Public territorial innovation in Togo


Since the turn of the century in 2020, Togo has been fine-tuning its capacity for territorial democratic innovation. The issues at stake and the dynamics underway are presented here in action and analysis.

Togo is redesigning its local administration. On 2 March 2019, the National Assembly approved the creation of five regions in the country. It should be noted that since June 2019, decentralisation has been effective in this West African state. Mayors have since been elected in Togo’s 117 communes to administer towns and municipalities. These local councillors are chosen by their peers from among the 1257 municipal councillors. For the time being, they are the only ones validated by an election. 

The President of the National Assembly, Yawa Djigbodi Tségan, recalled that “the raison d’être of the regions is to implement and coordinate economic and social development within the dedicated territory”.

However, Togo’s fundamental law provides for a second level of autonomous territorial entity. This is the region. This has now been done. Following a vote by the National Assembly last year, the regions now have a legal basis. The Members of Parliament drew on the previous administrative framework to shape the regions. By name, the five regions are Savanes, Kara, Centrale, Plateaux and Maritime. It is important to remember that there were four regions in 1960, and the Kara region was created in 1965.

In explaining the reasons for this vote, the President of the National Assembly, Yawa Djigbodi Tségan, recalled that “the raison d’être of the regions is to implement and coordinate economic and social development within the dedicated territory”. According to the parliamentary working group set up for the reform, the adoption of this bill as part of the decentralisation process in Togo will further strengthen the involvement and empowerment of the people and promote the emergence of a local elite, by consolidating representative democracy and the participation of citizens in defining the policies affecting their living environment.

By doing so, the Regional Council should be able to make fairer and more sustainable decisions in response to the region’s urgent needs. This reform aims to strengthen local democracy by allowing citizens to have legitimate representatives drawn from their ranks. The adoption of this law provides a springboard for the regional elections scheduled for the end of this year in Togo.  It is a further step towards the objective of territorial reform, which is aimed at the free administration of local populations by themselves. The communes have been working towards this goal since 2019, and the challenges are considerable.

Major challenges

The challenges vary depending on the area. Nonetheless, according to an expert in the field of decentralisation in Togo, “they are generally grouped under four headings: governance, basic social services, productive sectors and living environment/housing/environment”. And these challenges give rise to problems that have yet to be resolved. 

In terms of governance, the major problem is the availability of human, financial and material resources. The staff available is generally insufficient, given the workload; and even when it is available, it is often not sufficiently qualified.

For basic social services, the problem of availability and access. Several localities are outside the coverage areas of the various schools, health centres, etc. Even when the infrastructures exist, they are often dilapidated, not sufficiently equipped, with a lack of qualified staff, etc. Even where infrastructure does exist, it is often worn, under-equipped and lacking in qualified staff. 

As far as the productive sectors are concerned – in other words, agriculture, livestock farming, industry, crafts, trade, etc. – the common problem is that the means of production have not been modernised, and there is sometimes a lack of technical expertise. There is also a difficulty in positioning themselves throughout the value chain, to produce products with high added value. There is also a lack of infrastructure, such as storage and preservation facilities, warehouses and markets. The sector’s problems also rely heavily on those of the support sector, the road network. There are not enough roads or tracks in good condition, and these are not passable during the rainy season. Livestock farming and agriculture also have a particular problem: transhumance and the sometimes deadly conflicts associated with it.

In terms of living conditions, housing and the environment, we need to take into account the effects of climate change and the difficulty people are having in adapting to it. On this basis, it is difficult to control urban sprawl and poor regional planning. 

The dynamics of consultation

Unlike “deconcentration”, which brings central government services closer to the grassroots, decentralisation aims to give local citizens autonomy in managing and electing their leaders. Free administration and local democracy are the pillars of territorial development. The newly installed authorities have therefore embarked on a process of concerted development.

Mayor Kamal Adjayi’s vision for Golfe 3 in the Togolese capital remains clear: “Institutions must be stronger than individuals”.

