The Fascinating History of Togo

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The origins of Togo date back to the 10th century when Togolese tribes migrated from regions now known as Ghana and Burkina Faso to the central region of present-day Togo. The Ewe, Mina, and Kabre people were some of the first groups to settle in Togo, and they established their own distinct cultures and languages.

Throughout the 16th to the 19th century, the area of Togo became a hub for the transatlantic slave trade, and European powers including Germany, France, and Britain began to take an interest in the region. The current borders of Togo were established in 1884 by the German colonial government, which named the area Togoland.

After Germany’s defeat in World War I, Togoland was divided into two separate mandates – one for Britain and one for France. The French mandate became French Togo, which achieved full independence in 1960.

Throughout its early history, Togo was influenced by a wide variety of outside forces, from the slave trade era to the colonial period and eventual independence. These factors have played a significant role in shaping Togolese culture and identity.

Pre-Colonial Era

Before colonization, Togo was made up of numerous small kingdoms and tribes, each with its own distinctive culture and language. These communities often traded with each other and shared religious beliefs and practices, including animism and ancestor worship.

One of the most significant kingdoms in pre-colonial Togo was the Ewe kingdom of Notsie. The people of Notsie were known for their ironworking and agricultural techniques, and the kingdom was a regional power in West Africa until it was destroyed by German troops in 1897.

Another notable pre-colonial figure in Togo’s history is King Agokoli, who is considered a hero and symbol of resistance against European colonialism. Agokoli was the leader of the Tem kingdom, and he led a long and bloody resistance against German and French forces in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Colonial Era

Germany established colonial rule over Togoland in 1884, and the area was partitioned into different spheres of influence between Germany, Britain, and France. The German colonial government heavily exploited Togoland’s natural resources, particularly palm oil and rubber, and used forced labor to maximize profits.

During World War I, German Togoland was occupied by British and French forces, and the territory was divided into two mandates. The French mandate became French Togo, while the British mandate became part of what is now Ghana.

Under French rule, Togo experienced a period of significant development, particularly in infrastructure and education. However, the country’s economy remained heavily dependent on agriculture and primary exports, leading to significant poverty and inequality.

Independence and Post-Colonial Era

Togo achieved full independence from France in 1960, and Sylvanus Olympio became the country’s first president. Olympio faced a series of political challenges, including an attempted coup and ongoing border disputes with neighboring Ghana.

In 1963, Olympio was assassinated in a military coup led by Gnassingbe Eyadema. Eyadema remained in power for 38 years, during which time Togo experienced significant political instability, repression, and economic challenges.

After Eyadema’s death in 2005, his son Faure Gnassingbe took power in a controversial succession, leading to widespread protests and accusations of election fraud. Togo remains a relatively impoverished country, with ongoing challenges related to decent work and livelihoods, education, and access to basic services.


Togo is a country in West Africa that has a long and rich history. The earliest evidence of human habitation in Togo dates back to the Stone Age period, around 10,000 years ago. Over the centuries, Togo has been inhabited by various ethnic groups, including the Ewe, Mina, Kotokoli, and Kabye.

Precolonial History

Prior to European colonization, Togo was ruled by a series of small kingdoms and chiefdoms. The most notable of these were the Ewe kingdoms of Notse and Notsie, which emerged in the 17th century. The Ewe people were skilled farmers and traders, and they established a complex commercial network that extended throughout the region.

In the late 19th century, Togo became a German protectorate, known as Togoland. During this period, German colonizers established a system of indirect rule, relying on local chiefs to maintain order and control over the population. The primary German objective in Togo was to exploit the country’s natural resources, including palm oil, rubber, and cocoa.

Colonial Period

During World War I, Togo was occupied by Allied forces, and after the war, it was divided into two parts: British Togoland and French Togoland. The British section became part of Ghana in 1957, while the French section became an autonomous republic within the French Union.

