German colony: AD 1884-1914
The first German connection with Togo is the arrival of missionaries in 1847 to work among the largest tribal group in the region, the Ewe. German traders soon follow, establishing a base at Anécho on the coast.
When Bismarck decides to put together an off-the-peg German empire in Africa, Togo is one of the three places which he selects on the west coast. His representative, Gustav Nachigal, duly arrives in 1884 to persuade several of the tribal chieftains to accept the protection of the German emperor and to fly the German flag above their villages. In 1885 Togoland is recognized by the European powers as a German colony. Its coastal border is agreed with Britain’s Gold Coast to the west and France’s Dahomey to the east.
During the next decade German military expeditions win control over the interior. By the end of the century it is possible to establish the inland frontiers with Germany’s two colonial neighbours (with France in 1897 and Great Britain in 1899).
A new town is built at Lomé (from 1897) as capital of the colony, and construction begins on railways to Anécho, Blitta and Palimé. Using African forced labour to work rubber, palm, cotton and cocoa plantations, the German administration and private German companies together turn Togoland into an economically efficient though somewhat brutal colony. But in 1914 German tenure comes to a sudden end.
When World War I breaks out in 1914, aligning France and Britain against Germany, the two German colonies on the Gulf of Guinea are in an impossible position. Both Togoland and Cameroon are sandwiched between British and French colonies. Within weeks of the start of the war military action begins on the borders. By early 1916 the British and French are in control of both German colonies.
The two allies divide Togo and Cameroon between them, administering the regions adjacent to their own colonies. In the Treaty of Versailles, in 1919, Germany renounces sovereignty over all her African colonies. The issue of who shall rule them is referred to the League of Nations.
The League gives mandates in 1922 to France and Britain for the areas of Togo which they are already administering under a bilateral agreement of 1919. Britain has authority over the territory lying west of the central plateau, bordering the Gold Coast. This leaves to France the economically more active areas of the former German colony, including the entire coastline and the railway network.
This division brings considerable local benefits to people in the British region. The 19th-century boundary between the Gold Coast and Togoland has cut through the tribal territories of the Ewe in the south and the Dagomba and Mamprusi in the north. These factors are of particular significance when independence approaches in the 1950s.
In 1956 a plebiscite is held under UN supervision in the British mandated territory. The majority votes for a merger with the British colony of the Gold Coast, which is itself now on the road towards independence (as Ghana). Before the end of 1956 the border of the Gold Coast is officially redrawn and British Togo ceases to exist.
French Togo, along with other French colonies in west Africa, becomes independent in 1960 – after just four years of local politics, during which the leaders of two rival parties compete for control of the future republic of Togo.
Independence: from AD 1960
As a prelude to independence France makes Togo in 1956 an autonymous republic within the French Union, and appoints as premier Nicholas Grunitzky. He founds the Togolese Progress Party to fight the 1958 elections for Togo’s first territorial assembly. But he is defeated by Sylvanus Olympio, leader of the Togolese National Unity Party. Olympio also wins the first presidential election after independence, in 1961.
Olympio’s rule ends within two years owing to a crisis caused by the return of Togolese non-commissioned officers, demobilized from the French army. Olympio rejects their demand to be incorporated in the Togolese army. It is a stance which costs him his life.
In January 1963 he is assassinated in a street in Lomé by one of the returning sergeants, Gnassingbé Eyadéma. Olympio’s rival, Grunitzky, has meanwhile fled into exile. He is now invited back to become president. He duly incorporates the non-commissioned officers in the army, many of them as officers – including Eyadéma, who soon rises to the rank of lieutenant colonel and becomes Togo’s chief of staff.
By 1967 Eyadéma is ready to seize power in a military coup against Grunitzky. He abolishes political parties and establishes a dictatorship. He seeks and wins confirmation of his presidency in a plebiscite in 1972.
In 1979 Eyadéma introduces a new constitution, providing for civilian rule – to be provided exclusively by his own party, the RPT or Rassemblement du Peuple Togolais (Rally of the Togolese People).
By 1990 the clamour for democracy, felt at this time throughout Africa, forces Eyadéma’s hand. He gives permission for a national constitutional conference. Meeting in 1991, the conference strips Eyadéma of his powers, outlaws his party and elects Kokou Koffigoh as prime minister of an interim government. This event introduces a decade of chaos in Togo, as Eyadéma and his supporters fight back.
Three times during 1991 Eyadéma’s troops try to topple Koffigoh and are defeated by pro-democracy forces, but in August 1992 he wins his way back into the presidential palace. In 1993 and again in 1998 he is reconfirmed as president, in elections which both local opponents and international observers declare to be fraudulent.
Meanwhile the decade has been one of riots, political murders and economic stagnation. At the start of Eyadéma’s long period as head of state, in 1967, the market was buoyant for phosphates, one of Togo’s main exports. A slump in the phosphate price during the 1980s brings difficulties. But in the late 1990s there are at last signs of improvement.