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West Africa’s First Coup: Neo-Colonial and Pan-African Projects in Togo’s “Shadow Archives”

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  20 August 2019


This article is an historical analysis of West Africa’s first coup. Starting from contemporary accounts of the 1963 assassination of president Sylvanus Olympio of the Republic of Togo, and the overthrow of his government, the article identifies three competing explanations of events. It follows these three explanations through Togo’s “shadow archives,” asking how and why each of them was taken up or disregarded by particular people at particular moments in time. The article develops a new interpretation of West Africa’s first coup, and outlines its implications for the study of national sovereignty, neo-colonialism, and pan-African solidarity in postcolonial Africa.



Cet article est un examen approfondi de l’assassinat de Sylvanus Olympio, président de la République du Togo, en 1963, et du renversement de son gouvernement qui en a résulté. Il retrace les récits contemporains de ces événements, ainsi que leurs réponses, tels qu’ils apparaissent dans les « archives fantômes » du Togo et réévalue trois explications contradictoires de l’assassinat et du coup d’État. Enfin, il développe une nouvelle interprétation, soulignant les implications de cette interprétation pour l’étude de la souveraineté nationale, du néocolonialisme et de la solidarité panafricaine dans l’Afrique postcoloniale.



Este artigo analisa em profundidade o assassinato de Sylvanus Olympio, presidente da República do Togo, em 1963, bem como o subsequente derrube do seu governo. Com base nos testemunhos coevos dos acontecimentos e nas reações que estes suscitaram, disponíveis em “arquivos-sombra”do Togo, reavaliam-se as três teorias concorrentes para explicar o assassinato e o golpe de Estado. Por fim, propõe-se uma nova interpretação, esboçando-se também as suas implicações para o estudo da soberania nacional, do neocolonialismo e da solidariedade pan-africana na África pós-colonial.

© African Studies Association 2019

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