In 1958, Togo became an independent nation under the leadership of Sylvanus Olympio. Despite initial optimism, Olympio’s government was plagued by corruption and political instability, and in 1963 he was assassinated in a military coup. This marked the beginning of a period of political turmoil in Togo, characterized by a series of coups and countercoups.

Post-Independence Politics

The first military coup in Togo occurred in 1967, when Gnassingbe Eyadema seized power. Eyadema remained in power for 38 years, ruling the country with an iron fist and suppressing political opposition. During his rule, Togo experienced periods of stability and economic growth, however, human rights abuses were also rampant.

In 2005, Eyadema died and was succeeded by his son, Faure Gnassingbe, in a disputed election. Gnassingbe’s rule has been marked by ongoing political tensions and opposition from civil society groups. In recent years, Togo has been rocked by protests and demonstrations calling for democratic reform and an end to the Gnassingbe dynasty.

Economic Development

Since independence, Togo has made some progress in economic development. The country has abundant natural resources, including phosphate, which is one of its major export products. Togo’s agriculture sector, including exports of coffee, cocoa, and cashews, is also an important part of the economy.

Despite these economic gains, Togo remains one of the poorest countries in the world. The majority of the population lives in poverty, and access to education and healthcare is limited. The country also suffers from high levels of corruption and a lack of political transparency.


Togo has a vibrant and diverse culture, influenced by the many ethnic groups that reside there. Traditional music and dance are an important part of Togolese culture, with each ethnic group having its unique style and instruments. Some of the country’s most popular traditional music styles include Agbadza and Akpessé.

Religion also plays a significant role in Togolese culture, with Christianity and Islam being the two dominant faiths. However, many traditional beliefs and practices remain, and the country is known for its voodoo culture, which is practiced by a significant minority of the population.


Togo’s tourism industry is small but growing, with the country’s unique cultural heritage and natural beauty attracting visitors from around the world. Some of the main tourist destinations in Togo include the village of Togoville, the beaches at Lome, and the Koutammakou UNESCO World Heritage Site, which is known for its traditional Konkomba architecture.

However, Togo’s tourism industry faces significant challenges, including a lack of infrastructure, a limited number of hotels and resorts, and concerns over safety and security. The government is currently working to address these issues and promote Togo as a viable tourist destination.

Key Figures

There have been several key figures in Togo’s history who have helped shape and transform the country. These individuals have played instrumental roles in politics, education, and activism, among other fields. Some of the most notable key figures in Togo’s history include:

Sylvanus Olympio

Sylvanus Olympio was Togo’s first president following its independence from France in 1960. He was a prominent businessman and political leader who played a critical role in the country’s transition to independence. During his tenure, he introduced a number of reforms aimed at modernizing and developing Togo’s economy, infrastructure, and education system. Unfortunately, his presidency was cut short when he was assassinated in 1963 in a military coup.

Gnassingbé Eyadéma

Gnassingbé Eyadéma was the longest-serving president in Togo’s history, ruling the country from 1967 until his death in 2005. He originally came to power in a military coup that ousted Olympio’s successor, and went on to become a controversial figure for his authoritarian rule and human rights abuses. However, he also oversaw a period of relative stability and economic growth in Togo, and played a key role in mediating conflicts in the region.

Edem Kodjo

Edem Kodjo is a former Togolese prime minister and diplomat who played an important role in promoting democracy and human rights in Africa. He served as prime minister twice, first under Eyadéma from 1994 to 1996, and again under the transitional government that took power after Eyadéma’s death in 2005. He has also worked for the United Nations and the Organization of African Unity (now the African Union), and has been an advocate for pan-Africanism and regional integration.

Elizabeth Pognon

Elizabeth Pognon was a pioneering educator and feminist who founded Togo’s first school for girls in the 1920s. She was a member of the Ewe ethnic group, which traditionally excluded women from formal education, and was determined to break down barriers and promote gender equality. Her school, which was later renamed the School of Lomé, became a model for girls’ education throughout West Africa, and helped empower generations of Togolese women.

