The former UK Prime Minister Tony Blair made a surprise appearance at the Togo Investment Summit in London’s Mayfair on Thursday to promote investment in the tiny country wedged between Ghana and Benin.
The veteran politician appeared on stage to welcome Togolese President Faure Gnassingbé and a delegation of top trade officials to the capital.
Since leaving office in 2007 after over a decade in power, Blair has forged a career as a multi-project philanthropist, speechmaker and high-profile consultant.
One of his non-profit organisations, The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, has been working with Togo since 2017 to “train high-performing teams within the government,” and fast-track “job-creating projects” by opening doors and smoothing the way for investment from around the world, according to their website.
In his address Blair said: “I am absolutely enthusiastic about the country and its prospects.”
“I see in Togo a government who is willing and able and an environment conducive to business. I hope you take this opportunity seriously, they are well worth the effort.”
Blair admitted that while Togo has “major challenges” for investors, the country does have factors that make it an attractive destination for investment:
“The NDP [national development plan] sets out priority areas for Togo, so there’s a very clear plan in place.
“There’s an IMF plan that has been adhered to. There’s a concentration particularly now on several core areas, one is around logistics. Togo has a new port, it has got every opportunity as a logistics centre for Africa.
“There’s no doubt at all about the opportunities there. There is a deliberate attempt by the government to attract foreign direct investment. There’s an encouragement of the private sector.”
Above: Tony Blair addresses the Togo Investment Summit on Thursday 6th June at Dartmouth House, London.
The country’s $8bn national development plan (NDP) for 2018-2022 plans to attract private sector investment to fund two-thirds of its projects, according to President Faure Gnassingbé.
“The first priority is to turn the country into a regional logistics hub. Our country’s is strategically located in a region of more than 350 million inhabitants so that is a lot of consumers,” he told the delegates.
“Our country offers a natural gateway to Burkina Faso and Mali, and trade from other ECOWAS destinations.”
In an interview with African Business, Togolese Minister of Trade and Transport Kodjo Adédzé elaborated on the NDP projects seeking international funds.
“We have eight projects with three major objectives around the logistics hub, harbour and highways expanding our national motorway.
“We also want to develop local agricultural, manufacturing and industrial centres to process raw materials such as sesame seeds and cashews.”
One of the projects, Unity Highway, plans to expand the 700 km national highway NR1 connecting the port of Lomé to Ouagadougou into a four-lane road.
As part of the plan the country also aims to develop domestic plants for agriculture processing, manufacturing and extractive industries.
Togo is the world’s fourth-largest producer of phosphate, a chemical used in fertilizer and also boasts deposits of iron, limestone, gravel and sand, much of which are exported as raw materials.
“The national development plan costs $8bn, while two-thirds of this amount should come from the private sector,” Adédzé said.
“We want to welcome investors to facilitate his plan.”
Togo has climbed 19 places in the ease of doing business index to 137 out of 190 economies, overtaking Nigeria, (146) Ethiopia (159) and Senegal (141).
The World Bank notes that while the countries was one of the top improvers in 2019, it suffers from “fragility, conflict and violence.”
The previous day, protesters gathered outside the Annual Debate, a conference promoting investment on the continent, to protest Gnassingbé’s arrival in London.
The president has run the country since 2005 following the death of his father who ruled for 38 years. Gnassingbe’s majority shrank in recent parliamentary elections in December, but he wants to run again in 2020.