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Togo: Contrasts Between Image and Reality

MORE than 800 singing dancers were ordered by the government to stand several hours in the hot Western African sun recently to greet international journalists visiting this town. At an earlier stop on the journalists' agenda, the local citizens presented by the government offered few complaints about their lives. The government appears intent on presenting its country as a good place for much-needed foreign investment.

But a foreign donor official says that officials ``think it's much more useful for the country to give a good image, because they as leaders will stay in their posts.''

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But behind the images are real problems.

The singing dancers, for example, were ordered by government officials to sing praises to the visiting journalists and the president. Dancers interviewed said that they were not paid. And though government-selected farmers were hesitant to criticize the government in front of officials, another Togolese farmer told the Monitor that his family is suffering.

``We don't have the money to buy fertilizers,'' he said. His land is producing less. ``We don't have enough to eat.'' A United Nations official in Togo says some parts of the country have experienced ``near famine'' in recent years.

Another contrast with the image of well-being promoted by the government is found along the brightly lit main streets of Lom'e. Look closely and you notice students sitting under the lights, on the curb, reading. Why? Because they have no electricity in their homes, several students explained.

President Etienne (Gnassingbe) Eyadema says that several times in his nearly quarter of a century of rule he was ready to step down, but each time ``the people took to the streets'' to say ``no.''

Many Togolese here contend that those were ``staged'' street demonstrations, organized by the government.

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