On this day, May 25th, we commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the establishment of the African Union. What many Togolese are unaware of regarding this date, celebrated as a national holiday in eleven different African countries, is that it marks the fateful day when African heads of state showed genuine solidarity towards the Togolese people following the first-ever coup d'état in Africa.
Few people are familiar with the circumstances surrounding the assassination of our president, Sylvanus Olympio, the father of our independence and our nation. On December 12th, 1962, President Olympio ratified a law establishing the creation of the Togolese franc. Exactly one month later, during the night of January 12th to 13th, 1963, former soldiers of the French colonial army were dispatched by the French government to assassinate the Togolese president in his residence. President Sylvanus Olympio was in his office finalizing the statutes of the African Union, of which he was a member of the action committee, when his assassins stormed into his home. These nearly completed documents were found on his desk after his death.
When the assassins entered his residence, President Olympio climbed over the wall to seek refuge within the premises of the United States Embassy, his neighbor, and instructed his wife to contact the US Ambassador to inform him that the president had sought refuge inside the embassy and to request assistance. At the time, President Olympio, a dedicated pacifist, believed that the scarce resources of Togo should not be invested in a military, and thus, Togo did not have armed forces.
The US Ambassador, who resided in a different neighborhood, made a phone call from his residence to his French counterpart to inform him about the attempted coup and the whereabouts of President Olympio's hiding place. The French Ambassador, upon receiving this information, informed Olympio's assassins that the president, whom they had not found at his home, was hiding within the embassy premises and that they could enter and eliminate him as he was alone and unarmed. Thus, President Olympio was assassinated by gunfire, and his murderers proceeded to sever his veins to ensure his death before leaving his body in front of the door of the United States Embassy. Some time later, Nicolas Grunitzky, the brother-in-law of President Olympio (the half-brother of his wife), who had always been a staunch supporter of France and led the so-called Progress Party, seized power without being elected.
To revisit the correlation between May 25th, 1963, and the death of President Olympio, it is noteworthy that when the leaders of all independent African states, as well as the freedom fighters advocating for African independence, were summoned to Addis Ababa to formalize the establishment of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), the coup plotter Nicolas Grunitzky was banned from participating in the event. He and his delegation were rejected by the presidents Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, Sékou Touré of Guinea, Modibo Keïta of Mali, Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana, and the Nigerian Prime Minister, Tafawa Balewa, who labeled Nicolas Grunitzky as a traitor.
The Nigerian Prime Minister, Tafawa Balewa, even went so far as to express the wish to send a military troop to Togo in order to remove the French puppets from power. Ironically, three years later, he would be assassinated in Nigeria, alongside his comrade Ahmadu Bello, and these murders would be followed by a series of coups in the country, ultimately leading to a war where France firmly sided with the creation of the Republic of Biafra, providing weapons to the secessionists through the President Houphouët Boigny of Côte d'Ivoire.
On May 25th, 1963, a tribute was paid to Sylvanus Olympio by the free African states, and to this day, this commemoration is observed annually in eleven of these countries. Please note in the images below that in the official documents announcing the creation of the OAU, President Sylvanus Olympio was mentioned as a co-founder (see image number 24), not his treacherous brother-in-law Nicolas Grunitzky, even though the latter was the one leading Togo and President Sylvanus Olympio had already passed away at the time of the official launch of the OAU on May 25th, 1963.
I had never been aware of this date before leaving Togo because the bloodthirsty coup government of the Gnassingbé family, which succeeded the other traitor Grunitzky, made sure that the Togolese people never became aware of this historic date and its significance for our nation.
May the souls of all the pan-African leaders and activists who believed in a free, dignified, and sovereign Africa and lost their lives fighting for the future generations we have become, rest in peace. May the Gnassingbés, the Grunitzkys, and the Boignys of today, who continue to kill their own brothers and sacrifice their people for the interests of France, be defeated!
I wish you a good African Unity Day.
Farida Bemba Nabourema
Disillusioned African Citizen!