July 31, 2023

France Was The Author of West Africa's First Coup

It is easy to assassinate a man. . .

The gods of Olympus introduced the weapon of the coup d'état, that fiery sword, to their former colonies and now they are angry that the slaves are wielding that same fire for their Liberation. 


An excerpt from, "Togo: Who killed Sylvanus Olympio, the father of Togolese independence?" By Christophe Boisbouvier, The Africa Report, November 4, 2021: 

Two things are certain. First, that the attack on the Togolese president’s residence in Lomé began at 11pm; and second, that Olympio was assassinated the next morning, at 7:15am, in front of the gates of the US embassy, from which he had just been removed. Between these two events, eight long hours passed, in which phone calls were made and orders given… Eight hours about which the United States and France know much, yet continue, 50 years on, to remain reticent.

Will we ever know the truth? Witnesses have testified. Documents have been declassified. If the Togolese ask for it, archives will be opened, but it is already possible to reconstruct the main events of that night.

In 1963, who is it that wanted to get rid of the father of Togolese independence? The French. For de Gaulle and Foccart, his adviser on African affairs, Olympio was the prototype of the surreptitiously anti-French head of state.

First, because of his origin. Born in Lomé in 1902, under German colonisation, and educated at the London School of Economics, the man was multilingual (German, English, French, Portuguese, Yoruba) and had long worked for the Anglo-Dutch company, Unilever. Until 1960, Olympio was an embodiment of the multicultural country that the French had not been able to colonise in their usual manner – between 1919 and 1960, Togo’s guardianship had been entrusted to France by the League of Nations, and later by the United Nations. Just after independence, in May 1960, Togo’s first president told Agence France-Presse (AFP): ‘’I will do my best to ensure my country can thrive without France.’’

Olympio inspired distrust in Foccart because he was elusive – like Unilever soap. Unlike the Guinean Sékou Touré, he did not openly oppose France. He had gone to see de Gaulle in Paris in March 1962. However, 10 days earlier, he had been received with great respect by the Americans. John F. Kennedy had even come to Washington Dulles International Airport. This explains Foccart’s sneer the day that he welcomed Olympio on the steps of the Élysée Palace. ‘’Sylvanus Olympio was not one of our friends,’’ he would later say. “With him, my relations were never as cordial as those I had with Nicolas Grunitzky [the man who succeeded him after the coup].’’

In early 1963, Olympio even considered leaving the franc zone (CFA), and creating a Togolese currency backed by… The Deutsche Mark. Togo, through its balancing policy, risked offering a model of emancipation to all former French colonies. Ultimately, according to Paris, Olympio was more dangerous than Sékou.

In addition to the French, a few dozen Togolese also had serious reasons for wanting to get rid of their president. They were former soldiers of the French colonial army (First Indochina War, Algerian War) who had just been demobilised by Paris. They demanded that they be integrated into the very small Togolese army (less than 1,000 men). Olympio, who was suspicious of them, refused. Among these half-soldiers were Chief Warrant Officer Emmanuel Bodjollé, 35, leader of the 12-13 January operation, and Sergeant Etienne Eyadéma, 28.


Bodjollé, a former master-sergeant in the French army, had been among a group of around 300 soldiers who on discharge from the French services had not been integrated into the Togolese army. He led a conspiracy of around thirty other former non-commissioned officers, who arrested the ministers of Olympio's government. The coup saw former president Olympio shot dead at the gate of the US embassy compound by Etienne Eyadéma, later known as Gnassingbé Eyadéma, a later president of Togo.


The 1963 Togolese coup d'état was a military coup that occurred in the West African country of Togo on 13 January 1963. The coup leaders — notably Emmanuel Bodjollé, Étienne Eyadéma (later Gnassingbé Eyadéma) and Kléber Dadjo — took over government buildings, arrested most of the cabinet, and assassinated Togo's first president, Sylvanus Olympio, outside the American embassy in Lomé. The coup leaders quickly brought Nicolas Grunitzky and Antoine Meatchi, both of whom were exiled political opponents of Olympio, together to form a new government.


Olympio became active in the domestic and international struggle to gain independence for Togo following World War II. Since Togo was not formally a French colony, but was a trustee under the rules of the League of Nations and then the United Nations, Olympio petitioned the United Nations Trusteeship Council for a host of issues pushing toward independence.His 1947 petition to the Trusteeship Council was the first petition for resolution of grievances taken to the United Nations. Domestically he founded the Comité de l'unité togolaise (CUT) which became the major party opposing French control over Togo.

Olympio's party boycotted most of the elections during the 1950s within Togo because of the heavy French involvement in the elections (including the 1956 election that made Nicolas Grunitzky, the brother to Olympio's wife, the Prime Minister of the colony as head of the Togolese Progress Party). In 1954, Olympio was arrested by the French authorities and his right to vote and run for office were suspended. However, his petitions to the Trusteeship Council led to the 1958 elections where French control over the elections were limited, although involvement remained significant and Olympio's CUT party was able to win every elected position in the national council. The French were then forced to restore Olympio's right to hold office and he became the Prime Minister of the Togo colony and began pressing for independence.