Sylvanus Olympio and the vision of a united Africa

Thursday June 13 2019


Sylvanus Epiphanio Olympio was a Togolese politician who served as Prime Minister, and then President, of Togo from 1958 until his assassination in 1963.

He is considered as one of the pan-African leaders who engaged the colonialists head-on to free Togo from colonial bondage. He was also ready to pursue the way to unite Africa.

In a two-series of articles we will give a narrative of extraordinary leadership of the first leader of Togo, who died in defense of the Togolese freedom from French domination. His assassination in 1963 made him a Togolese and African hero.

He was opposed to the joining of the Franc Common Currency (CFA) that was formed by the French in 1945 to balkanize the Francophone West African countries and reinforce France colonialism and neo-colonialism.

His intention to withdraw from the group costed his life as he was assassinated two days before he withdrew Togo from the CFA franc zone.

Sylvanus Olympio was born on September 6, 1902 at Kpando in the former German protectorate of Togoland which eventually became British Togoland after the defeat of Germany in World War I between 1914 and 1918.


He was the son of Epiphanio Olympio and a grandson to the important Afro-Brazilian trader Francisco Olympio Sylvio.

Olympio obtained his primary education at Kpando and went to Lomé for his secondary education at the German Catholic School. In 1920 Sylvanus Olympio went to London to study a Degree in Economics at the London School of Economics between 1922 and 1926. He then studied International Law at Dijon Law School in France at then in Vienna, Austria in 1927.

Between 1927 and 1930 Olympio worked as a lawyer with Lever Brothers Company in London and then returned to West Africa to start a business economics career with the Unilever Company in Lagos, Nigeria and then in Ho, Ghana.

He rose to the ranks of the Director General of the United Africa Company (UAC), a subsidiary of Unilever in Francophone Africa.

In the early 1940s Sylvanus Olympio gave up his corporate career and joined the Comité pour l’Unité Togolaise (CUT) political Party to begin the struggle for self-rule in Togo. In 1958 election his party CUT won making him the Prime Minister of the country.

His power was further cemented when Togo achieved independence on the April 27, 1960 and became the First President of the Republic of Togo on the April 9, 1961.

As President of Togo Olympio’s vision of a free and self-determining Togo, free of western interference, putting the people first above all other interests was not accepted by the West.

When Olympio decided to break away from the CFA francs currency which was imposed on France’s colonies, the neo-colonialists decided to eliminate him.

Two days before Sylvanus Olympio was due to sign the withdrawal agreement of Togo from the CFA francs currency, the West assassinated him on the January 13, 1963 in the first military coup d’état in the French and British colonies in Africa. It was three years after Togo’s independence.

After his death a new government headed by Nicolas Grunitzky, as President, and Antoine Meatchi, as Vice President was formed.

When Olympio broke away from the Franc Common Currency (CFA) he intended to destroy the domino effect of the poison of French imperialism in Africa but he did not succeed and to this effect Sylvanus Olympio became the African hero who wanted a free united Africa.

Olympio represents the African revolutionaries and intellectuals who were killed by the West and replaced by leaders who conceded to the demands of the imperialist and become African puppets externally controlled.

Since then Togo was ruled by the most repressive totalitarian neo-colonial puppet regime aided and abetted by the West.