The founding president of Togo
(1960-1963), and the first ruler of modern sub-Saharan Africa to fall to a coup d'état
He was born in September 1902 in Lomé, capital of the German protectorate of Togoland. After the German defeat in the First World War, their long thin colony was split into two even thinner ones, a French mandate called Togo and a British mandate adjoining the Gold Coast. Olympio was from an influential Lomé family who had emigrated from Brazil. In 1926 he gained a degree in commerce from the LSE, and went on to become Togolese manager for the United Africa Company.
After the Second World War he became a nationalist leader, heading a party called the Committee of Togolese Unity, and in 1946 was elected president of a territorial assembly. Togo was not reunited as it moved towards independence: the British-administered sliver voted to become part of Ghana, the country the Gold Coast became independent as in 1957. The larger French sector gained autonomy within the French Community on 30 August 1956. The first prime minister was Nicolas Grunitzky, with his brother-in-law Olympio succeeding him in a 1958 election.
Olympio led the country to independence as the Togolese Republic on 27 April 1960, the year France's African empire was largely dissolved. He was styled head of state and prime minister for his first year in office, becoming president on 12 April 1961, after elections that Grunitzky's party was banned from.
The issue that prompted his downfall was demands by demobilized Togolese veterans of France's army to be given army jobs in Togo. One of these was Sergeant Etienne Eyadéma. In the early hours of 13 January 1963 the mutineers took power. Olympio was found taking shelter in the grounds of the American embassy in Lomé, and killed, possibly by Eyadéma himself. For a couple of days mutineer Emmanuel Bodjollé headed an "Insurrection Committee", then the army placed Grunitzky in the presidency. In 1967 Eyadéma staged another coup, and ruled for almost forty years. In the later years of his reign he allowed at least nominal multi-party elections, and rather narrowly defeated Gilchrist Olympio, the son of Sylvanus Olympio, in 1998.
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