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Flag Source: CIA World Factbook
The Ewe people, one of Togo’s largest ethnic groups, moved into the area now known as Togo between the 12th and 14th centuries. Portuguese explorers arrived in the 15th and 16th centuries, marking the beginning of European influence in West Africa. Over the next two centuries the coast along the Gulf of Guinea became a major center of the slave trade, as well as the trade in such other commodities as sugar, coffee, cocoa, and gold.
In 1884 the area along the coast known as Togoland became a German protectorate and gradually expanded inland. In 1914, French and British forces invaded Togoland, and after the end of the World War I the area became a U.N. mandate administered by the French and the British. Following World War II, Togoland became a U.N. trusteeship. In 1955 it became an autonomous republic within the French Union.
On April 27, 1960, Togo finally became an independent nation, led by President Sylvanu
s Olympio. Three years later Olympio was assassinated, and the leader of the opposition party, Nicolas Grunitzky, became president.
In 1967, Grunitzky was overthrown in a bloodless coup led by Lt. Col. Etienne Eyadéma, who assumed the presidency soon afterward. From 1969 to 1991, Togo was under single-party rule, and Eyadéma’s dictatorship took its toll on the country’s economy. He was known for being a brutal leader and violently quashed all opposition.
In the early 1990s Eyadéma was forced to open up the government to other political parties. Despite the multiparty elections held over the next decade, he was able to remain president until he died, in 2005. At the time of his death, he was one of Africa’s longest-ruling leaders. His son, Fauré Gnassingbé, who continues to govern Togo, replaced him.
The Top 5: Local Advice
1. Togo is located in West Africa on the Bight of Benin, a bay sandwiched between Ghana to the west and Benin to the east. To the north it borders Burkina Faso. It is long and thin, with only 35 miles (56 kilometers) of coastline, and is divided into five regions: Maritime, Plateau, Central, Kara, and Savanna. It is slightly smaller than the state of West Virginia. It is hot and humid in the south and semi-arid in the north.
2. The official language in Togo is French, but several native languages are spoken, such as Ewe and Mina in the south and Dagomba and Kabye in the north. Some people speak a little English, but it is wise to brush up on your French before you arrive.
3. The currency in Togo is the CFA Franc, used throughout Francophone West Africa. The symbol for the CFA Franc is XOF.
4. There are significant Christian and Muslim populations in Togo (30 percent and 20 percent, respectively). Most Togolese, though, practice indigenous forms of religion, like voodoo.
5. As is the case in many former French colonies, smoking is common in Togo and permitted in most public areas.