Assassination of Sylvanus Olympio, former president of Togo: can the French archives speak?

In the history of Africa, it is the first assassination of a president after the wave of independence. Sixty years ago to the day, the Togolese head of state Sylvanus Olympio was shot dead in the early morning in Lomé by a military commando. Sixty years later, there are still many gray areas, especially on the real sponsors of this state crime. But there are secret-defense archives that can still speak. Adovi Michel Goeh Akué is professor emeritus of the public universities of Togo.

RFI: It was on January 12, 1963 in the evening at 11 p.m. that the putschist soldiers burst into the residence of President Olympio. But it wasn’t until the next morning at 7am that they found him and murdered him. What happened between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m.?

Adovi Michel Goeh Akue: Many things. There’s a commando that left around 11 p.m., and so the president would have jumped the wall, and entered the United States embassy which is right next to his house, and he hid in a parked Buick , and that’s where it would have been taken out. And in the morning, he was riddled with bullets on the public highway.

He therefore took refuge in a Buick car which was parked in the compound of the United States Embassy in Lomé. But that night, who knew that the Togolese president was hiding in this vehicle? And who was able to inform the putschist soldiers?

Then, the ambassador of the United States was seized by his guard, he would have telephoned the ambassador of France. And, according to the testimonies, the latter telephoned the putschists and it was they who arrived in the early morning, to take him out and shoot him.

So it is first the United States ambassador who is informed and who informs his French counterpart, who in turn informs the military putschists? Is this your scenario?


The putschist soldiers were commanded by Chief Warrant Officer Emmanuel Bodjollé and Sergeant Etienne Eyadema, future Head of State under the name of Gnassingbé Eyadema. At the time, Sergeant Eyadema bragged to several reporters that he killed the president himself. But in 1992, he retracted on RFI. What is it exactly?

In fact, he was late when the commando first left, so it was when he came back that he took a vehicle that was supposedly given by the commander of the gendarmerie who was [l’officier français] Georges Maître, and he arrives on the pitch, and that’s where the crime was committed. So he said himself: he saw it, he took it out, he said “good go, move on”. He refused, so he shot in the back and killed the head of state. This is the version he gave.

Even if he retracted 29 years later?

Of course, and the question that arises: who gave him the weapons? Since he himself was under arrest, therefore he was out of Lomé, and he came back late to look for the commandos who were to take action, he did not find them. So it is clear that there is a foreign hand, the hand of the commander of the gendarmerie Georges Maîtrerier. I looked for his tracks, but I couldn’t find him.

So, you are talking about this French officer, Major Georges Maître, who at the time was the head of the Togolese gendarmerie, and Jacques Foccart’s agent in Lomé, after having worked in Cameroon. At the end of his life, Jacques Foccart, General de Gaulle’s Monsieur Afrique, confided to Young Africa that he had never had cordial relations with President Olympio. Why this bad agreement?

So Olympio was one of the Heads of State who had done a good education, he was more far-sighted than others and he was moreover at that time in the process of drafting the charter which was to lead to the Organization of African unity. So he was one of those who said that neo-colonialism had to be stopped. And his big project was to create a Togolese central bank and get out of the franc zone. And according to the archives that I consulted in Paris, at the Ministry of Finance, on January 14, 1963, the Minister of Economy and Finance of Togo, Hospice Coco, was to go to Paris to countersign the new agreements, and he was unable to make this trip, and Togo remained in the franc zone.

Before the assassination of Sylvanus Olympio, Togo wanted to get out of the FCFA, after the assassination it no longer came out?

He never came out of it since, immediately after the assassination, the leader of the party who is pro-French, that is to say Nicolas Grunitzky, was brought back, and that is when Togo returned to the French bosom and it is the march that continues to this day. Nothing has changed and that is why until now all the calls we have made to clarify this question of assassination have never been taken into account, and this question still remains current.

So there are still, 60 years later, many gray areas. Will one day we be able to make all the light or not?

I think it can be done, but the regime would have to change in Togo, and France would have to show some willingness to open the archives that are still hidden. And in relation to my investigations, I saw the superintendent who made the autopsy report. And this report, we have never seen it in the Togolese archives. So it is necessary to see the archives of the Togolese police, it is also necessary to see the French archives, in particular all these military archives, all of this must be open, because time has passed, the laws [concernant la confidentialité] archives, it’s 30 or 50 years, we are at 60 years. It is time for us to really mourn, and for Togo to start afresh. But as long as the power that took hold after 1963 remains, it is difficult for us to have more transparency and more justice.


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