In 1925 Sylvanus Olympio graduated from LSE with a B Commerce degree and started work for the United Africa Company in Nigeria, writes LSE Archivist Sue Donnelly. In 1961 he was elected as the first President of Togo.
Olympio was born in 1902 coming from a well-connected Brazilian-African family. His father Epiphanio Olympio ran a trading house in Agoué (now part of Benin) for Miller Brothers, a Liverpool company, and his uncle was one of the richest men in Togo. Olympio began his education in a Catholic elementary school but in 1921 he came to London and enrolled in the University Tutorial College which specialised in preparing students to enter London University.
Olympio passed his London Matriculation in June 1922. For much of his time in England he lived at Cedar Lodge, Caterham, the home of W G Crocker who worked for F & A Swanzy (part of the United Africa Company). Crocker was Olympio’s guardian while he was in London.
Olympio’s attendance sheet for his first year indicate his courses included Accountancy, World History, Geography, Elements of Economics, Elements of Currency and Banking and English as a Foreign Language. His adviser of studies was R B Forrester, lecturer in Commerce. During the year he wrote essays for the economic historian Eileen Power, economist Hugh Dalton and Frederic De Paula in accounting. He passed his intermediate examination in June 1923 allowing him to continue with his course.
From the academic year 1923-1924 Olympio’s focused on courses directly related to Commerce including Elements of Commercial Law, Organisation of Transport, Currency and Banking and Statistical Method. A later letter indicates that it was not all work and no play as he gained colours in boxing, representing London University and later enquiring about buying a university blazer.
In his final year Olympio registered for Accounting, Commercial Physical Geography, Commercial Methods (Tropical Africa) and English as a foreign language. His advisor of studies was Professor Arthur Sargent who had been Professor of Commerce in the University of London since 1908. There was some discussion about Olympio’s final exam entry as he wanted to cover the trade of Tropical Africa and be examined in English rather than French – the main language in Togo. This was accepted by the University’s Commerce Degrees Committee.
It is clear that Olympio did not ignore the practical side of his training and in March 1925 he received a letter from the School Secretary, Jessy Mair with an introduction to David Owen, General Manager of the Port of London Authority for a tour of the docks. The letter described Olympio as a student of “good character”.
After graduation Olympio began working for the United Africa Company, initially in London and then in Nigeria, but did not forget LSE or his education. In January 1926 his student file contains correspondence between Eve Evans, the Assistant Secretary and Registrar, School Secretary Jessy Mair and Professor Sargent about the possibility of Olympio undertaking a Masters in Commerce. He planned to undertake his research and thesis writing in West Africa returning to London to present his thesis for examination. This was permissible under the University of London regulations and Olympio arranged to meet Sargent after work to discuss the options. In 1927 he was back in touch with the School enquiring about the London Institute of Book-keepers.
In 1928 Olympio moved to the Gold Coast before transferring to Lomé in Togo. Throughout this period Olympio was increasingly involved in the politics of his home country. In 1922 Britain had been granted a League of Nations mandate to govern the western part of Togo while the French held the mandate for the east of the Country. From 1941 Olympio led the Comité de l’Unité Togolaise (CUT) campaigning for independence. The following year he was placed under house arrest by the Vichy government in Djougou, French Dahomey. After the Second World War Togo became a UN Trust Territory and in 1947 Olympio was instrumental in petitioning the UN Trusteeship Council for a resolution of grievances against the involvement of the French government in elections. Throughout the 1950s CUT was the main anti-colonial movement in French Togoland.
In 1958 election saw CUT becoming the dominant part in the National Assembly. Togo achieved independence in 1960 and in 1961 Olympio became the first President of Togo as the only presidential candidate and CUT was the only party to stand for election to the National Assembly, Olympio’s policy of restricting the size of the Togo army and the lack of opposition led to his assassination by Étienne Eyadéma, a sergeant in the French military. He was replaced by his brother-in-law and rival Nicolas Grunitzky but Eyadéma, took power in 1967 and remained President until 2005.