In Lomé’s Golfe 3 commune, Mayor Kamal Adjayi’s vision remains clear: “Institutions must be stronger than people”. His vision is in line with that of Barack Obama, who said in Ghana in July 2009 that “Africa does not need strong men, but strong institutions”. The young, dynamic mayor has put in place many consultation tools to give meaning to the co-production of public policies.

The young, dynamic mayor has put in place several consultation tools to give meaning to the co-production of public policies. Policy debates with neighbourhood councils and associations representing corporations or entities, exchanges via social networks and meetings with the authorities all point to the needs of citizens. 

The open day also allowed the mayor to meet directly with his constituents. This is a highly interesting exercise in participation and consultation. Without any frills, the holder of the communal sceptre talks to his fellow local citizens. A sort of renewal of governance, breaking with the practice of yesteryear. On the downside, some people take advantage of these meetings to solicit personal aid outside the scope of public action. To this end, while continuing to use the participatory means of contacting the mayor, the planning department is prioritising the consideration of citizens’ aspirations in the process of setting up projects, thanks to the relays and reference points in the neighbourhoods.

In the meantime, in July 2021, “My Clean Neighbourhood, My Challenge” is an innovative local sanitation project. Financed to the tune of €15 million by Orabank, Lonato and Boad, it is an example of collaboration between local authorities, businesses and citizens. It has helped to “clean up the local area and instil the values of citizenship and civic-mindedness in the population”, notes the mayor. What’s more, at the end of the 12-month project, residents will be allocated a participatory budget of 1,500,000 francs for a project of their choice. 

In the same vein of consultation tools, his counterpart in Golfe 1, Koamy Gbloekpo Gomado, has made the “café-citoyen” his innovative participatory mechanism. In addition to the right granted to citizens to take part in council meetings, the traditional consultation frameworks and community media made available for interactive citizen links, the Mayor’s Café is a crucible for sectoral and community exchanges. “Without an organisation based on people, we can’t raise citizens’ awareness of development issues,” insists the mayor. The Town Hall – Youth – Experts triangle also governs the management of the funds allocated for youth projects.

“Instead of imposing projects or ideas on them, we discuss and ask for solutions,” reassures the mayor of Golfe 1. Koamy Gbloekpo Gomado also said that the consultant recruited for the Municipal Development Plan worked hard to produce a participatory plan. In short, the mayor’s café is a kind of “open door, a forum for exchange, a meeting point” with the various entities in the municipality, including traditional chiefs and neighbourhood chiefs, orphans, school headmasters, craftsmen, young job seekers and others.

However, the Citizen’s Bureau remains the arsenal legally instituted to encourage citizen involvement in the control of public action and a quest for accountability. 

The experience of the Citizens’ Bureau

The Citizens’ Bureau is provided for in Article 17 of Law 2019-006 of 26 June 2019 “amending Law No. 2007-011 of 13 March 2007 on decentralisation and local freedoms as amended by Law No. 2018-003 of 31 January 2018”. 

Article 17 expressly states: “A citizen’s office shall be set up. Citizens have the right to refer matters to local elected representatives on issues and subjects that concern them. This referral is made through the citizen’s office. The Citizen’s Bureau is a local institution for monitoring local public action by citizens. It is a centre for listening to and collecting the expectations, concerns and suggestions of the local authority’s citizens.

The procedures for organising and operating the citizen’s office shall be specified by order of the minister responsible for decentralisation”.  For the time being, the majority of municipalities are awaiting this ministerial decree, which will set out the operationalisation of the office. However, with the help of German cooperation, 10 pilot communes have been granted an exemption and have tested this innovative democratic body. 

The Citizen’s Bureau is a facilitator of territorial social cohesion, acting as an intermediary between elected representatives and citizens. It is a sort of “local mediator” that works to achieve three main objectives. 

Firstly, to act as a conduit for information about local life, and as a forum for citizens to raise issues, so that managers can be held to account. In its accountability function, it is seen as a tool for citizen control of public action. Secondly, serves as a framework for Consultation and Concertation for citizens wishing to give their opinions and become involved in local management. Also intended to be a crucible for decision-making, the Citizen’s Bureau should be used to the full for the co-production of public decision-making. In practice, however, while citizens can formulate collective inspirations and aspirations, their expertise as users remains to be fully exploited.

