German Colonial Treaties in Africa: Togoland July 5th 1884

Togoland - flag
Flag of the German colony Togoland

Today, I present to you the text of the treaty signed between King Mlapa – the King of Togo, or rather his representative Chief Plakko or Plakkou, and the Consul General Gustav Nachtigal thereby placing his land under German protectorate. This is the famous July 5th 1884 treaty which marks the beginning of the German protectorate in Togoland and the birth of this German colony in West Africa. As you read it, remember that Porto Seguro is now Agbodrafo and Bagida is Baguida in Togo. Note also that when it is said ‘King of Togo,’ Togo in this case refers to the area around Togoville, the village which gave its name to the entire country. As always, European colonizers used one main treaty in one area of the country (mostly coastal) to claim ownership over the rest of the country. The original in German can be found in Geschichte der deutschen kolonien by Horst Gründer, UTB (2018) p. 91-92


Gustav Nachtigal

Bagida, July 5th 1884

The Consul General for the German Reich, Dr.  Gustav Nachtigal, in the name of His Majesty the Kaiser of Germany, and Mlapa, King of Togo, represented for himself, his heirs and his chiefs by Plakkou, carrier of King Mlapa’s stick, have come to the following agreement :

Article 1
King Mlapa, desiring to protect legitimate trade, which mostly is carried out by Germans, and to grant the German merchants full security for their lives and property, requests the protection of His Majesty the German Kaiser, so that he is enabled to uphold the independence of his territory, which stretches from Porto Seguro‘s eastern border to the western border of Lomé or Bey Beach. His Imperial Majesty grants such protection, with the reservation of legitimately acquired rights of third parties.

Article 2
King Mlapa will cede no part of his lands and sovereignty rights to any foreign country of person, and he will not sign any treaty with any foreign power without the previously given approval of His Imperial Majesty.

Togo, Lome, Verladen von Baumwollballen
Lome, Togo: loading of cotton bales, early 1900s

Article 3
King Mlapa grants protection and free trade to all German subjects who live in his land, and promises never to grant merchants of other nations privileges, preferential treatment or protection beyond what is granted to the Germans. King Mlapa, without His Imperial Majesty’s approval, will refrain from collecting tariffs other than those presently collected, which are
1 Shilling for every ton of palm kernels
1 Shilling for every barrel of palm oil
which are to be paid to the chief of the respective location.

Article 4
His Majesty the German Kaiser will respect all trade treaties previously signed by King Mlapa and others, and will in no way place burdens upon free trade in King Mlapa‘s land.

Togoland_Map of Togoland in 1885
Map of Togoland in 1885

Article 5
His Majesty the German Kaiser will not interfere in the manner the tariff so far has been collected by King Mlapa and his chiefs

Article 6
The signatory parties reserve matters of mutual interest, not included in this treaty, for future agreements.

Article 7
This treaty takes force immediately, reserved ratification by the German government.
In order to testify, we have signed in the presence of the witnesses which have signed


Painting of Togoland in 1908 (R. Hellgrewe)

J.J. Gacher, J.B. Ahpevon, interpreters
H. Randad 
Josua Lenze
Mandt, Lt. at sea
Dr. Max Buchner
Chief Plakko 
Chief Adey of Lomé or Bey
Hadji, 2nd chief of Bey 
King Garsa of Bagida

signed Dr.  Nachtigal

1 Translator’s footnote : Here a text originally written in English, and printed in German translation in the RTA, has been re-translated into English. Thus it might differ slightly in diction from the original text. 

Why the Name: Togo?

Map of Togo
Map of Togo

A few years back, a Malagasy friend of mine was telling me how upset he had been to find out that his name’s short version, Togo, had been made by Americans to sound like ‘to-go‘ as in ‘to-go containers‘ as opposed to ‘Togo‘ (pronounce ‘Tow – go’ or ‘Taw -go’) as it was supposed to be. This got me thinking about the name of one of the smallest countries in Africa, Togo, which had undoubtedly also gone through that transformation to sound like ‘to-go containers.’ Well, do you think the meaning of Togo could in some way be related to leftover containers or food-on-the-run?


