Prehistoric time to the Middle Ages
Where the state of Togo is today, people lived as early as the Stone Age, first as hunters and gatherers, later as settled farmers. From the 15th century on, tribes who came to this area settled here. These tribes include the Ewe and Yoruba, who immigrated from the east (today Benin and Nigeria) and whose peoples still live in Togo today. Other tribes such as the Mina and Fanti immigrated from the west.
Beginning of colonization: the Portuguese
The first Europeans to land on the coast of Togo were Portuguese. That was in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. Portuguese sailors ventured further and further in search of the sea route to India.
The slave coast
The Portuguese began to trade with the tribes. Ivory and pepper were coveted goods, but also slaves. People were abducted from the interior and then sold to the Europeans. This also happened on the coast of what is now Benin and in the western part of Nigeria. This stretch of coast was then called the slave coast. Further to the west were the Pepper Coast (today Liberia and Sierra Leone), the Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire) and the Gold Coast (today Ghana).
In the area of today’s Togo, however, unlike to the west and east of it, no larger fortresses and trading centers were built. This was because there were no natural harbors for ships that would have favored this. The only place that became a more important trading post was Aného, which lies on a large lagoon. In any case, at the end of the 19th century the stretch of coast of today’s Togo was still quite free from the influence of the European colonists.
Under the influence of Ashanti and Dahomey
In the 18th and 19th centuries, the area of today’s Togo was also under the influence of the powerful African empires that existed at that time. In present-day Ghana there was the Ashanti Empire, in present-day Benin the Empire Dahomey. Both empires were smashed by the Europeans.
German colony (1884-1914)
In the 19th century there were first German missionaries who wanted to convert the Ewe to Christianity in the south of the country. They were followed by merchants who urged the establishment of a German trading colony and asked Chancellor Bismarck for support. In 1884 the German Empire sent the doctor Gustav Nachtigal to West Africa. In July 1884 he concluded a “protection treaty” with the King of the Ewe Mlapa III. Togo thus became a German colony.
The Germans named the colony Togoland after the city of Togo where the treaty was signed. The area of the colony was enlarged in the next few years, especially by conquering the north. After all, it encompassed a larger area than today’s Togo because part of today’s Ghana was still part of it. Together with the German colony in Cameroon, the area was named German West Africa.
In 1897, today’s capital Lomé became the seat of the German colonial administration. Several small uprisings by local ethnic groups as well as a major uprising by the Dagomba were violently suppressed. Roads and railroad lines were built, a jetty was built and the shipping trade flourished.
In 1907 a poll tax was introduced, according to which every resident had to pay taxes – everyone in the same amount, regardless of how much one earned and whether one earned anything at all. The poll tax is the reason why Togo was considered a model colony, because it was the only colony without debts. To do this, however, they also exploited mineral resources and shot almost all the elephants dead in order to trade in the precious ivory. Cotton, palm oil, corn and rubber were sold, especially to Germany, but also cocoa, coffee, peanuts and pepper.
History of Togo from 1914 until today
Togo during and after the First World War (1914-1918)
The First World War began in 1914. British and French troops invaded Togo and captured the German colony. At the end of August 1914, Togo was handed over to the British. In 1916, Great Britain and France divided Togo among themselves: Great Britain received the western part, which bordered the British colony of Ghana, and France received the east. The people of the Ewe, who live in the south of Ghana and Togo, remained divided.
The Treaty of Versailles finally regulated in 1919 that Germany lost its colony. The territories became League of Nations mandate, that is, they were under the League of Nations, but were administered by Great Britain and France respectively. They were now called British Togoland and French Togoland. In fact, British Togoland was part of the British colony on the Gold Coast (Ghana).
French mandate: French Togoland (1919-1956) and Autonomous Republic of Togo (1956-1960)
French Togoland was the greater part of the former German colony. This area later became the independent state of Togo, while British Togoland joined Ghana with independence in 1957. France initially gave its colony autonomy in 1956. Togo received its own administration, parliament and constitution.
In 1945 British Togoland and French Togoland became UN trust territories, as the United Nations (UN) was the successor organization to the League of Nations. But that did not change the status of the colonies.
Independence (1960) and the first presidents Olympio and Grunitzky
According to thefreegeography, Togo gained full independence on April 27, 1960. Sylvanus Olympio became the first president. But there were further disagreements about the existing division of the areas, and Olympio, an Ewe, was accused of preferring the Ewe in the south of the country. Olympio was murdered in 1963 in a military coup led by Gnassingbé Eyadéma. Nicolas Grunitzky became the new president, but the country continued to suffer from unrest. On January 13, 1967, there was another coup in Eyadéma, in which Grunitzky fled.
Military dictatorship under Gnassingbé Eyadéma (1967-2005)
Eyadéma has now appointed himself President of Togo. He ruled the country for 38 years. There was more than one party and free elections from 1991, but always under the control of Eyadéma and his party. He was also accused of numerous human rights violations. Opponents of his policies have been arrested and tortured. Many people fled Togo.
Faure Gnassingbé (since 2005)
After Eyadéma’s death, his son Faure Gnassingbé was proclaimed the new president. This assumption of power was illegal and under massive international pressure he resigned, but was then confirmed as president in elections a few weeks later. He was accused of electoral fraud. Riots broke out and 40,000 people fled Togo, particularly to Benin. Gnassingbé was confirmed in office in the 2010, 2015 and 2020 elections.