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Sylvanus Olympio

Sylvanus Olympio

Introduction

About

Sylvanus Olympio, born on September 6, 1902, in Kpandu, German Togoland (present-day Volta Region of Ghana), was a prominent Togolese politician who played a crucial role in the independence movement and served as both prime minister and the first president of Togo. Olympio hailed from the influential Olympio family, with his uncle Octaviano Olympio being one of the wealthiest individuals in Togo during the early 1900s.

After completing his education at the London School of Economics, Olympio worked for Unilever and became the general manager of the company's African operations. He held various managerial positions, showcasing his business acumen. His experiences during World War II, including imprisonment by Vichy France in 1942, fueled his desire for Togo's independence, as he became active in the post-war efforts to achieve self-rule.

Olympio engaged in both domestic and international advocacy for Togo's independence, petitioning the United Nations Trusteeship Council and founding the Comité de l'unité togolaise (CUT) as the major party opposing French control. Despite challenges, including arrests and suspensions of his political rights, Olympio's persistence led to the 1958 elections, where his CUT party won every elected position in the national council.

From 1958 to 1961, Olympio served as Togo's prime minister, minister of finance, minister of foreign affairs, and minister of justice. In 1961, following the transition to independence, he won the presidential election with over 90% of the vote, becoming the first president of Togo.

Olympio pursued a foreign policy that sought connections with Britain, the United States, and other Western countries. He visited the United States in 1962 and had a friendly meeting with President John F. Kennedy, emphasizing cultural links between British and French West Africa.

One of the defining aspects of Olympio's presidency was the tense relationship with Ghana, particularly with Kwame Nkrumah. The division over the western part of the German colony led to strained relations and mutual accusations.

In terms of Togo-France relations, Olympio initially faced hostility from the French, but he later improved relations and secured a defense pact with them for Togo's protection. Olympio aimed to develop Togo without heavy reliance on foreign support and repressed opposition parties, maintaining a significant amount of authority.

Tragically, Sylvanus Olympio's presidency was cut short by his assassination on January 13, 1963, during the Togolese coup d'état. The event marked the first coup in the French and British colonies in Africa that had gained independence in the 1950s and 1960s. Étienne Eyadéma, who claimed power in 1967, confessed to personally firing the shot that killed Olympio. The assassination sent shockwaves through Africa, with several nations denouncing the coup. The aftermath saw an increase in the Togolese military and political instability, eventually leading to Eyadéma's long rule until 2005. Olympio's family remained in exile for much of this period, with his son, Gilchrist Olympio, leading the main opposition in Togo since the mid-1990s.

Time of Birth:

Place of Birth: Kpandu, Ghana

Long: 0.2949° E

Lat: 6.9906° N

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Date of Birth: September 6, 1902

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