Interview with Prof. Robert DUSSEY
Minister of Foreign Affairs, Regional Integration and Togolese Abroad
Monsieur le Ministre bonjour ! L’année en cours prend fin dans quelques jours. 2020 marquera l’histoire comme une année particulièrement difficile en raison de la crise sanitaire du coronavirus qui a paralysé les activités de beaucoup d’institutions. Quel impact a-t-elle eu sur le bilan de la diplomatie togolaise ?
Indeed, the year 2020 has been a year of great challenges for all countries of the world in the conduct of national and international affairs. Diplomacy is in essence a field of meetings, consultations and handles, all things made difficult by the Coronavirus crisis. Almost all major international meetings have been canceled. But we very quickly adapted to this new situation by continuing to implement our foreign policy through virtual meetings. In this regard, I would like to express my deep admiration to the Head of State, His Excellency Mr. Faure Essozimna GNASSINGBE who, despite the crisis, has done everything to ensure that Togolese diplomacy remains an effective tool of support and support for various programs initiated for the development and well-being of the Togolese populations, in particular the National Development Program (PND) and the Government’s 2020-2025 Roadmap.
In the space of barely a month and a half, Togo received the visit of H.E.M. Bah N’DAW and Colonel Assimi GOITA, respectively President and Vice-President of the Transition in the Republic of Mali. Professor DUSSEY, tell us concretely the role Togo is playing in the Malian crisis.
As you probably know, many countries in our community space are confronted with terrorism and violent extremism. In addition to these already devastating scourges, in the case of Mali, there is an unprecedented political crisis. I won’t hide it from you, Togo is determined to help the Malian people in this crisis, for several reasons. First, out of solidarity with a brother country to which Togo is very attached. Secondly, because security at home in the Gulf of Guinea depends to a large extent on security in the Sahel in general and in Mali in particular. Finally, for a long time, one of the characteristic features of Togo’s foreign policy has been the mediation of peace. Without peace, there is no development policy that can thrive. It is in accordance with this foundation of our diplomatic action that from the start, President Faure GNASSINGBE has personally mobilized to support the ongoing transition in Mali by maintaining a regular and permanent dialogue with all the actors involved. Likewise, at a time when the positions of ECOWAS were not very well understood by the CNPS and vice versa, Togo played the good offices to reconcile points of view.
In general, Togo supports all initiatives carried out by international organizations and friendly countries in favor of a rapid return to peace and stability in Mali. It thus takes an active part in the Coalition for the Sahel which promotes an integrated approach at the regional level and aims to address all the causes of the crisis. It is always in accordance with this desire that Togo took an active part in the inaugural meeting of the Transition Support Mechanism in Mali (MST-MALI), of which it has committed to host the next meeting. I tell you, Togo is and will be an “exporter” country of peace.
Finally, I would like to point out that in all of its interventions, Togo has remained faithful to the position of ECOWAS, which is that of a firm condemnation of all unconstitutional seizures of power.
For more than two years, the negotiations of the new Partnership Agreement between the European Union and the Organization of African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OEACP) have occupied a large part of your agenda. It was recently announced that you have come to an agreement. What are the main innovations of this new agreement? What are the next steps ?
As you pointed out, we started negotiations in September 2018 with the hope of completing them no later than February 29, 2020, the expiration date of the current Cotonou Agreement. The difficulties that have marked this course made it necessary to have a first postponement to December 31, 2020. Then, the coronavirus crisis did not allow us to keep the fixed schedule, forcing us to postpone again for November 30, 2021. However, despite the health crisis, negotiations continued by videoconference and I am happy to announce that on December 3, we reached a political agreement on all the texts under negotiation, both the common base and the three protocols regional. These texts will be the subject of technical and legal grooming before their initialing by the Chief Negotiators in January or February. This initialed text will be submitted to the internal procedures of each of the partners before its signature and ratification.
One of the novelties of this agreement is the regional approach which has been favored. The agreement indeed includes a common base which defines the principles and values shared by all stakeholders. This common base also covers the priority areas: human rights, democracy and good governance; peace and security; human and social development; environmental sustainability and climate change; economic growth and sustainable and inclusive development and migration and mobility. To this common base are backed three regional protocols which form an integral part of the Agreement. The African, Caribbean and Pacific regions were each able to negotiate their protocol, taking into account their priorities and specificities. This approach has made it possible to preserve the unity of the EACP while addressing the real and current challenges of the populations of each region.
Can you reassure us that all the priorities and interests of the African, Caribbean and Pacific States have been met?
We negotiated on the basis of the Negotiating Mandate adopted in May 2018 by the Council of ACP Ministers just as my European counterpart did on the basis of the Negotiating Directives approved in June 2018 by the European Council. Each of us would have liked to say that our priorities were 100% met. Unfortunately, in a negotiation, one is forced to concede on certain issues in order to reach an overall compromise. Sometimes it has been necessary to meet personalities from the other side, who are not directly involved in the negotiations but whose opinions matter. So in January, for example, I spent two days at the European Parliament in Strasbourg where I had discussions with several MEPs and political groups to whom I presented the expectations of the countries of the OEACP. These exchanges made it possible to understand our partner’s positions and confirmed our shared ambition to build a modern cooperative relationship that meets the challenges of the century.
