This April 27, 1960, the Togolese commemorate the sixty years of their independence. An independence that followed, like that of Cameroon, a different path from that followed by the rest of French-speaking Africa. Because Togo was a trust territory of the United Nations, it fed on what was living in the British Gold Coast (present-day Ghana) and wealthy circles quickly knew how to bring nationalist claims there. As early as April 1958, the Togolese thus took the option of emancipation.
With our correspondent in Lomé, Peter Sassou Dogbé
” I know that here in this room, while remaining fundamentally Togolese, you all have a French soul. “Governor Jean Noutary has the Gaullist faith pegged to the body when, on May 11 and 12, 1945, he addresses an audience largely Togolese. It was he who convened this commission in Lomé and who instructed it to decide on the recommendations of the Brazzaville conference. He wants to believe that his audience will reaffirm his attachment to France. He will quickly become disillusioned. This brings up the question of nationality. Will the nationals of the territory be French? Chief Michel Dorkenoo of the Canton of Aképé takes the ” We were born in Togo, we are Togolese, we are not asking for anything else… A forty-something man particularly shines during these debates: Sylvanus Olympio.
The existence of well-to-do and educated circles, the proximity of the Gold Coast (present-day Ghana) which shows another form of colonization, the mandate of the League of Nations and then the supervision of the United Nations made of Togo a territory in which an early nationalism is born. ” Already in January 1933, says historian Adovi Michel Goeh Akué, when taxes were raised after the great global economic crisis, a group of young leaders with the support of women led a movement – a riot against taxation. It was already a pre-nationalist pressure that was taking place. The CUT, the Togolese Unity Committee, which will become the spearhead of the independence movement, was created on March 13, 1941. It relies on an association set up three years earlier by the colonial administration. … It was then intended to counter German claims.
The Battle of Independence at the UN
Women have played a special role in this independence movement. Particularly between 1951 and 58, when the nationalists were in opposition and they were fought by the colonial power. ” They have been very effective in spreading their party ideas, explains the former professor of history of the University of Lomé, Ginette Ekué, now retired. They used all the means at their disposal : door-to-door, the cries of the market where they operated. They will create songs whose text was short to mark the spirits … political program songs, rallying songs, songs whose variety was very great … Their support is also financial: the women will allow politically active students to compensate for the loss of their scholarships, they will help pay fines to political leaders and will allow the departure of nationalist representatives in New York.
Because the separatists have a strong ally: the UN, and more precisely its tutorship council. Like Cameroon, Togo enjoys a special status within the French colonial system. Originally a German colony, it was divided between English and French mandated areas after the First World War. Then placed under a regime of trusteeship by the UN from December 13, 1946. In this regime, “Togo Oriental” was entrusted to France. But the trusteeship agreement sets a course, the authority responsible for administration must promote the progressive evolution of the Togolese towards the capacity to administer themselves or independence. This agreement also establishes a United Nations right of oversight over the administration of the territory: the tutorship council will have to watch over the good respect of the obligations of France and the General Assembly of the United Nations could be brought to debate about it. These provisions will make the United Nations a platform for nationalists.
►Also to listen : The independence of Togo sixty years ago: with historian Adovi Michel Goeh Akué
Nationalists against “ Zotonomy zinterne “
Is this supervision bulky for Paris? In 1955, in any case, the Territorial Assembly of Togo considers that the control of the United Nations is “a heavy mortgage for Togo” and ” believes that the time has come to raise the question of the end of the trusteeship regime and the future of Togo with the French government first and with the United Nations thereafter ” The Autonomous Republic of Togo was proclaimed on August 30, 1956. But the nationalists were not satisfied with this autonomy. They mock, in their newspapers, “Zotonomie Zinterne”.
The Trusteeship Council itself remains skeptical. “ For the UN, autonomy is not independence and, since the referendum was not held under its auspices, the Trusteeship Council cannot feel bound by its results “, explain Togolese historians who describe this episode in the series of reference books History of Togolese From origins to the 1960s (published by Karthala). A UN mission will therefore be returned to the field. And thereafter, the United Nations will recommend the organization of early legislative elections, under their control.
The election took place on April 27, 1958. After years of boycotting ballots that seemed to be played out in advance, the Togolese nationalists are determined to lead the battle. ” Everything was prepared by the colonial administration to win these elections, explains Adovi Michel Goeh Akué. But it must be said that the unions played an important role. The union leaders went on a general strike, demanding a revision of the electoral list, which was obtained and therefore the list was enlarged. Against all expectations, the nationalists largely won the election and the leader of the nationalist party was called in, Sylvanus Olympio to form a government. “By voting for nationalists through the CUT-Juvento alliance, the Togolese took independence on April 27, 1958. A few months, even, before the historic “No” from Guinea to the French Community.
“ Sentinel what do you say about the night? ”
Independence was proclaimed two years later, day for day, on the night of April 26 to 27, 1960. After midnight, the colors of Togo were lifted and Sylvanus Olympio addressed the crowd. His first words are of biblical inspiration ” Sentinel, what do you say about the night ? The night is long, but the day is coming. Words pronounced with energy. Detached. Serious. A generation has been marked by it. Dovi Kuevi was a student. He followed this speech from his room, on his post: ” The voice with which these words were spoken impressed me and continues to impress me until I approach my 80s … “
Olympio recalls that Togo was a German protectorate, a Franco-British condominium, a trust territory of France and that it has regained its ” freedom of yesteryear ” The voice is growing: ” From this moment and forever, freed from all subjection, from all hindrance, master of his destiny, master of your destiny dear Togo, my dear country, you are finally free ! On behalf of the Togolese people, I solemnly proclaim the independence of Togo, our homeland ! “
► Also listen:the assassination of Sylvanus Olympio, memory of a trauma
A young boy follows the whole scene. His name is Horatio, the son of one of the CUT executives, Paulin Freitas, the Minister of State for the Interior, Information and the Press. A trusted Olympian. Horatio is seated alongside the officials. 60 years later, he still remembers: ” Before us, the crowd that was gathered there and who followed this speech was overjoyed. After this extraordinary speech by President Olympio we all went to the beach and for the first time we saw a fireworks display. I swear to you that this fireworks, taken from the beach towards the sea … and the light in the deep night, it was magical. We were happy, we said to each other : Togo is like a big European country ! “
The country will be ruled by Sylvanus Olympio during the first years of its independence, until its assassination on January 13, 1963 by angry soldiers. Did these soldiers serve as instruments for a French-African maneuver? Should getting rid of Olympio make it possible to stop a trajectory that strayed too far from French interests? Many wonder, some like the historian Têtêvi Godwin Têté are convinced. The archives have certainly not yet said everything.
► Also to listen: Godwin Tété, historian, member of the National Alliance for Change (ANC)
► Find the file “African independence: Togo” on RFI Savoirs