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Togo's first census in 29 years fraught with difficulties

From Erick Kaglan, For CNN
The U.N. says failure to hold a regular census has affected Togo's economic planning. Here, a census taker works in Lome.
The U.N. says failure to hold a regular census has affected Togo's economic planning. Here, a census taker works in Lome.
  • The West African nation's first census since 1981 is expected to close on November 19
  • Some of the 7,000 trained enumerators see a lack of cooperation among the people
  • Opposition leaders say unreliable population data help keep the ruling party in power
  • Togo's population is estimated at 6 million, but critics say the number is all "guesswork"
  • Togo

Lome, Togo (CNN) -- Togo is conducting its first census in 29 years, and some of the trained enumerators who have fanned out across the West African nation say complacency and suspicion among the people are making the task more difficult.

"We have not been getting the right cooperation from the population," said Bernadette Dabla, one enumerator.

Another, Just-Omer Adabra, said people "seem to be cold and indifferent to the whole national exercise."

"In some cases, we have been chased away by rural folks from their homes because they do not know what the exercise is all about," Adabra said.

The census, which began Saturday, is expected to close on November 19. Togo's last census was in 1981, a lapse that violates United Nations Development Program directives for countries to hold a national count every 10 years.

In all, 7,000 trained census-takers have been going from house to house.

Togo's minister for planning, Dédé Ahoefa Ekoué, said the census will cost about 3.7 billion CFA francs ($7.4 million), with funds provided by the European Commission and the United Nations Development Program.

The enumerators' plight has spurred opposition parties -- who say unreliable population data have enabled the ruling RPT to rig elections in the past -- to appeal for the people's cooperation.

Dodzi Apevon, leader of the nation's second-largest opposition party, Action Committee for Renewal, has called upon the Togolese to receive the enumerators "warmly and cordially." He has also appealed to Togolese authorities to "intensify publicity and educate the population about the importance of the census exercise." He said the government hasn't done enough to "sensitize the public" about the relevance of the exercise.

Past presidential and parliamentary elections have featured protests from opposition leaders.

Jean-Pierre Fabre, who came in second during in the last presidential polls, said "a proper and clean census will ensure an equitable voters' list and a fair demarcation of electoral constituencies."

Fabre claimed that the ruling RPT party has "always rigged elections because we did not have a reliable knowledge about the number of people who resided in the constituencies."

Togo will be holding local elections next year, with legislative elections to follow in 2012.

In other cases, enumerators also complain about lack of logistical support, including shortage of communication equipment and means of transportation.

Moreover, most communities have been submerged in recent floods, making those areas inaccessible.

Minister for Planning Dédé Ahoefa Ekoué said the government "has taken emergency measures to facilitate the ongoing census exercise by providing teams of enumerators with boats and canoes to access flooded areas."

U.N. officials say Togo's failure to hold a regular census has affected the nation's economic planning. They have expressed the hope that the current exercise would correct imbalances in economic growth and help establish a firm statistical data base, not only for national planning but also for equal and fair elections.

Togo's current population is estimated at 6 million, but critics say this is all "guesswork."