Between the 12th and the 18th century, the Ewe, Adja, and related peoples, who now constitute a majority of the population of southern Togo and adjoining Ghana, came to this area from the Niger River Valley as a result of pressure from the east. Portuguese sailors visited the coast in the 15th and 16th centuries. Slave shipments began from Grand Popo (now in Benin), Petit Popo (now Anécho), and other coastal villages; traders introduced the growing of cassava, coconuts, corn, and other crops in order to provision their slave ships. The French established trading posts at Petit Popo in 1626 and again in 1767, but abandoned them each time. The French were again active there and at Porto-Séguro, east of Lomé, from 1865 to 1883.
German traders came to Grand Popo as early as 1856, but did not arrive in significant numbers until 1880. Germany finally established control over the area, its first African acquisition, on 5 July 1884, when Dr. Gustav Nachtigal made a treaty with the chief of Togo, a village on the north side of a lagoon behind Porto-Séguro. The treaty established a German protectorate over a small coastal enclave, and the village name eventually was given to the entire territory. The Germans established a capital first at Baguida, then at Zebe, and in 1897 at Lomé. Boundary delimitations with the British and French were made in 1897 and 1899. Although the Volta River formed a natural boundary between Togo and the Gold Coast (now Ghana), as a result of the negotiations, the frontier diverged from the river about 320 km (200 mi) north of Lomé and descended diagonally, so that the so-called Volta Triangle on the left bank became part of the Gold Coast. The boundary arrangements resulted in splitting the Ewe, Adja, Ouatchi, Fon, and other peoples between the Gold Coast, Togo, and Dahomey (now Benin). As the Germans extended their control to the north, they built roads and railroads and established administrative, legal, economic, educational, and other institutions.
Soon after the outbreak of World War I in August 1914, neighboring French and British units gained control of Togo. In a provisional arrangement, the British took the coastal area and the railways, and the French assumed control of the interior. League of Nations mandates were established in 1922.
Following World War II, both the UK and France placed their spheres of Togoland under UN trusteeship. Beginning in 1947, leaders of the Ewe people repeatedly petitioned the UN first for Ewe unification and subsequently for Togoland unification. At the time, the Ewe were under three different administrations: the Gold Coast, British Togoland, and French Togoland. For nine years thereafter, the Togoland question was before the UN. Its resolution was difficult not only because of the resistance of the British and French governments to the Ewe demands, but also because both the Ewe and non-Ewe of the two Togolands were deeply divided on the form self-determination should take. The problem was partially resolved by a plebiscite held in British Togoland on 9 May 1956 under UN supervision. A majority of the registered voters decided in favor of integration of British Togoland with an independent Gold Coast. Consequently, when the Gold Coast became the independent state of Ghana, British Togoland ceased to exist.
On 28 October 1956, in a referendum held in French Togoland, 72% of the registered voters chose to terminate French trusteeship and to accept the status of internal autonomy and continued association with France that had been proffered them by the French government. This unilateral effort to terminate French trusteeship was not accepted by the UN.
In April 1958, new elections were held under UN supervision. The Committee for Togolese Union, pledged to secure complete independence, won control of the Togo Assembly, and its leader, Sylvanus Olympio, subsequently became prime minister. On 13 October 1958, the French government announced that full independence would be granted, and on 27 April 1960, the Republic of Togo became a sovereign nation, with Olympio as president.
President Olympio was assassinated on 13 January 1963 by military insurgents. At the insurgents' behest, Nicolas Grunitzky, the exiled leader of the Togolese Party for Progress, returned to Togo and formed a provisional government. He abrogated the constitution, dissolved the National Assembly, and called new elections. In the May 1963 balloting, Grunitzky was elected president, a new 56-member National Assembly was chosen, and a new constitution was approved by national referendum.
Grunitzky held office through 1966. The final months of his presidency were marked by antigovernment demonstrations involving many of Olympio's former supporters and sympathizers. On 13 January 1967, the Grunitzky government was overthrown by a military coup led by Col. Kléber Dadjo, who was succeeded in April 1967 by Lt. Col. Étienne Éyadéma. The constitution was again suspended and the Assembly dissolved, and Éyadéma declared himself president.
In 1969, Éyadéma proposed the establishment of a national party of unification, the Togolese People's Rally (Rassemblement du Peuple Togolais—RPT). At its first party congress in November 1971, the RPT representatives opposed the idea of constitutional government and asked for a national referendum in support of the Éyadéma regime. This took place in January 1972, with 99% of the population voting for Éyadéma. Survivors of a 1970 plot to overthrow the regime were pardoned after the referendum, and several former members of Olympio's government joined the RPT. Others of Olympio's supporters went into exile or into business, and there was no coherent opposition to the government.
In 1974, Éyadéma began to advocate a "cultural authenticity" policy, stimulated at least in part by the crash of his private plane in January 1974, from which he escaped uninjured. The crash (the cause of which he believed suspicious) followed his nationalization of the phosphate industry and appeared to spur his drive for further Africanization in Togo. At this time, Éyadéma dropped his first name, Étienne, using instead his African second name, Gnassingbé.
