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Biography of Sylvanus OLYMPIO

Togo > Politics : Sylvanus OLYMPIO

Sylvanus OLYMPIO
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Born on 06/09/1902 (format : day/month/year)

Biography :

Sylvanus Olympio (born Sept 6, 1902- Died Jan 13 1963), was an African political leader was the first president of Togo from 1961 to 1963.He was distinguished for his pragmatism, brillance and moderation. his  government was overthrown by the first military coup in tropical Africa and he was assassinated.

Sylvanus Epiphanio Olympio (6 September 1902 - 13 January 1963) was a Togolese political figure.
He  was born into a very influential Lomé family which had emigrated from Brazil in the mid-19th century. He was educated in Togolese schools, and although a resident of the French area of the Mandated Territory of Togo, he attended the London School of Economics, earning a degree in commerce in 1926. He was immediately employed by the United Africa Company and eventually rose to be its district manager for Togo.

Togolese citizens faced two problems not common to most African territories. In the 1880s Britain, Germany, and France had drawn arbitrary boundaries which divided people of the same tribes. The Ewe were the most affected since they were forced to live in the Gold Coast, Togo, and Dahomey. The mandate system after 1919 further divided Togo between France and Britain. Olympio early associated himself with the Comité de l'Unité  Togolaise(CUT), an association dedicated to Ewe reunification. It also opposed closer links between Togo and the French Empire.

Because of his views, Olympio was interned by the Vichy government in Dahomey during World War II. After his release he resigned from the company and became head of CUT. As president of the Togo Assembly after 1946, and later a deputy to the French Assembly, he was the most articulate spokesman for Ewe unification, appearing a number of times before the United Nations. The Ewe cause was doomed because it was opposed by both Britain and France, and devolution of power to the Gold Coast after 1951 was a further block. In 1956 in a United Nations plebiscite, British Togo voted for union with the Gold Coast.

In 1956 French Togo received limited autonomy, and in the following elections the most cooperative Parti Togolaise du Progrès (PTP) won, and Nicholas Grunitzky became prime minister. Olympio and the CUT protested the election to the United Nations, which refused to recognize the French arrangements until better-supervised elections were completed. The CUT won such an election in 1958, and Olympio became prime minister. Independence was granted Togo in April 1960, and a year later it became a republic with Olympio its president. The PTP was disqualified by Olympio's government, and thus his party won all 51 seats in the legislature.

Olympio, an economist, realized that Togo, small in size and poor in resources, had to proceed cautiously in its development program. He cooperated with France and instituted stringent controls on expenditure. Economic problems were increased by the actions of Kwame Nkrumah. Angered by his failure to absorb Togo in a federation, he closed the Ghanaian border. Dissatisfaction with Olympio's policies began to develop among the young Togolese who disagreed with his pro-French attitude. Olympio also resisted demands of Togolese veterans of the French army to enlarge the 250-man Togo force. On Jan. 13, 1963, these disgruntled soldiers staged a coup and, although not originally intending to do so, shot Olympio as he was trying to reach the security of the U.S. embassy.

The leader of the coup, Col. Gnassingbé Eyadéma, who later assumed the presidency in 1967 and held it until his death in 2005, claimed to have personally fired the shot which killed Olympio. One legend says Olympio was shot after the U.S. embassy refused to open its gates to let him in, as he sought refuge there fleeing from the band of ex-soldiers from the French army led by Gnassingbé Eyadéma.

Last update : 07/08/2008

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