Sylvanus Olympio and the vision of a united Africa

Thursday June 20 2019


In this last part of the story of Sylvanus Epiphanio Olympio, one of visionaries of the pan-African movement; we chronicle his legacy to remind of our hope towards the unification of the African continent.

We must continue the struggle until victory descends to Africa.

Olympio as was Nyerere of Tanzania believed in a more gradual approach to unity in order to create a continental government.

The approach that Olympio took towards the African unity clashed with thoughts of Nkrumah of Ghana who wanted an immediate creation of an African continental government.

So the attempt of Nkrumah to unite Togo with Ghana to initiate the unification of the African Continent brought Nkrumah into confrontation with Olympio.

The conflict between Ghana and Togo was used by the neo-colonialists to frustrate the possible unification of the African continent. The relationship between the two countries became increasingly strained and the situation reached a point in which Ghana was openly welcoming to Olympio’s political opponents, while enemies of Nkrumah were being welcomed in Togo.


Finally the colonialists were able to assassinated Olympio in 1963 and three years later Nkrumah was overthrown in 1966 and he was exiled to die in a foreign land. The story of the emancipation and unification of the African continent is therefore drenched in blood of freedom martyrs as was reminded by Bob Marley the pan-African singer who asked in his Redemption Song: “…How long shall they kill our prophets while we stand aside and look?.. When is enough enough?..”

Olympio was a leader who believed in the freedom of all nations in Africa. When visiting the USA on the 20th March 1962, he was interviewed by the NBC media and he said that he wasn’t neutral on issues concerning freedom. He said: “…We cannot be neutral when it is a matter concerning individual and national freedom, we are nationalists we believe for freedom of countries which are still not independent …there is so compromise on that part of principle…”

In this same interview Olympio also aired his pan-African belief of the possibility of the unity of African countries in order to achieve greater developmental strides. He said: “…The African territories must group together if they are to do big things, if they are to have big developments in various points…”

Also the historian Martin Meredith in his Book titled “The Fate of Africa: From the Hopes of Freedom to the Heart of Despair” merits Olympio among the first generation of the African continent. He writes: “…As founding fathers, the first generation of nationalist leaders—Nkrumah, Nasser, Senghor, Houphouët Boigny, Sékou Touré, Keita, OLYMPIO, Kenyatta, Nyerere, Kaunda, Banda—all enjoyed great prestige and high honour…”

Sylvanus Olympio is yearly remembered and celebrated in Togo as a national hero on every 27th April Day - at a monument dedicated to him, other Togolese Heroes and the Independence of the Republic of Togo. There are also several epitomes abroad dedicated to the cherishing this Patriarch Leader of the African continent including the Olympio Primary School in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Olympio takes a front seat in the congregation of African Leaders who had a vision of a united African continent. In a speech by the President of Ghana, Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, on the 20th November 2017 at the London School of Economics; he listed Olympio as one of the influential African Leaders.

He said “…There is a long list of Africans, who have gone on to have influence and direct the affairs of their countries. ...Let me mention just a few: …Jomo Kenyatta, SYLVANUS OLYMPIO, Kwame Nkrumah, J.H. Mensah, Gilchrist Olympio, Hilla Limann, ….persons who have all had, in varying degrees, great impact on the development of their countries and of Africa…”

As was the case of other revolutionaries and pan-Africanists who were killed prematurely; Sylvanus Epiphanio Olympio death represents another lost opportunity for the emancipation and unification of the African Continent from economic bondage. Africa will live to remember this anti-imperialist as one of the great Pan-African leader.