When “Equiano,” the Google-backed subsea internet cable running from Portugal to South Africa made its first landing in Africa this month, it was in the small West African country of Togo. Even though it is classified as a low-income country, with some 80% of its rural population living below the global poverty line, Togo has been punching above its weight in recent years as it pushes for the digital transformation of its economy.
Cina Lawson is the government minister leading that push under the Togo Digital 2025 strategy. Lawson, who took up the post in 2013, is a veteran of telecommunications at companies like Alcatel-Lucent in Paris and Orange in New York and also worked in economic development at the World Bank.
Her focus in government has been on boosting the private sector’s involvement in Togo’s telecommunication industry by privatizing the incumbent phone company, stepping up data protection and cybersecurity initiatives and accelerating the deployment of high-speed internet nationwide. It’s an ambition that is highlighted by the Equiano cable, which is expected to significantly boost bandwidth availability in the country ahead of some of its larger neighbors in the subregion.
The rollout of a universal digital biometric ID by Lawson’s ministry underpinned the goal for e-government services, which came into focus in April 2020 as the Covid-19 lockdown took hold in Togo, as in most countries around the world. It enabled digitization of government-to-people cash transfers called Novissi, a program to provide relief funds to informal sector workers unable to earn a living due to the restrictions. In a recent interview, Lawson explained that the approach to digitizing Togo’s economy would focus initially on logistics, agriculture, and banking, in a move to make the country an innovation hub for Africa.