Togo: How repressive West African state built close ties with Israel

Leader of the only African country to vote with US at UN has met Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu twice in 2017 but faces protests at home. Human rights watchdog Amnesty International said in its latest country report that rights violations in Togo remained commonplace.“Security forces continued to use excessive force against demonstrators. Arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture and other ill-treatment, and impunity for human rights violations persisted.” 

Togo was the only African country to vote with Israel and the U.S. to block a U.N. resolution condemning U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December. Generally speaking, despite the fact that Togo has no embassy in Jerusalem, the country’s pro-Israel stance has significantly intensified in recent years.

Professor Robert Dussey, one of the strongest figures in Togo, has stopped counting how many times he has visited Israel • “The Israeli people are, first and foremost, the people of God and I need to defend Israel,” he tells Israel Hayom, underscoring Togo’s uncompromising support for Israel.

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Please give me a throne and help me maintain it, I will do anything for you, masta Jew.”

Most Israelis would have trouble finding Togo on a map or name one significant fact about it. It’s a tiny country that rarely features in the Israeli headlines. And yet, it is one of the most pro-Israel places in the African continent. It is no wonder then that Togolese Foreign Minister Professor Robert Dussey begins his interview with the declaration that “I came here to reassure [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu that Togo will support Israel. Our support for Israel is constant.”

Officially the minister of Foreign Affairs, Cooperation and African Integration, Dussey is one of the strongest political figures in his country (and the entire continent). He thinks of Israel as his second home, both spiritually and politically. So much so, in fact, that he can’t even remember how many times he has visited Israel.

The reason for this deep connection with the people of Zion may lie in the fact that before he was appointed minister, for 10 years, Dussey served in a number of different roles in the Community of the Beatitudes. For this Catholic group, the welfare of Israel and the Jewish people is a top priority. Ever since he was a Catholic monk and to this day, Dussey recites daily prayers in Hebrew, maintaining a strong spiritual bond with Israel.

 Dussey is 46 years old. He began his career in the academic world (he still works as a professor of political philosophy). During our interview, he spontaneously begins to sing the Shema Yisrael prayer in his community’s special tune. At another point during the interview, he mentioned Psalms 137:5: “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill.”

“I have a personal link with Israel,” he says. “I was a monk and I was a member of Community of Beatitudes that prays every day for the Jewish people. Every day we pray for peace for Israel and particularly peace in Jerusalem. On the weekend we celebrate Shabbat together, and after the prayer we share the Shabbat bread and sing Shabbat songs in Hebrew. If you have this spiritual link with the Jewish people and with Israel and you have to protect the Israeli people.”

“For me, the Israeli people and the Jewish people are, first and foremost, the people of God.”

“For me, the Israeli people and the Jewish people are, first and foremost, the people of God. It is a personal decision, it is my own conviction, and I will do everything for this conviction. I spent more than 10 years of my life praying for peace in Jerusalem, praying for the Jewish people and for Israel. For me, Israel is very important and I need to defend Israel and the people of Israel.”

The timing of Israel Hayom’s interview with Dussey was particularly relevant in underscoring Togo’s uncompromising support for Israel – it took place a day before the U.N. General Assembly voted on a resolution condemning Israel, but not Hamas, for Gaza border clashes. Dussey made it clear that the Togolese representative at the U.N. would go against the grain and, once again, be among the only envoys to vote against the resolution with the U.S. and Israel.

“I know in Togo we are courageous,” he says. “Everybody knows that Togo supports Israel every time. It is not the first time that we voted for Israel in international forums. In Geneva for example, at the Human Rights Council, Togo votes for Israel, it defends Israel’s position. It is our position, we defend it.”

US aid

But questions over the legitimacy of Gnassingbe’s rule have not prevented the country being a recipient of American aid.

In 2016, the United States provided nearly $13.5m of development aid to Togo, primarily in the health, security and education sectors, according to a factsheet published by the US embassy in Lome.

That sum included $2.6m for “law enforcement and regional security trainings” provided by the US Defence Department.

In 2017, the US Coast Guard and the Togolese navy conducted their first combined maritime security operation, while US trainers also provided “law enforcement and counter-terrorism trainings for security officers and judges”.

“Today Togo is benefiting from economic growth, gradual democratic reform leading to greater transparency, and a steady professionalisation of its security sector, due in part to US assistance,” the US embassy in Togo says on its website.

“The United States and Togo have had generally good relations, and the United States seeks to work with Togo to consolidate democratic gains and economic growth.”

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