Posted by Benjamin Clapham, April 3, 2012
Togo is a small, West African nation that is nestled between Benin to the east and Ghana to the west, countries that are experiencing an increased consciousness and awareness of the existence of homosexuality, and simultaneous increases in homophobia and discrimination.
The EVT team
However, in 2009, the president of Togo, Faure Gnassingbé, openly declared at a state address, in front of the country’s most prominent religious and political leaders, that men who have sex with men (MSM) are an existing and vulnerable population and that Togolese people can neither ignore nor isolate this population, especially in terms of the fight against HIV/AIDS. Gnassingbé thus declared that MSM are a priority in the fight against HIV in Togo. This is a stark contrast to what is currently happening in many African nations where governments—such as Cameroon’s—are currently proposing legislature to toughen sodomy laws and the punishments for these “crimes.”
While I was visiting amfAR’s new grantee in Togo, we met with the director at the National Committee for the Fight against AIDS (CNLS),and we learned that the Togolese government has advocacy activities planned over the next few years to address stigma and homophobia with various government bodies as well as health care staff. These activities serendipitously fall in line with the project that amfAR is currently funding with Espoir Vie- Togo (EVT). EVT’s project will create a safe space for the LGBT population and will also address homophobia among policy makers, religious leaders, and media practitioners. After living in Togo for four years as a Peace Corps Volunteer, it is such a pleasure to see the growth of EVT and the government in working with the MSM population and HIV prevention and treatment!
As the political situation continues to improve in Togo—the presidential elections in 2010 were considered to be transparent on an international level—many funders are returning. Most notable is a five-year, 13 million dollar grant from USAID to work in Togo and Burkina Faso with MSM and sex workers.