Tété-Michel Kpomassie

Tété-Michel Kpomassie is a Togolese author and explorer who gained international recognition for his memoir, “An African in Greenland.” Born in the 1940s in a remote village in Togo, Kpomassie developed a fascination with the Arctic and eventually traveled to Greenland to live among the Inuit people. His book, which was published in 1981, was a critical and commercial success, and helped broaden awareness of African cultures and perspectives. Kpomassie has since become a respected voice in African literature and cultural studies.

Kwassi Gbegbloy Abbévi

Kwassi Gbegbloy Abbévi was a prominent Togolese nationalist and independence activist who played a key role in the country’s struggle against French colonialism. He was a member of the Ewe ethnic group, which was heavily targeted by French policies of assimilation and exploitation, and helped organize protests and resistance movements in the 1950s and 1960s. Following Togo’s independence, he continued to be active in politics and advocacy, and was a leading voice on issues such as land reform, democracy, and human rights.

Impact and Significance

The history of Togo has had significant impacts on the country and its people. From colonialism to independence, Togo has gone through challenging periods that have shaped its identity and cultural diversity. Below are the impacts and significance of some essential events in Togo’s history.


Togo, like many African countries, was colonized by European powers, mainly Germany and France. The Germans colonized Togo between 1884 and 1914, and during this period, they established trading outposts, introduced cash crops and built infrastructure like railways and roads. However, the Germans used forced labor and exploited the locals, leading to uprisings and revolts.

After World War I, Togo became a French mandate territory, and the French colony lasted until Togo gained independence in 1960. The impact of colonization was significant as it led to the creation of modern Togo and its infrastructure, but it came at a cost of exploitation, forced labor, and cultural hegemony.

The Ewe-Fon Wars

The Ewe-Fon Wars were a series of conflicts between the Ewe and Fon ethnic groups in the Kingdom of Dahomey. These wars had a significant impact on Togo’s history as they resulted in the formation of the German colony of Togo. The Germans, keen on exploiting the region’s resources, supported the Ewe in their fight against the Fon, leading to the eventual division of Togo between France and Germany.

The Ewe-Fon Wars also had significant cultural effects as they resulted in migration, the displacement of ethnic groups, and the creation of new ethnic identities. Today, the Ewe are one of the largest ethnic groups in Togo, and their language and culture have influenced Togolese society.

Struggle for Independence

The struggle for independence in Togo was a long and challenging process that lasted from the 1950s until 1960. The Togolese people formed political parties, held protests, and used various forms of civil disobedience to demand freedom from colonial rule. Their efforts eventually paid off, and Togo became an independent nation on April 27, 1960.

The significance of Togo’s independence was enormous as it marked the end of colonialism in West Africa and paved the way for other African countries to gain independence in the years that followed. Togo’s first president, Sylvanus Olympio, became a symbol of African resistance, and his assassination in 1963 was a tragic reminder of the challenges that lay ahead for independent African nations.

Gnassingbe Eyadema’s Rule

After a series of coups and political instability, Gnassingbe Eyadema came to power in Togo in 1967 and remained in power until his death in 2005. During his rule, Eyadema oversaw significant political and economic changes in Togo, including the creation of a one-party state and the nationalization of many of the country’s industries.

However, Eyadema’s rule was also marked by human rights abuses, violence, and political oppression. His regime was accused of torture, disappearances, and suppression of political dissent. Eyadema’s rule had a significant impact on Togo’s political landscape, and his legacy is still felt in the country today.

Togo’s Democratic Transition

Following Eyadema’s death in 2005, Togo entered into a period of political transition that culminated in democratic elections and the establishment of a multi-party system. This period was marked by significant social, economic, and political changes, including the promulgation of a new constitution and a peaceful transfer of power from father to son.

Togo’s democratic transition was significant as it marked the country’s return to civilian rule and restored its reputation as a democratic nation. However, the transition has not been entirely smooth, and Togo continues to grapple with issues of corruption, human rights abuses, and political instability.