Éyadéma was reelected as president without opposition on 30 December 1979, when the voters also approved a draft constitution for what was called the Third Republic (succeeding the republics headed by Olympio and Grunitzky). A 67-member National Assembly was elected at the same time. Éyadéma remained firmly in control in the early 1980s, despite the disruptions caused by Nigeria's expulsion of illegal aliens and the economic decline attributable to falling phosphate prices. An alleged plot to assassinate Éyadéma on 13 January 1983, while French President François Mitterrand was visiting Togo, apparently misfired. Éyadéma reportedly blamed Gilchrist Olympio, the son of the former president, for the coup attempt.
On 23–24 September 1986, about 60 insurgents, mostly Togolese in exile, attempted to seize control of Lomé but were repulsed. About 150 French and 350 Zairian troops were flown in to help restore order. The official death toll was 26. The coup attempt was reportedly financed by Gilchrist Olympio, who was sentenced to death in absentia. Another 12 men were given death sentences, and 14 were sentenced to life imprisonment. Éyadéma accused Ghana and Burkina Faso of aiding the insurgents. In National Assembly elections on 24 March 1985, 216 candidates, all approved by the RPT, contested 77 seats; only 20 deputies were reelected. Éyadéma was elected unopposed to a new seven-year term as president on 21 December 1986.
Opposition to Éyadéma's rule came to a head in March 1991 when, after police clashes with thousands of antigovernment demonstrators, the government agreed to institute a multiparty system and to grant amnesty to dissidents. On 28 August 1991, Éyadéma ended 24 years of military rule by surrendering authority to Joseph Kokou Koffigoh, an interim prime minister selected by a National Conference. The RPT was to be disbanded and Éyadéma barred from running for the presidency.
In October and November 1991, armed forces loyal to Éyadéma failed several times to overthrow Koffigoh. On 3 December 1991, however, they attacked the government palace and seized him. The French refused to help Koffigoh; instead, he was forced to compromise; he then formed a coalition government with Éyadéma and legalized the RPT.
On 5 May 1992, opposition leader Gilchrist Olympio was severely wounded in an ambush, and in July another opposition
figure was assassinated. The transitional government several times rescheduled the referendum on a new constitution. Finally, on 27 September 1992, it was approved. The legislative and presidential elections were postponed again and again until August 1993.
The Army, composed largely of Kabyé (Éyadéma's group) has never accepted Éyadéma's ouster, the National Conference, or Koffigoh. Eventually, Koffigoh's interim government was dissolved in 1992, and Éyadéma consolidated his powers. However, in January 1993 he reappointed Koffigoh prime minister of a government which cooperated closely with Éyadéma, now president. On 25 August 1993, Éyadéma easily won reelection as president (97% of the vote). The electoral process, however, was marred by a low turnout (all major opposition candidates refused to participate) and serious irregularities.
Following delays, legislative elections were held in two rounds in February 1994. With the exception of Olympio's Union of the Forces of Change (UFC), the main opposition parties participated. The RPT reportedly took 33 of the 81 seats in the first round. The Action Committee for Renewal (CAR), won 19. Koffigoh's New Force Coordination failed to take a single seat. Nonetheless, the armed forces continued to attack opposition politicians. The second round voting was marred by violence, with armed gangs attacking voting stations and opposition supporters. Still, international observers declared the election satisfactory.
On 24 February 1994 the National Electoral Commission released results for 76 seats as follows: opposition, 38 seats; RPT, 37 seats; Koffigoh, 1 seat. The Supreme Court ordered new elections for 3 seats of the Action Committee for Renewal and the Togolese Union for Democracy, lowering their totals to 34 and 6 seats, respectively. Defections from the CAR to the RPT and the merging of the Union of Justice and Democracy (UJD) with the RPT gave the RPT a narrow majority with 42 seats.
In June 1998 Éyadéma officially won the presidential elections with 52 per cent, but the opposition rejected the election as rigged. Éyadéma's dubious victory precipitated a national crisis, and led the opposition to boycott the legislative elections delayed and then scheduled for March 1999. In July, the RPT and opposition parties signed the Lomé Framework Agreement, which included a pledge by Éyadéma to respect the constitution and not to seek another term after his current one expired in 2003. Among other provisions guaranteeing political rights for opposition leaders, addressing the rights of political parties and the media, providing for the safe return for refugees, and granting compensation for victims of political violence, Éyadéma agreed to dissolve the National Assembly in March 2000 and hold new legislative elections, to be supervised by an independent national election commission (CENI). CENI was to have responsibility for revising electoral rolls, issuing voters' registration cards, preparing ballots, working out the elections budget, arbitrating disputes, and declaring the results. According to the agreement, the RPT and opposition would seat 10 members each on the commission. The March deadline for the National Assembly elections passed without Éyadéma taking action, as did deadlines in October 2001 and March 2002. The elections were finally held in October 2002. The Union of the Forces for Change (UFC) and the Action Committee for Renewal (CAR), grouped as the Coalition of Democratic Forces (CFD), boycotted the 27 October elections, in which the RPT took 72 of the 81 seats. The elections were held without violence, and international election observers judged them to be democratic and transparent.
In December 2002, parliament amended the constitution, removing a clause that allowed a president to be reelected "only once": this would allow Éyadéma to seek a third term in the June 2003 presidential election. In February 2003, a new 9-member CENI was formed, including 4 representatives each of the RPT and the opposition umbrella group CFD. The ninth member is the president of the Lomé Court of Appeal. The UFC withdrew from the CFD because it regarded CENI's mandate as curtailed by the government, and because it regarded the CFD's actions and strategies as incoherent; it is not represented on the CENI. In March, the UFC elected Olympio to contest the election.