Togoland in 1908

Togo lies in the Bight of Benin, surrounded by Ghana in the west; Benin in the east; and Burkina Faso in the north. To many, the name Togo stands for “land where lagoons lie“. In reality, the name Togo was the name of a small village Togodo which means in the Ewe language, “the land (or city) beyond the cliff” or “land on the other side of the shore.” This became Togoville, a town and canton in southern Togo, lying on the northern shore of Lake Togo; it was originally known as Togo. The country took its name from the town of Togoville when Gustav Nachtigal signed a treaty with the town’s chief, Mlapa III, on 5 July 1884, from which Germany claimed ownership over what became Togo. Togoland, a  German colony, was born. The village which gave its name to the country, mean originally “city or land beyond the cliff” and not “city beyond the river.” It is in reality located on the edge of a very shallow lagoon, whose name is Lake Togo, which had the effect of misleading many people about the origin of the word.


Sylvanus Olympio
Sylvanus Olympio

Archaeological finds indicate that ancient tribes which inhabited the area were able to produce pottery and process iron. From the 11th to the 16th century, various tribes entered the region from all directions. From the 16th century to the 18th century, the coastal region was a major trading center for Europeans to search for slaves, earning Togo and the surrounding region the name “The Slave Coast“. In 1884, a treaty was signed at Togoville with King Mlapa III, whereby Germany claimed a protectorate over a stretch of territory along the coast and gradually extended its control inland; its borders were defined after the capture of hinterland by German forces and signing agreements with France and Britain. In 1905, it officially became the German colony of Togoland. After Germany lost the First World War, the land was divided between France and Great Britain to be ruled as mandates. After World War II, these mandates became UN Trust Territories. In 1957, the residents of British Togoland voted to join the Gold Coast as part of the new independent nation of Ghana; while French Togoland became an autonomous republic within the French Union in 1959, as France (as always) retained the right to control the defense, foreign relations and finances. The Togolese Republic was proclaimed on 27 April 1960. In the first presidential elections in 1961Sylvanus Olympio became the first president of the country. Since the coup that led to his assassination in 1963, Togo has been ruled 3 presidents, the most notorious being Olympio’s murderer Gnassingbé Eyadéma, who ruled Togo for 38 years, and after his passing, his son Faure Gnassingbé has now been president.

Togo_Beach in Lome
Beach in Lome, Togo (Wikipedia)

The coast of Togo in the Gulf of Guinea is 56 km long and consists of lagoons with sandy beaches; thus the reason why people think its name is associated with lagoons and mean “land where lagoons lie“. If you ever visit Togo, do not forget to check out its lagoons, its sandy beaches, and above all its people.

African Queens of Textiles: the Nana Benz of Togo

Wax Hollandais
Wax Hollandais

Growing up, I remember watching documentaries about the Nana Benz of Togo: these powerful ladies who ‘owned’ the country solely by selling textiles.  I also remember that my grandmother was (and still is) very fond of ‘Wax Hollandais‘, and how many women will go through hoops to have access to these pricey wax prints traveling to Togo or Ghana to acquire them.  They all loved to dress in these bright colors, with these bright and often lavish wax prints.

Well,… the Nana Benz of Togo, made their mark internationally by trading in wax printed cloth starting in the 1930’s and 1950’s, before independence.  They started from nothing to rise to be among the country’s richest.  They imported the fabric from Dutch companies based in Indonesia.  From there the material arrived on Togo’s shores and the women distributed it throughout West and Central Africa. They became known as Nana Benz because in the mid-50’s through 80’s they had made so much money that they were the only people who could afford Mercedes Benz cars, so much so that the government used to hire their Mercedes Benz for important guests and state functions. The phrase ‘Nana Benz’ came to symbolize the freedom, ingenuity, creativity, pride, achievement, success, and courage of these women. A woman did not become a Nana Benz through inheritance, or society’s choice, but through ingenuity, and struggle.

Nana Benz in the 1970s
Nana Benz in the 1970s

The Nana Benz positioned Lomé, Togo’s capital, into a regional centre of textile distribution and dominated the trade in wax prints. Between 1976 and 1984, at least 40% of the commercial business in Togo which was in the informal sector, was in the hands of the Nana Benz. During the 1970’s, the scope of this trade in textile was so important that it exceeded Togo’s phosphate industry, the country’s primary source of revenue. The Nana Benz rose in wealth and power.  Although many were uneducated, they travelled abroad on business, and played a leading role in national politics under the one-party rule of the Rassemblement du Peuple Togolais (RPT). They rose in society’s echelons.  During his presidency, Gnassingbé Eyadéma, appointed them to high offices in the women’s wing of the RPT.  A leading Nana Benz, Madame A. Amedome, was appointed Minister of Social Welfare in 1977 even though she could not read or write.