Despite this common ambition, there were issues that were hotly debated: these are, without being exhaustive, the death penalty, governance in tax matters and the fight against money laundering, health and sexual and reproductive rights, non-discrimination based on sexual orientation, the international criminal court, return of cultural property, migration, etc. It should also be noted that the provisions of the Cotonou Agreement on the basis of which the EU took unilateral sanctions against the OEACP states have disappeared in favor of a much more consensual dispute settlement mechanism. I believe that on the whole the new agreement is well balanced and preserves the strategic interests of our group.
Let us return to the multilateral level. A few days ago, our colleagues from Le Soleil newspaper headlined: “Robert DUSSEY in a hard-hitting pitch”. What actions at the multilateral level have been able to arouse such delight in the press?
(… Laughs) You would have done well to ask your colleagues. For my part, I would say that at the multilateral level, Togo’s action has remained anchored in the pursuit of the defense of the values that we believe should be the foundations of international relations. This is the common thread of all our positions taken in international fora. Among these values prominently is multilateralism, which has been widely challenged in recent times by the rise of nationalist egoisms against the backdrop of commercial and geostrategic clashes between certain powers. It is to reaffirm the principle that inter-state relations should be based on law and consultation that Togo joined the Alliance for Multilateralism, supported by France and Germany. This Alliance is an informal network of countries united by their belief that the rules-based multilateral order alone can guarantee international stability and peace and that our common problems can only be solved through cooperation. It is committed to restoring the global commitment to stabilize the international order based on rules and respect for principles.
Another value is religious freedom. Faced with the multiplication of threats of various kinds to the peaceful coexistence of nations and peoples, it is imperative to carry out targeted actions in an attempt to safeguard and strengthen world peace. And if there is one threat that should not be overlooked these days, it is violent extremism, often against a background of religious intolerance. This threat is insidious and more present than you think. It was in response to this that the US Secretary of State, Mike POMPEO asked me to launch, on February 5, 2020 in Washington, the Alliance for Religious Freedom. It is a project that has the ultimate goal of building a prosperous and peaceful world in which no one should be persecuted for their faith and religious beliefs any longer.
The meeting that I took on the responsibility of organizing on September 29, 2020 by videoconference, aimed to agree with my African counterparts on the actions to be taken with a view to adopting a common continental position on religious freedom. Our wish today is that the implementation of this initiative can be coordinated at a high level by the African Union which, in this task, will work with a group of experts on the issue and regional committees whose role will be to work to anchor this vision across the continent. I am convinced that the promotion of inter-religious dialogue is one of the avenues for building peace.
Finally, allow me to mention under this chapter the working visit I had to make in March 2020 to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) where we signed the national framework program 2020- 2025 allowing Togo to benefit from the support of this institution in the management and use of nuclear materials and the application of nuclear and radiological technology for the promotion of economic and social development.
En novembre 2019, le gouvernement togolais a procédé à l’installation du Haut Conseil des Togolais de l’extérieur (HCTE). Un an après la mise en place de cette structure, quel regard portez-vous sur son fonctionnement et sur l’exécution de ses missions ?
As a reminder, the idea of setting up the High Council of Togolese Abroad (HCTE) is in line with the government’s vision to involve the Togolese diaspora in national development. But the immediate result that was in sight under the HCTE project is to federate Togolese communities abroad, long disparate, and to give a credible interlocutor to the government on diaspora issues. Today, we believe that expectation is met. The HCTE devoted the first year of its existence to defining its operating rules through the adoption of its internal regulations and to carrying out its action plan for the year 2020. In addition, the restoration of trust between the government and the diaspora in Through the establishment of the HCTE, our compatriots living abroad were able to exercise their right to vote for the first time in the presidential election in February 2020.
On another level, it should be noted that the HCTE and its branches, in particular the Country Delegates, have provided the Government with significant support in coordinating the repatriation of Togolese who were stranded outside the country following the closure of the borders by the States. They also contributed to the national response effort through a donation of 10,000 masks to help the vulnerable and underprivileged segments of our country. Other activities organized by videoconference have enabled compatriots abroad to be equipped on the fundamentals of international employment with the support of the State and to better identify the opportunities offered by certain structures in the framework for the mobilization of financial resources to Togo.
You are one of those African leaders who regularly share forward-looking thoughts on the world. In May 2020, you published in the French newspaper L’Opinion a column entitled “Coronavirus: ten lessons for a new world order”. Looking back, which of these lessons do you think is the most important?
The 2nd lesson: we must remember on a human scale that the uncertainty linked to the future and the historical fate of human societies is greater than the certainty linked to the present. In the space of a few months, our increasingly secure world of itself, its scientific advances and their technological applications and its driving forces has regained its astonishing vulnerability. The world is vulnerable and it is not just a figment of the mind. This is a vulnerability linked not only to the fragility of man’s existential experience but also to modern civilization with very “questionable” ideological premises. The vulnerability exposed by the covid-19 pandemic is a human-scale vulnerability that manifests itself in various forms because humanity itself is diverse. Our societies, states or continents do not have the same resilience or the same resources in the fight against the pandemic.
Mr. Minister, we are coming to the end of our interview. Do you have a final word?
What else to say, if not to express to yourselves, to the Togolese and African populations, to all of you my best wishes for health and prosperity for the new year.
To the Head of State, H.E.M. Faure Essozimna GNASSINGBE, I offer my best wishes for good health, inner peace and happiness. May the grace of the Lord also accompany the Prime Minister, Madame Victoire TOMEGAH-DOGBE, as well as the entire Government. To all our partners, I wish a happy new year 2021.
Finally, I would like to urge the young Togolese and Africans to be the architects of their own happiness, to build by themselves the world of which they dream.