© Simone Ahrend sah-photo
Cosmos Eglo Akoete was born in Lomé, the capital of Togo, in 1963. He is a writer and human rights activist. While his house was being searched in 1992, soldiers destroyed his manuscript of an epic poem. He was arrested, interrogated, tortured for hours, and finally forced to swear that he would never write anything political again. In 1996, when he announced at a rally in Lomé that he would write a novel in which he wanted to deal critically with the system in Togo, the pressure was intensified. The only remaining option was to flee to the neighboring state of Ghana. There, too, he was politically active; he founded an Amnesty International office in Hohoe and an NGO which campaigns to ban the ritual enslavement of young girls. As the governments of Ghana and Togo cultivate friendly relations, someone who is persecuted in Togo can have little hope for help in Ghana. When Cosmos Eglo Akoete asked for asylum in 2003, his application was “lost” for five years, and when he re-submitted it in 2008, he was advised to simply stop writing, then he would be able to safely return to Togo. Thus, he was left without passport and without refugee status. After PEN approved his application for a Writers in Exile grant in March 2010, he was harassed in Ghana even more, and the German authorities were hesitant to support him at first, because he lacked a passport. It took two years, before he could actually accept the fellowship. From April 2012 to April 2013, he was finally able to participate in the PEN Writers in Exile Program.