Togo is a country with significant regional disparities. In 2016, some 92% of citizens in the capital, Lomé, had access to electricity. Despite improvements made, however, the electrification rate in rural areas was just 6%.
Social development and inclusion is a priority within the government’s national development plan (PND) 2018-2022, which aims to spark regional development through both electrification and digitalisation of the economy. The establishment of the governmental rural electrification and renewable energy agency has solidified these efforts. There are ambitions to increase access to affordable, reliable and modern electricity in rural areas to 20% by 2022, and have universal access by 2030.
Significant progress has been made so far. United Arab Emirates-based AMEA Power announced plans in 2019 to construct Togo’s first utility scale renewable energy project by an independent power producer. The Blitta 50-megawatt photovoltaic power plant, located in the Centrale region, is a stepping stone towards the country’s electrification goals.
“The government had a great understanding of the importance of energy in order to drive development in the country,” says Basma Bentaher, director of project development at AMEA Power, pointing to the clear legal framework, tax exemptions and incentives for renewable energy projects.
Togo’s favourable climate and geography provides significant potential for further solar power projects, while the EU has identified some suitable hydropower sites across the country.
“As per in any country, there are some challenges to overcome. However, the business and investment climate is continuously being shaped to promote and drive private sector investment into the country. AMEA Power will be more than happy to further invest in Togo,” adds Mrs Bentaher.
The Togolese government is also investing $1.7bn in solar electricity projects around the country. A presidential electrification initiative launched in 2017, and supported by $975,000 of support from the African Development Bank, hopes to progress matters further.
Alongside UK-based solar systems provider BBOXX, the Cizo (meaning “light up” in the local Mina language) programme aims to provide off-grid solutions to Togo’s rural areas. One successful project in 2019 led to the provision of clean electricity to 4000 people living in the rural village of Sikpé Afidégnon.
The Affordability Accelerator Fund (AAF) was jointly developed by BBOXX and the Togolese government to accelerate efforts through the transformation of subsidies into an investment class. “[The AAF] helps the operator increase the size of its market, decrease credit risk and ultimately generate value for its shareholders,” says Mansoor Hamayun, chief executive and co-founder of BBOXX.
“The sector needs funding now more than ever and we encourage the development community and others to join us,” he adds.
With electrification efforts ramping up across Togo, the government hopes to digitally transform the economy. Togo’s reforms have gone beyond the business and investment climate to include “fiscal and institutional frameworks [and the] increasing digitalisation of processes”, says Mawuli Clément Ahialey, president of Togo’s association of large enterprises, AGET.
For many Togolese, basic access to public, private and social services is a challenge. The government is hoping one solution could be its ambitious E-ID Togo biometric identification programme. “E-ID Togo is a crucial foundation upon which other national projects will be developed. It will facilitate access to credit and health services, reduce fraud in the banking sector, ensure the targeted distribution of aid in the social sector, and improve educational and administrative follow-up for citizens,” says Cina Lawson, Togo’s minister of posts, digital economy and tech innovation.
In February 2019, Fitch Solutions ranked Togo as the second least attractive market in sub-Saharan Africa for the telecoms industry in terms of opportunities and risks. However, significant measures have since been implemented to drive private sector development, such as the landmark sale in November 2019 of a 51% stake in formerly state-owned telecoms holding company Togocom to Madagascar-based Axian Group and Emerging Capital Partners.
The World Bank says: “Togocom's privatisation is driven by a desire to improve the quality and costs of services for consumers as Togo aspires to become a digital hub in the region.” And Paulin Alazard, chief executive of the privatised Togocom, says the PND has made an essential blueprint to achieve this goal through its facilitation of “a strong and continuous development of the telecoms sector and digital services”.
Two new internet service providers (ISPs), Teolis and Vivendi Group Africa, were also granted licences in Togo in 2017. This new competition has driven down prices to as low as $20 per month for connection speed of at least 12 megabits per second, according to Togo’s Ministry for Posts, Digital Economy and Tech Innovation.
Since then the number of internet users in the country has climbed by 210.9% to 1.71 million people, according to comparisons of DataReportal annual reports. Despite this rise, internet penetration still stood at just 21% of the population in January 2020.
A new data centre being constructed by French engineering firm CFAO Technologies in Lomé’s Carrier Hotel could bolster efforts to boost internet penetration, however. On completion of the project, which is under the West African Regional Communications Infrastructure Programme and supported by the World Bank, it will host an internet eXchange Point. This should enable operators and ISPs to cut costs and offer lower tariffs to Togolese customers, says Ms Lawson.
The outbreak of Covid-19 is likely to hamper Togo’s digitalisation efforts. While Togocom’s investments to upgrade its network infrastructure have not been affected, plans are likely to stall. “Implementation is likely to be delayed due to operational constraints in the field [such as] limited circulation, and due to some of our suppliers, [such as] equipment suppliers and external stakeholders that had to go back to their country,” says Mr Alazard.
The government’s response to Covid-19 gives evidence of its commitment to digital services, however. To support vulnerable households across the country, it is rolling out a digital cash transfer scheme, Novissi – ‘solidarity’ in the local dialect – which will put funds equivalent to at least 30% of minimum wages into their mobile money accounts every two weeks.
Additionally the government has developed a centralised point to gather data on suspected coronavirus cases, to assist frontline health workers and enable a speedy response to the crisis. “We are resolute in our objective to harness digital solutions to improve all aspects of Togolese society and the economy,” says Ms Lawson.