Photo illustration by John Lyman

World News


Togo is Walking a Tightrope in Gaza

In recent years, Togo has emerged as a pivotal force for peace in Africa, underpinned by a commitment to diplomacy, dialogue, and negotiation. Under the leadership of President Faure Gnassingbé, Togo’s government has become the go-to mediator for regional leaders facing intricate disputes. Its involvement in easing tensions ranges from the Ivory Coast-Mali crisis to the conflict in Sudan, and now in Niger.

Togo’s adeptness in conflict resolution is widely recognized, but it faces a potential diplomatic headache in the Israel-Hamas conflict. Its decision to abstain from a vote on a non-binding resolution that called for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire in Gaza has raised eyebrows. This move poses questions about the steadfastness of Togo’s pacifist stance in foreign policy, especially considering its notable absence from a critical vote that sought to alleviate civilian suffering.

The relationship between Togo and Israel has been marked by both camaraderie and contention over the years. Initially, the two nations maintained mutually beneficial ties. The dynamic shifted in 1973 when Togo, in an act of solidarity with Egypt and opposition to Israeli military action during the Yom Kippur War, cut diplomatic ties with Israel. This move echoed a broader trend among African nations during that period, largely attributed to external pressures.

Nevertheless, by 1987, the winds of diplomacy had shifted, leading to a gradual thawing of relations. This warming trend peaked with Gnassingbé’s visit to Israel in August 2017. During this visit, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warmly referred to Togo as “a true friend of the State of Israel,” highlighting the renewed spirit of partnership.

The rekindled alliance was underscored in December of the same year when Togo, alongside the United States, cast a pivotal vote at the United Nations in favor of recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. This vote not only marked a significant diplomatic stance but also underscored the complexities and nuances of Togo’s foreign relations.

The collaborative efforts between Togo and Israel have been dynamic, encompassing vital sectors such as security, agriculture, and healthcare. This multifaceted partnership can be attributed significantly to the proactive initiatives of Robert Dussey, Togo’s Minister of Foreign Affairs. His efforts are instrumental in reshaping Togolese diplomacy and fortifying the bond with Israel.

Dussey speaks of a profound, personal connection with Israel, rooted in his spiritual journey. “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.”

Such statements underscore not just a political alliance but a personal investment that reflects the shared values and cultural respect between the two nations.

Togo’s alignment with Israel, particularly in hosting the inaugural Israeli-African summit in 2017, has been met with criticism from several Arab and African nations. Despite this, Togo has maintained and even bolstered its role as a peace-promoting mediator, garnering respect across Africa for its steadfast dedication to a pacifist foreign policy. This commitment was recognized when Lomé, the Togolese capital, was designated as the “Capital of Peace, Mediation, Dialogue, and Tolerance” in 2022, a testament to the country’s diplomatic endeavors.

Within Togo, Hamas’s October 7 attack on Israel drew widespread condemnation from its citizens, with vociferous calls for a two-state solution to put an end to the longstanding conflict. Robert Dussey, echoing the sentiments of his compatriots, also denounced the violence perpetrated by Hamas militants against Israeli civilians. His statements reinforced Togo’s advocacy for peace and dialogue. “We encourage Israel and Hamas to continue dialogue to resolve differences,” he said at the time. “We demand the release of the hostages. The priority is peace in Israel, Palestine, and the region. We are on the side of peace.” Dussey’s measured approach, while promoting continued dialogue and stressing the importance of regional peace, mirrors Togo’s delicate balance between its established role as a mediator in Africa and its supportive relations with Israel.

The conflict in Gaza has prompted intense scrutiny of Israel’s military actions, with various international bodies leveling accusations of genocide against Israel for how it is conducting its war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. A landmark decision by the International Court of Justice has further intensified this discourse, with the court mandating that Israel must escalate its efforts to safeguard Palestinian civilians and ensure the provision of humanitarian assistance to Gaza. This ruling emerged from allegations made by South Africa, which accused Israel of genocide during its ongoing military operations in Gaza.

In this context, Togo’s neutrality—opting to abstain rather than censure Israel—has drawn both censure and speculation. Some interpret Togo’s abstention as an implicit approval of Israeli tactics. However, such a viewpoint is reductive and fails to consider the broader geopolitical dynamics. Togo’s relationship with Israel is not solely defined by the conflict but also by the pragmatic benefits derived from security and agricultural collaborations. Particularly for Togo, a developing country grappling with terrorism within its borders, these benefits are non-trivial and factor significantly into its foreign policy decisions.

An outright condemnation of Israel could indeed imperil the diplomatic conduits vital for mediating a ceasefire and averting more casualties. Togo’s role as an intermediary trusted by both sides could be pivotal in fostering dialogue and championing a two-state solution—an approach that Togo appears to support.

Beyond merely refraining from condemnation, Togo’s diplomatic conduct actively calls for moderation from Israel, while unequivocally denouncing the indiscriminate attacks in October of last year by Hamas militants. Such a balanced approach suggests that Togo advocates for a comprehensive strategy in the pursuit of peace, one that involves engaging all parties in constructive dialogue rather than isolating them through censure.

Togo’s stance on accountability in international law is pivotal, especially when addressing breaches in the context of the Israel-Hamas conflict and beyond, including atrocities across Africa. By insisting on universal human rights and denouncing violence from any quarter, Togo reiterates its allegiance to a rules-based global order.

Togo’s diplomatic balance in the Israel-Hamas war is not indicative of a deviation from its principles or a mere alignment with power. It represents a strategic choice to safeguard national interests and advocate for enduring peace via dialogue and active involvement. This path, although laden with obstacles, holds out the prospect of resolution in a conflict that often seems without end.

As events unfold, Togo’s diplomatic agility will be paramount in preserving its stature as both a champion of peace and a principled actor on the international stage.