There is very little pre-colonial history of Togo, which was really not much more than a buffer between the Ashante and Dahomey empires, in Ghana and present-day Benin, respectively. In the days of the slave trade it was held by the Danes, and in 1884, through a treaty with a little village chief, it became a German colony. As Germans did, in those days, they built railways and used forced labour, on palm oil, cotton, rubber and cocoa plantations.
After the First World War broke out, the French and the British quickly overran what was then called Togoland, and so scored their first victory of the war, in August 1914. And after the war, as in Cameroon, the territory was divided between the Brits, who got one-third, and the French, who got the other two-third. The British part was incorporated in what was then the Gold Coast – now Ghana -, first administratively only, later formally, when towards independence the people voted to become part of Ghana. The French created a separate administration, also separate from its other colonies in West Africa, and upon independence in 1960, what became Togo is in fact only what used to be French Togoland.
Recurring song, again: initial civilian rule, military coup (apparently, the first of its kind, in independent Africa, 13 January 1963), strongman emerges, in this case Etienne Gnassingbé Eyadéma, nationalising foreign business – the phosphate mines, at the time a major resource for the country. Political discontent, violent suppression of opposition, rigged elections, attempted counter-coup foiled, further rigged elections, democratic relaxation, but not really (unlike Benin, remember?), economic downturn, further protests, more rigged elections, human rights abuses, growing corruption. And then, unexpectedly, the president dies, in 2005, after a mere 40 years in power. A chance to break with the past? No. The military installs the president’s son as the new president. Who is still the president. Sure, after many multi-party elections, many expressions of discontent, many political concessions, but he is still the president. His fourth five-year term already. Fair and square.
Togo, in the meantime, remains firmly on the list of least developed countries, permanently on a drip from the World Bank and IMF. Which seems to have done little so far to alleviate chronic poverty.