Three major lessons have emerged from the trial phase. Citizens have embraced the Citizen’s Advice Bureau as a tool and would like to see opening hours extended. As the Citizen’s Advice Bureau operates on a part-time basis for the most part, users feel the need for a stronger presence. In addition, the headquarters or office of this local mediation body should be housed in a third-party location and not at the town hall, to ensure neutrality. Many citizens feel embarrassed to come to the town hall to complain about this body or ask about its management. Other communes can learn from these cases. After all, these localities have plenty of resources to draw on to strengthen local participatory innovations. Finally, as the Citizen’s Bureau coordinator is paid by the municipality, he or she attends municipal staff meetings. For this reason, some people question his neutrality. By being hierarchically under the mayor, his role as a “local mediator” is altered in the eyes of others. It would be interesting to find a formula that would guarantee his payment directly from the central government budget, to give him a minimum of leeway about the municipal administration.

Rethinking Territorial Public Innovation 

Local innovation means connecting local players. It means harnessing their energies, either directly or through technology, to extract the virtues of collective intelligence in a given area. We could say that innovation is a new solution to a problem to be solved in a given area. The proposed remedy must be sustainable and effective. Innovation therefore requires adaptation to the local context, as well as co-construction of responses and mobilisation of resources by those “concerned” and for those “concerned”: the stakeholders.

A participatory action to protect the environment, with the Afrikelles association, Ecojogging and the Golfe 1 town council.

Territorial transformation cannot flourish without the involvement of citizens, businesses and local authorities. To achieve this, local authorities, in their drive for innovation, need the support of professionals capable of putting the cursor on the real challenges at stake. This can be achieved through education, to instil a genuine culture of change. 

On the one hand, the staff of town halls and elected representatives do not have all the skills required to master the real aspirations and needs of the local population. On the other hand, citizens who want to play a part in the development of their area are wary, or although they have some good ideas, they don’t feel that they belong locally, or they don’t have the necessary resources to bring their ideas to fruition.

An association between those who decide, those who have the ideas and those who have the means can only increase the attractiveness and development of the local basin. An introduction to forms of collective participation could only strengthen local governance and the culture of innovation and participation. This involves equipping citizens, civil society, elected representatives and municipal staff. The aim is to tap into collective intelligence, collective wisdom for creativity and ideas, as well as the information and knowledge held by the masses, in this case, the citizens. 

Traditional consultation processes require careful handling. This has the merit of avoiding bias and respecting the appropriate stages to obtain relevant and convincing results. In addition, crowdsourcing is a way of making use of the masses. It offers a decisive avenue for innovation, with new ideas coming from a large number of people. 

Researchers such as Lukensmeyer and Torres speak of “citizensourcing”, arguing that citizens will be the new sources of expertise for the success of all phases of public policy design. 

User expertise saves time and money and ensures the success of projects because the real beneficiaries take ownership of them from the outset.  In this way, the political, climatic, economic and social challenges and issues facing local areas can be filtered through innovation and real solutions found, translated into actions and measures for the ecological transition, the digital transition, participatory democracy, solidarity and prevention. The real winner is everyone. The whole chain is relieved. Elected representatives and town hall employees will have more time to deal with other priorities and, above all, better manage their stress and pressure from all sides.  

Urban development in the Togolese capital

The user-citizen experience will be improved and services made easier. Elected representatives will be able to fulfil their development objectives more easily, by promoting a more attractive area, for easier financial support. The stakes of public innovation are high for the region: transparency, inclusion and efficiency.

Ultimately, new grassroots development solutions necessarily call for a new culture of internal change, the involvement of the user-citizen in the process, and the appropriation of projects by private partners who provide the technology and funding. Public innovation thus refers to a shared construction of the political decision by a variety of agents. Local public innovation is the driving force behind the attractiveness and development of local areas.  This is the prism through which the software of territorial public intelligence will be shaped.

Alain Metodjo

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