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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.
The end of World War I saw the former German protectorate of Togoland split into British- and French-administered territories. By the 1950s a political movement led by the Ewe ethnic group called for the unification of British and French Togoland into an independent multiethnic state. Despite the efforts of the Ewe, the United Nations trust territory of British Togoland was ultimately merged with the Gold Coast to become Ghana, the first independent nation in sub-Saharan Africa; French Togoland later declared independence as the nation of Togo. Based on interviews with former political activists and their families, access to private papers, and a collection of oral and written propaganda, this book examines the history and politics behind the failed project of Togoland unification. Kate Skinner challenges the marginalization of the Togoland question from popular and academic analyses of postcolonial politics and explores present-day ramifications of the contingencies of decolonization.