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A Cloth Merchant in Togo

Esther Lawson Aziablé is 52 and lives in Lomé, the capital of Togo. She trades in Dutch wax prints, clothing fabrics from the Netherlands that are in great demand in west Africa.

Aziablé learned the trade from her grandmother, who was a cloth merchant before her. As a child, Aziablé went to a boarding school in France, where she was awarded her high school certificate. She is married to a doctor and has four children, two of whom are at university in Europe.

Aziablé does not like to talk about money. She has two standard responses to fend off such questions. Asked what she spends on wages or merchandise, she says: “A great deal of money.” If you ask her about smaller payments, such as what she spends on health insurance, with a company based in France, she says: “Around 500 CFA francs [about 68p].” She does not wish to be more specific. Nor is she willing to share how much she pays towards her pension, again with a French company. Anyway, she says, she is planning to work until she is 70. She makes regular donations to the church and she pays her six employees “a great deal of money”.

What does your work mean to you?

To me, it means freedom. Only if you work can you be independent.

What is the most important thing in your life?

Fashion is my passion. I also love trading. But the most important thing of all is my family.

What would you like to change about your life?


What are your biggest problems and how do you deal with them?

There are counterfeit products coming in from China, more and more of which are appearing in the market. Then there is the crisis in Nigeria. Women there used to be good customers, but lately my fabrics have become too expensive for them. And finally, it is a problem for me that women in west Africa are guided by western fashion. However, I watch the trends very closely and I try to follow them.

What do you want from the future, and what are you doing to achieve it?

Trading in fabrics is becoming more and more difficult. But perhaps my daughter will take over the company one day and she will steer it in a new direction. Young women are more dynamic and they are constantly on the internet.

The autocratic president Gnassingbé Eyadéma ruled Togo for almost 40 years. His son, Faure Gnassingbé, has been in power since 2005. In 2012, the leader of a Togolese civil rights group called on the country’s women to stage a sex strike against changes in electoral law that would help Gnassingbé’s re-election. Do you believe a change in government would be good for the country?

No, this continuity is very good for Togo. In economic terms, I cannot imagine any alternative.

Some of the population are dissatisfied. Why do you think that is?

You would have to ask them. The country is in very good hands with our president.


Population: 7.8 million
Currency: CFA franc (100 CFA francs = 0.15 euros = 13.6p UK)
GDP per capita (2013): €482
Human Development Index: 162nd place
(Germany: 6th place out of 188 countries)

Current average costs

1 litre of petrol: €0.62
1 live chicken: €4.35
1 frozen chicken (imported): €2.20
1 egg from Africa: €1.60
1 egg from Europe (imported): €0.15
1 packet of cigarettes: €1.45