in external operations while ensuring their mission of defense of national integrity. Togo is present in many theaters of operation. In Ivory Coast, Chad or Haiti, Togolese soldiers, members of UN or African Union peacekeeping forces are praised for their professionalism in crisis management. A contingent of 250 men is in Birao in the Central African Republic; another 200 were based in Abeche, Chad. Togo is also in Ivory Coast as part of United Nations Operation in Ivory Coast with 309 troops deployed. The Togolese Armed Forces also has military observers in Liberia and Darfur.
Jihadism in the north, piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, Togo plays the security card and is still a refuge for its neighbors. The days when the populations of West Africa only knew about jihadist phenomena through television screens seem to be over. Burkina-Faso, Benin, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Togo have all been hit by deadly attacks.
Today, terrorists are asserting their goal of infiltrating the coastal countries of Africa. Even if this project has not yet been fully achieved, they have set up bases in some places and are carrying out attacks in others. Each state, at its own level, is trying to fight against this jihadist network which is constantly expanding its tentacles. Faced with the recurrence of terrorist attacks, it seems increasingly obvious that West African nations must converge their actions for greater effectiveness. However, these countries do not seem to realize the cross-border scope of the phenomenon.
Each state mobilizes its defense forces in isolation to secure its territory. If this approach were effective, terrorism would not be gaining so much ground in such a short time. Violent extremism is a new threat for the coastal countries of West Africa. The experiences of neighboring countries and the lessons they have learned could help them in this fight. However, it demonstrates first of all that terrorism is not only a military matter. Having the support of its populations is essential. To obtain it, fairness in the treatment of internal affairs, the fight against poverty, and the development of infrastructures are essential to erase feelings of injustice.