LOME, Togo

While the COVID-19 pandemic devastated businesses all over the world, micro and small business enterprises in the West African nation of Togo have turned to digital technology to survive.

Nduwayezu Michel, a Rwandan refugee, who runs a kitchen in Lome revised his business strategy when customers dried due to pandemic-related restrictions.

He used his mobile phone to receive orders and delivered his deliciously cooked samosas — a cone-shaped fried or baked pastry with a savory filling — to the doorstep of customers.

“At the beginning of the pandemic, people were confined and they couldn’t move around easily. So, it was very difficult. I started to take orders over the phone before each production run and I could deliver to my customers,” he told Anadolu Agency, on eve of the World Micro, Small, and Medium-sized Enterprises Day, which is being observed on Sunday.

Similar was the case with the Togolese restaurant owner, Falonne, who also used her phone to retain customers. She sends the day’s menu to her customers via WhatsApp and makes phone calls from time to time to remind them that she is still in business.

“At first we thought this pandemic was a joke that would pass. But things went tougher and we realized how serious the situation was. Fortunately, I am a brave woman. I forced myself through digital to advertise my products. And even make meals to order,” she said.

According to a World Bank study, 23.1% of businesses in Togo were closed in 2020 due to the pandemic. The onslaught was more on the micro, small and medium enterprises, which account for 30% of closed businesses.

But the tragedy has brought innovations as well. The World Bank study has said that in this period 43% of companies resorted to the use of the Internet, social media, and other digital platforms.

Phillippe Aziamale, an architect who runs a construction firm, said that his sector was most affected by the pandemic.

“People have limited investment in construction for fear of the consequences of the pandemic. Not having any construction sites, I had to release several temporary employees. I usually have about 20 temporary and 9 permanent employees. Some small jobs help me to survive,” he told Anadolu Agency.

Showcasing architectural prowess

He also started using his phone to showcase his architectural prowess on social network sites. He shared pictures of his various construction sites to attract new clients.

“Thanks to this, I have managed to keep contacts and win some small projects that allow me to pay some employees,” he said.

Ecobank, a pan African bank asked all its customers to perform online transactions and use ATMs. This was after the closure of some of its branches.

According to Gilbert Bawara, the minister of labor and public service, the trade, and commerce sector was most hit due to the pandemic. But he said that the use of innovations has helped Togo to show resilience.

To give a push to the business Togolese government has reduced or suspended the collection of taxes and customs duties on several products.

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