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One of the World’s Poorest Countries Found a Better Way to Do Stimulus

In two weeks, Togo designed and launched an all-digital system for delivering monthly payments to millions of people—and made the U.S. program look like a “dinosaur.”

Lomé, Togo

Lomé, Togo

Photographer: Halil Sagirkaya/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Atani Bamaze was working his small plot of land, scything weeds down to the rust-colored soil, when he received a lifeline in the form of a text message.

It was late 2020, and though Bamaze still didn’t know anyone sickened by Covid-19, the pandemic had disrupted his life all the same. The village in Togo where he lives with his wife and infant daughter relied on trade and travelers from nearby Benin. When the border closed after the first recorded infection that spring, prices of basic foodstuffs began climbing precipitously. The 31-year-old typically earned money tutoring, but then local schools shuttered, depriving him of his main source of income. To make matters worse, the seeds he’d sown had baked in the sun instead of taking root because there’s been too little rainfall.