Sylvanus Olympio

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Sylvanus Olympio (l.) Visits Munich
Sylvanus Olympio visits Essen in North Rhine-Westphalia during a tour of the Krupp factory

Sylvanus Épiphanio Olympio (born September 6, 1902 in Lomé , † January 13, 1963 ibid ) was a Togolese politician. From the independence of Togo on April 27, 1960, he was President of the country until it was violently overthrown.


Olympio came from an Afro-Brazilian family who belonged to the black elite in French Africa. He grew up in Lomé and then studied in England, where he graduated from the London School of Economics as a Bachelor in Commerce in 1926 . He first worked as an accountant for the United Africa Company (UAC), a company of the British Unilever and at that time the largest sole proprietorship in West Africa, from 1929 in the Togolese branch and from 1938 as general manager for Togo.

Political career

Olympio's interest was now increasingly in politics. In 1942 he was imprisoned in Djougou in the north of Dahomeys , today's Benin. He was suspected of having opposed the Vichy regime as a Gaullist . During the Second World War , he was co-founder and vice-president of the nationalist party Comité de l'unité togolaise (CUT), a party of the Ewe based in southern Togo , whose founding was directly directed against the threat of possible political infiltration by National Socialist Germany. In 1946 Olympio was elected chairman of the Territorial Assembly of French Togoland . In this role he came increasingly into conflict with the French colonial government from 1947 , as he strongly advocated the colonies' right to self-determination. In 1951 he was transferred to France from Unilever, but ended his work there after his party was defeated in the 1951 elections. The following elections in 1955 and the referendum of 1956 boycotted his party on charges of election manipulation by the French mandate, but before the United Nations, Olympio, among other things, initiated new, fair elections in Togo. These elections were held on April 27, 1958 and gave the CUT a majority in the Territorial Assembly.

As the successor to Nicolas Grunitzky , he was elected Prime Minister of Togo on May 16, 1958. After gaining independence on April 27, 1960, Olympio became the first state president of the Republic of Togo. Until April 12, 1961, he also retained the office of Prime Minister.

Military coup and assassination

The referendum, which was held in 1956, resulted in the secession of a part of the country now belonging to the neighboring state of Ghana . Ghana's President Kwame Nkrumah indicated several times that the rest of Togo's territory would sooner or later fall to Ghana as the seventh province. As a result, the respective opposition politicians sought to deepen the conflict that had been simmering since 1956 and made pacts with the respective president of the neighboring state. Antoine Méatchi , as a refugee head of the Togolese Juvento opposition, had become a "close friend" of Nkrumah in exile. At the height of the tensions, the border crossings between the two states were closed and an armed conflict loomed that the smaller Togo would not have survived if the neighboring states ( Monrovia Group ) had not immediately exerted massive pressure on Ghana.

During his tenure, there was resentment about the preference given to the population groups from the south of the country and among 676 mercenaries returning from the Algerian war who had been released from the French army . The former mercenaries were mainly recruited from the northern population group of the Kabiyé and demanded a position in the Togolese army, which Olympio refused, given the scarce state funds and the promised UN intervention in the event of a conflict with neighboring Ghana. Olympio had already survived three assassination attempts (in May and December 1961 and in January 1962) during this time. On the morning of January 13, 1963, there was a coup by a group of mercenaries led by Emmanuel Bodjollé , in which Olympio was murdered. Sylvanus Olympio was the first president of an African state granted independence in the 20th century who was murdered during his tenure.


The bloody act resulted in a state of emergency in Togo and triggered intense diplomatic reactions from neighboring countries, which were intended to prevent a military escalation and annexation of Togo. Nigeria's Foreign Minister Jaja Wachuku was in for a detailed investigation and has already oracle that the act was organized and financed from abroad. That is why he convened the Conference of Monrovia States eleven days after the attack. The representatives of the putschists (Togolese revolutionary government) and the supporters of the murdered president were invited to the three-day deliberations.

The provisional head of government was Nicolas Grunitzky, who had returned from Dahomey , an enemy brother-in-law of the murdered Olympio and the son of a German-Polish businessman. Antoine Méatchi , the former Togolese Minister of Agriculture, was thus, despite Ghanaian support, another loser in the power poker for the presidency.

The “ Monrovia Group ” of the OAU (Ethiopia, Dahomey, Gabon, Ivory Coast, Congo-Léopoldville, Congo-Brazzaville, Liberia, Madagascar, Mauritania, Nigeria, Upper Volta, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Tanganyika, Togo, Chad, Central African Republic and Cameroon) demanded:

  • the punishment of the murderer
  • the release of all political prisoners
  • the re-establishment of democratic conditions in Togo

The social situation of the Ghanaian refugees in Togo was also pointed out and the granting of asylum was requested. The group of putschists had already achieved an important goal: the provisional head of government Grunitzky had agreed as one of the first decisions to replenish the Togolese army to battalion strength.


Sylvanus Olympio's son Gilchrist Olympio is currently one of the most prominent opposition leaders in the country.

Web links

Commons : Sylvanus Olympio  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. a b c d Togo’s Prime Minister Sylvanus Olympio: from Company Clerk to African Statesman . In: Africa Report , April 1960, pp. 6-7
  2. a b c Russel Warren Howe: Togo: Four Years of Military Rule . In: Africa Report , May 1967, pp. 6-12
  3. ^ African Election Database: Elections in Togo .
  4. a b c d Three balls . In: Der Spiegel . No. 6 , 1963, pp. 56 ( online ).
  5. Murder in Tongo . In: Die Zeit , No. 3/63