In conclusion, Togo’s history has had significant impacts on the country and its people, from colonization to independence, and political transitions. These events have shaped Togo’s identity as a nation and influenced its cultural diversity. While Togo has achieved much in its journey, there is still a long way to go to ensure that the country’s people live in freedom, peace, and prosperity.

Social, cultural, or political Context: Understanding the History of Togo

Togo is a relatively small, narrow country located in West Africa with a rich and complex history. Its location near the Gulf of Guinea has made it an important center of trade and a melting pot of African cultures. Togo was colonized by various European powers from the 15th century onwards, with Germany, France, and Britain each exerting their influence over the country at different times. This article will explore the social, cultural, and political context of Togo’s history, highlighting some of the key events and movements that have shaped the country over the centuries.

Pre-colonial era

Togo has been inhabited by various groups of people for thousands of years. The first recorded inhabitants were the Tchamba people, who were hunter-gatherers. Later, the Ewe people, who came from what is now Nigeria, settled in the southeastern part of the country. In the north, the Kotokoli people established a kingdom that was known as the Tamberma Empire. Other groups, such as the Kabre people and the Konkomba people, also settled in Togo during this time.

Throughout the pre-colonial era, Togo was heavily involved in regional trade networks. Salt, ivory, and slaves were some of the most valuable commodities traded, and Togo’s location near the coast made it an important stop for Arab and European traders. As a result, Togo was influenced by a variety of cultures and religions, including Islam, Christianity, and traditional African beliefs.

Colonial rule

In the late 19th century, European powers began to carve up Africa in a process known as the Scramble for Africa. Togo was claimed by Germany in 1884, and it became a German protectorate. The Germans established plantations and exploited Togo’s natural resources, including cocoa, coffee, and palm oil. They also imposed forced labor and harsh taxes on the local population.

German rule came to an end during World War I, when Togo was invaded by British and French forces. After the war, Togo was divided into two parts: the western part was administered by Britain, and the eastern part was administered by France. In 1922, the two parts were merged to form the French Togoland colony. Under French rule, Togo continued to be exploited for its natural resources, and the local population was subjected to forced labor and discrimination.

Independence and post-colonial era

Togo gained independence from France in 1960, and Sylvanus Olympio became the country’s first president. Olympio attempted to modernize the country and improve the living conditions of the population, but his government was overthrown in a military coup in 1963. This was the beginning of a period of political instability in Togo that would last for several decades.

From 1963 to 2005, Togo was ruled by various military and civilian governments. During this period, there were several violent conflicts between different ethnic and political groups in the country. In 1993, a new constitution was adopted, and multi-party elections were held for the first time. However, these elections were marred by allegations of fraud and intimidation.

In 2005, Faure Gnassingbé, the son of Togo’s longtime dictator, became president following his father’s death. This sparked protests and violence, but Gnassingbé was eventually able to consolidate his power and has been re-elected several times since then. In recent years, there have been some positive developments in Togo, including improvements in healthcare and education, but the country continues to face many challenges, including high levels of poverty and political instability.

Religion and culture

Togo is a diverse country with many different religions and cultures. Christianity and Islam are the two largest religions, but there are also many people who follow traditional African religions. These religions are often characterized by animism, or the belief in spirits and supernatural forces.

Despite the influence of Christianity and Islam, many traditional African cultural practices have been preserved in Togo. For example, the Ewe people are known for their vibrant festivals and music, which often involve elaborate costumes and masks. The Kabye people are famous for their intricate weaving and textiles, while the Kotokoli people are known for their unique architecture and pottery.


There are more than 40 different languages spoken in Togo, reflecting the country’s diversity. French is the official language, and it is spoken by many educated and urban Togolese people. However, many people speak indigenous languages such as Ewe, Mina, Kabiye, or Kotokoli. The use of these languages is an important part of Togolese culture and identity.

In conclusion, Togo’s history is complex and multifaceted, shaped by a variety of social, cultural, and political factors. Despite the challenges the country has faced, Togo has a rich cultural heritage and a resilient population. As the country continues to evolve and develop, it will be important to understand its past and present contexts in order to support its future growth and prosperity.

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