A Nanette in Lome Market (Source: Arte TV)
A Nanette in Lomé Market (Source: Arte TV)

They sold the ‘wax hollandais’ made by the dutch, in particular by the dutch company VLISCO implanted in Togo since 1846 to sell textiles to Africans.  No offense, but implanted since 1846? Why are Togolese or Africans not making their own wax prints 150 years later? We love it… so we should make it too!  What were African textiles before then? was it mostly ‘bogolan‘-type of textile?  This should be the subject of another post.  In the meantime, let us celebrate the ingenuity of the Nana Benz.  Check out this photo-journal entitled The Nana Benz, An African Epopée by Bruno Zanzottera.  If you are ever in Lomé, make a stop at the market and buy the right fabric known as Vlisco that made the Nana Benz famous.  Listen to this song praising the Nana Benz by the Togolese singer King Mensah. Don’t forget to check out the documentary Reflets Sud on ‘le tissu pagne’, as well as the Togolese opera Madame Paradji ou la Reine des Nana Benz which describes to life of a powerful Nana Benz.

Sylvanus Olympio: Togo’s first president

Sylvanus Olympio
Sylvanus Olympio

Today I will be talking about Sylvanus Olympio, the first president of Togo, a small country in West Africa, which was once a German colony, and later became a French and British protectorate.  The story of Togo is a little bit like that of my country Cameroon which was once a German colony but was later divided between France and Great Britain as protectorates (this will be a story for another day).

Sylvanus Olympio really embodies what the singer Tiken Jah Fakoly said in one of his songs “They [Europeans] divided the world among themselves, nothing amazes me anymore: part of the Mandinka empire found its way in the Wolof empire, part of the Mossi empire found its way in the Ghana empire, part of the Soussou empire found its way into the Mandinka empire and part of the Mandinka empire found its way into the Mossi’s empire …” what do I mean by this? Sylvanus Olympio was from Dahomey (current day Benin) of Afro-Brazilian ancestry, born in Kpando in actual Ghana, and became president of Togo!  How was this possible? well because of the balkanization of Africa or rather the scramble for Africa which took place at the Berlin Conference in 1884 where Europeans split Africa among themselves dividing entire empires, people, villages, nations.  One of these people were the Ewe people in West Africa who found themselves split among three countries: Gold Coast (Ghana), Togoland (Togo), and Dahomey (Benin).

Map of Togo
Map of Togo

Sylvanus Olympio believed that the Ewe people should be reunited under one flag…. unfortunately he could never come to agreement with Kwame Nkrumah, his Ghanaian counterpart, and other powers at play.  Olympio tried to unite and educate the people about their new nation, and the needs for development.  From what a Togolese friend of mine once said, he used to ride a bike from villages to villages talking to people in their languages and educating them about politics, development, and patriotism, at a time when there was no radio (1950s) in most places.

Togo -- A History
Togo — A History

Sylvanus Olympio barely had a chance to execute anything politically.  He was assassinated in a military coup in the US embassy compound in Lomé in 1963, two years after Togo’s independence and his investiture as president.  The presidential palace was just next to the US embassy in Lomé.  When Olympio heard gunshots, he sent his family to safety, and climbed the wall that separated him to the American embassy.  Once there, he knocked at the door of the embassy to seek refuge… Unfortunately, the embassy was closed.  Sylvanus hid in one of the cars in the American compound.  The American Ambassador comes back to the compound and finds Olympio in the car who explains everything; the ambassador claimed not to have the keys to open the door… and asked him to wait while he would go find the keys.  Rumors says that the American ambassador probably called his French counterpart who then contacted the gunmen and sent them to the American compound.  Sylvanus was found in the car, and gunned by Eyadéma, one of Africa’s worst dictators backed by the West.  The Time magazine wrote an article on that day entitled Togo: Death at the Gate; JFK also had a statement about his death.  The journalist, Alain Foka, of RFI did a piece on Olympio.

Many wonder what Togo would have become under someone with such love, brilliance, and vision for his country.  No one will ever know.  Please enjoy this rare footage of an interview of Sylvanus Olympio to NBC in the US.

Don’t forget to watch the second part.