In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Togo

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Primary Sources
  • Conceptual Approaches to the History of Togo
  • Possible Early Settlement and Archaeology
  • Precolonial Situations: Contact and Commerce at the Togolese Coast
  • Precolonial Situations: Ewe-Speakers and Others in the South
  • Precolonial Situations: The Plateau and Central Togo
  • Precolonial Situations: The North and Connections into the Sahel
  • Precolonial Situations: The Bassar–Material Culture and Structures of Power
  • Colonial Brutality and Economic Exploitation: German Rule (1884–1914)
  • Identity-Crafting: Christian Churches and Sociocultural Change (Late 19th Century–1930s)
  • Quasi-Colony: The French Mandate, Repression, and Challenges from the Interwar Period (1914–1960)
  • Ewe-Ness: A Focal Point of Ethnic Mobilization and its Aftermath
  • Independence and the Way into the One-Party State (1960–1990)
  • Multiparty Democracy and the Entrenchment of the Eyadéma-Gnassingbe Regime (1990–2015)
  • The Postcolonial Economy and Economic History
  • Ethnology and Sociology
  • Social Change and Migration
  • Religion
  • Memory Culture
  • Gender Roles in the Postcolonial Society

African Studies Togo
Alexander Keese
  • LAST REVIEWED: 17 August 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 21 January 2016
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0025


Togo is a territory with long borders that were artificially created by European intrusion around 1884 and in 1920 through the division of the German colony between the British and the French. Although the borders were frequently used by individuals who quickly adapted to them, they eventually cut through some communities and political networks. The existing country of Togo is, in its geographical shape, the direct successor of the French colony. The region is characterized by two early precolonial settlement centers that are known as Notsie, which has mythical qualities as potentially being the early settlement of all the Ewe, and Bassar, an early iron-producing center. Both have become the object of intense archaeological efforts. Tado is a third settlement region that became important before 1600. Before the colonial period, the populations of Togo’s south were propelled into the structures of the Atlantic slave trade, although the Togolese coast had only a relative importance for that commerce. The existence of Dahomey, a strong precolonial entity since the 18th century in territories neighboring present-day Togo, seems to have contributed to migration and flight into the Plateau highlands. In the north, various communities existed as participants in the Sahel trade; by 1800 the Anufo, former mercenaries, had created their own state around the city of Sansanné-Mango and destabilized considerably the northern savannahs. In 1884 current-day Togo became part of the German colony of that name, which suffered from exploitation and massive brutalities. At the same time, or even earlier, the presence of missionaries interacted with legends of belonging among Ewe-speakers and historical experiences of flight from external threats to create a new form of community feeling in parts of southern Togo. This sentiment was of particular political importance after the Second World War, when “Ewe organizations” mobilized for an ethnic type of independence, an unprecedented challenge to colonial rule that has found much interest in historical research. This was averted only with difficulties by the French, who had become, in 1919, the rulers over the League of Nations mandate called Togo. In 1960 Togo became independent; after two military coups in 1963 and 1967, the country came under military rule. The dominance of Etienne Gnassingbe Eyadéma over the country, starting in 1967, and reshaped in 1991 under the conditions of multiparty democracy, was inherited through the presidency of Faure Gnassingbe. While the late Eyadéma and the Faure-Gnassingbe periods are still the object of a very politicized debate rather than a historical discussion, many other periods, especially those involving the precolonial south and colonial rule, have profited from profound analysis by international as well as Togolese scholars.

General Overviews

Togo is one of the postcolonial states in sub-Saharan Africa that—in spite of its limited size—has received exceptional treatment through a number of general histories of the territory. It is the topic of a volume of the historical dictionaries series by Scarecrow Press, now in its third edition (Decalo 1996). French-speaking readers has the advantage of access to two especially well-informed territorial histories by a former colonial administrator who belonged to a group of former officials with a real interest in anthropological themes (see Cornevin 1969, Cornevin 1988). Nicoué Lodjou Gayibor, Togo’s leading historian, is the author and editor of a number of studies on various regions and aspects of the history of the country. Gayibor 2011 is an outstanding national-territorial history of four volumes, which is based on contributions of many Togolese historians. Indeed, this represents for an African country an unusual platform of high-quality national scholarship. For the history, society, and culture of an ethnic community that has awakened much interest in international politics and historical analysis, the Ewe, Lawrance 2005 offers a volume of contributions by international scholars—in a way, it takes the opposite approach as compared to Gayibor 2011, which is a national history written by a national scientific community.

  • Cornevin, Robert. Histoire du Togo. 3d ed. Paris: Berger-Levrault, 1969.

    An early overview of Togolese history with (for the period) a strong notion of the potential of ethnographic analysis and oral information by a former colonial administrator. It still expresses colonial thought and the idea of an essential north–south divide within Togo.

  • Cornevin, Robert. Le Togo: Des origines à nos jours. Paris: Académie des sciences d’Outre-mer, 1988.

    Enlarges Cornevin’s older study, including material on the evolution of local “nations” and taking into account the many unpublished scientific studies produced in Togo; apart from oral sources, offers a good knowledge of statistics and legislation.

  • Decalo, Samuel. Historical Dictionary of Togo. 3d ed. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 1996.

    A solid overview of available literature, geared toward an English-speaking readership, by the political scientist and specialist of historical dictionaries for West and Central African countries.

  • Gayibor, Nicoué Lodjou, ed. Histoire des Togolais: Des origines aux années 1960. 4 vols. Paris: Karthala, 2011.

    The principal reference work on Togolese history, detailed and with contributions on all periods from the relevant specialists in the country. Its use of the existing literature is sometimes a bit opaque for expert historians in West African history, but the analysis is mostly of high quality.

  • Lawrance, Benjamin N., ed. A Handbook of Eweland: The Ewe of Togo and Benin. Accra, Ghana: Woeli, 2005.

    The only overview of Ewe culture in Togo. The details and depth of analysis varies between chapters, although the editor clearly is a leading scholar in Ewe ethnogenesis. The handbook as a whole treats Ewe-ness as relatively stable.

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