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Tumwater company blazes economic trail in West Africa, says ambassador

U.S. Ambassador to Togo tours Alaffia company in Tumwater

Alaffia founder Olowo-n'djo Tchala gives a spirited tour Wednesday, April 12, to the visiting U.S. Ambassador to Togo David Gilmour and other regional dignitaries in Tumwater.
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Alaffia founder Olowo-n'djo Tchala gives a spirited tour Wednesday, April 12, to the visiting U.S. Ambassador to Togo David Gilmour and other regional dignitaries in Tumwater.

A Tumwater company’s connection to the West African nation of Togo could provide a blueprint for expanding Washington state’s trade-driven economy.

Alaffia produces beauty products from shea nuts that are harvested in Togo, the home country of company co-founder Olowo-n’djo Tchala. The nuts are turned into shea butter, which is then shipped to Washington to become lotions, shampoos and soaps.

The fair-trade operation employs 120 people in a Tumwater warehouse and provides work, directly and indirectly, for more than 11,000 villagers in Togo. Alaffia is also fueled by a social mission that has helped build several schools and has regularly donated bicycles while raising the quality of life for people in Togo — especially women — through education and health programs.

Tchala co-founded the company with his wife, Prairie Rose Hyde, in 2004. He is proud to create manufacturing jobs in the U.S., as well as in Togo, which is experiencing a trade deficit where imports are worth more than exports.

“In the smallest way possible, we’re contributing,” Tchala said.

In August, the company will share its story at the annual African Growth and Opportunity Act summit in Togo with representatives from 38 nations.

David Gilmour, the U.S. ambassador to Togo, toured the Alaffia headquarters Wednesday, where he participated in a roundtable gathering that included several local and statewide elected officials. The discussion focused on how a private enterprise such as Alaffia can alleviate poverty in West African countries while investing in a win-win economic relationship.

Gilmour said that despite stereotypes of villagers living in grass huts, Africa is rapidly urbanizing, with about 40 percent of the population living in cities. Togo has a population of about 7.7 million people but, as Gilmour pointed out, the country is located in a region with nearly 300 million people — and that Alaffia has blazed a trail in that part of Africa.

“Togo wants to be a mini-Dubai or Singapore for West Africa,” said Gilmour, noting that Africa is the fastest-growing mobile phone market in the world. “There are very interesting prospects for American businesses.”

Wednesday’s roundtable included four members of the Alaffia Empowerment Council from Togo: Madame Ladi, Madame Hortense, Madame Ines and Madame Abide. They joined Gilmour, Tchala and Hyde at a student symposium Wednesday evening at Saint Martin’s University to share Alaffia’s story.

Andy Hobbs: 360-704-6869, @andyhobbs

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