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Togo - History

Togo History

No one is quite sure what was happening in Togo before the Portuguese arrived in the late 15th century. Various tribes moved into the country from all sides - the Ewé from Nigeria and Benin and the Mina and Guin from Ghana. All of them settled on the coast. When the slave trade began in earnest in the 16th century, several of the tribes - especially the Mina - became agents for the European traders, travelling inland to buy slaves from the Kabyé and other northern tribes. Denmark staked a claim on Togo in the 18th century, but in 1884, Germany signed a deal with a local king, Mlapa, and 'Togoland' became a German colony. The Germans brought scientific cultivation to the country's main export crops (cacao, coffee and cotton) and developed its infrastructure to the highest level in Africa. The Togolese, however, didn't appreciate some of Germany's tighter reins on their lives, and when WWI broke out, they welcomed British forces with open arms. Encircled by British and French colonies, the Germans blew up their expensive radio station and surrendered - the Allies' first victory in the war. Togo was split between the British and the French by League of Nations mandates after the war.

During the colonial period, the Mina grew in political and economic influence by virtue of their coastal position and long association with Europeans. The Ewé, by contrast, were divided with the dissection of Togoland, and political groups on both sides began to agitate for reunification. Hopes for unity were dashed when British Togoland voted to be incorporated into Ghana, then on the brink of independence. When the French side declared its independence in April 1960, that half of the country became known as Togo.

In 1963, Togo became the first country on the continent to experience a military coup following independence (Africa has averaged at least two a year since then, plus many more unsuccessful attempts). All it took was a few shots to kill President Sylvanus Olympio as he sought refuge at the US embassy. Olympio's brother-in-law, Nicolas Grunitzky, returned from exile and was put in charge, but he too was deposed in January 1967 by Lt Colonel (now General) Etienne Eyadéma.

Eyadéma set out to unify the country, insisting on one trade union confederation and one political party. After nearly losing his life in a plane crash that he (at least publicly) chalked up to an assassination attempt by foreign 'imperialists,' Eyadéma nationalised the country's foreign-owned phosphate mines and ordered all Togolese with European first names to replace them with African ones. The decree included his own name, which he changed to Gnassingbé Eyadéma. It was, however, only a perfunctory strike against colonialism: Togo remained heavily dependent on the West.

From the late 1960s to 1980, Togo experienced a booming economy, built largely on its phosphates reserves, and Eyadéma tried to mould the country into a traveller's and investor's paradise. His plans proved overly ambitious, and when the recession of the early 1980s hit and phosphates prices plummeted, Togo's economy fell into ruin. The government - a victim of its own methods - was plagued by numerous coup attempts. True to form, Eyadéma himself fired many of the shots that killed 13 attackers in a 1986 coup.

In the early 1990s, the international community began putting pressure on Eyadéma to come out in favour of a multiparty democratic system, a notion he resisted with a few waves of his trademark iron fist. Pro-democracy forces, who were mainly southerners (especially Mina and Ewé), staged riots and strikes in protest of his authoritarian rule. Eyadéma met them with armed troops, killing scores of protesters in several clashes. The people of France and Togo were furious, and under their backlash Eyadéma gave in. He was summarily stripped of all powers and made president in name only. An interim prime minister was elected to take over command, but not four months later his residence was shelled with heavy artillery by Eyadéma's army. Their hardball tactics continued into 1993.

Terror strikes against the independent press and political assassination attempts became commonplace, while the promised 'transition' to democracy came to a standstill. The opposition continued to call general strikes, leading to further violence by the army and the exodus of hundreds of thousands of southerners to Ghana and Benin. Using intimidation tactics and clever political machinations that disqualified one opposition party and caused another to refuse to participate, Eyadéma won the 1993 presidential elections with more than 96% of the vote. In the years following, opposition parties have lost most of their steam and Eyadéma's control has become almost as firm as before the crisis began.

In August 1996, Prime Minister Edem Kodjo resigned, and the planning minister, Kwassi Klutse, was appointed prime minister. Eyadéma won another five-year term in June 1998 with 52% of the vote. In 2002, in what critics called a 'constitutional coup', the national assembly voted unanimously to change the constitution and allow Eyadéma to 'sacrifice himself again' and run for a third term during the 2003 presidential elections. Meanwhile, Gilchrist Olympio’s attempts to beat the man who overthrew his father were scuppered yet again when he was banned from running for failing to provide a current tax. Despite allegations of electoral fraud, Eyadéma won 57% of the votes in the elections, which international observers from the African Union described as generally free and transparent. For many Togolese, there is little optimism for the future and there is a prevailing sense of déjà vu as Eyadéma extends his record as Africa’s longest-serving ruler.

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