Gilchrist Olympio (born 26 December 1936) is a Togolese politician who was a long-time opponent of the regime of Gnassingbe Eyadema and was and still President of the Union of Forces for Change (UFC), Togo's main opposition party from the 1990s til 2013. Olympio is the son of Sylvanus Olympio, Togo's first President, who was assassinated in a 1963 coup.
Early life, business career, and early political career
Olympio was born in Lomé and he studied mathematics and philosophy in the United States, and in the United Kingdom at the London School of Economics and Oxford University, where he received a doctorate in economics. He worked at the United Nations in fiscal and financial studies from 1963 to 1964 and then as an economist for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) from 1964 to 1970 and later returned to Africa to pursue business. Entering the Togolese political opposition, he was sentenced to death twice in absentia by the regime of Gnassingbé Eyadéma. Accused of plotting a coup together with various others, a warrant for his arrest was issued on 13 July 1979, but he could not be imprisoned because he was not in Togo.
Political career: 1991–2009
Olympio returned to Togo in July 1991 and participated in the Sovereign National Conference (Conférence Nationale Souveraine), which was held in July–August 1991. The conference put in place a new government and a transitional parliament.
He founded the Union of Forces for Change (Union des forces pour le changement), a federation of parties, on 1 February 1992. On 5 May 1992, his convoy was attacked in an ambush in Soudou, in the north of Togo; 12 people were killed, and Olympio himself was seriously injured, spending a year recovering in hospitals in France and the United Kingdom. Following the attack, Olympio lived in exile in Paris. An investigation by the International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) found that Eyadéma's son Ernest Gnassingbé was in charge of the commandos who perpetrated the attack.
Prior to the August 1993 presidential election, Olympio rejected the choice of Edem Kodjo as the sole candidate of the Collective of Democratic Opposition (COD II), and on 23 July 1993, was designated as the UFC's presidential candidate. He was, however, disqualified from the election for non-compliance with medical certificates. He was a candidate in the disputed June 1998 presidential election, receiving 34.10% of the vote according to official results, in second place behind Eyadéma.
Olympio claimed to have won the 1998 election, however, and demanded that the election be held over again; he also wanted the March 1999 parliamentary election, which was boycotted by the opposition, to be held over again. He initially refused to attend the Inter-Togolese Dialogue held in Lomé in mid-1999 due to security concerns, but on 26 July 1999 he arrived in Lomé from Ghana to participate. Although the dialogue involved many political parties, Olympio demanded exclusive and direct talks between the UFC and Eyadéma's party, the Rally of the Togolese People (RPT), regarding the 1998 election. This did not happen, and other opposition parties complained that they would be marginalized by such talks between the UFC and the RPT. Olympio consequently returned to Ghana after spending only hours in Togo.
Under the terms of a 2002 constitutional amendment, all presidential candidates were required to have lived in Togo for at least one year prior to the election. This created a legal barrier to Olympio's candidacy in subsequent elections, since he had been living outside of Togo since 1992. In 2003, Olympio was deemed ineligible to run in the June 2003 presidential election by the electoral commission on the grounds that he did not have a certificate of residency and a recent receipt of tax payments. On 26 April 2003, Olympio returned to Togo, saying that he did not have any taxable income in Togo. Olympio appealed the electoral commission's decision to the Constitutional Court, but it ruled against him on 6 May. Emmanuel Bob-Akitani, the First Vice-President of the UFC, ran in place of Olympio; Eyadéma won the election.
After Eyadéma died in office in February 2005, Olympio said on 3 March 2005 that he had been chosen as the UFC candidate for the early presidential election that would be held as a result of Eyadéma's death. He was nevertheless barred from running, and Bob-Akitani again ran unsuccessfully as the UFC candidate in the April 2005 election.
Olympio campaigned across the country for the UFC in the October 2007 parliamentary election; his campaigning including a visit to Kara, Eyadéma's native area, on 9 October, which was considered unprecedented. On election day (14 October) he was reportedly exhausted and unable to vote for health reasons, leaving another to vote for him.
At the UFC's Second Ordinary Congress, Olympio was re-elected as National President of the UFC on 19 July 2008; he was also unanimously chosen as the party's candidate for the 2010 presidential election. Olympio said on this occasion that he accepted the "responsibility to lead the Togolese people to victory", and he denounced the RPT regime, saying that it had brought Togo to ruin through four decades of mismanagement and repression. He ultimately withdrew his candidacy, citing health reasons, and was replaced by Jean-Pierre Fabre as the UFC candidate.
2010 accord with the ruling party
In 2010, in the aftermath of the presidential election, while the FRAC leaders and activists demonstrated for several weeks to claim victory for Jean-Pierre Fabre, Gilchrist Olympio signed a political agreement for participation in a government of national recovery in a spirit of power sharing with the ruling party. This agreement, which granted seven ministerial portfolios to the UFC, caused an outcry among UFC activists, who considered it treachery. This unilateral decision taken without consultation with the national office of the party caused a severe crisis in the party. After an unsuccessful attempt by Fabre and allies to eject Olympio from UFC, the National Alliance for Change (ANC) led by Jean-Pierre Fabre and his companions was created in October 2010.
End of political Prestige
In the aftermath of 2013 legislative election, Fabre's ANC emerged as the main opposition party when its coalition (Sauvons le Togo) won 19 seats in the National Assembly. Olympio's UFC lost the electorate and won just three seats. Olympio remains President of the UFC but his standing in Togo's politics has become ambiguous, as he endorsed neither candidate in the 2015 presidential election.
- Profile at UFC website (French).
- Michael Tobias, "Le cas Olympio", Jeuneafrique.com, 11 November 2007 (French).
- Journal Officiel de la Republique Togolaise, 16 October 1979, pages 525–526 (French).
- "Historique du mouvement patriotique togolais", UFC website (French).
- Nick Tattersall, "Exiled opposition chief to run for president", Reuters (IOL), 3 March 2005.
- "DÉMOCRATISATION À LA TOGOLAISE" ("CHRONOLOGIE"), Tètè Tété, 1998 (diastode.org) (French).
- "CONSIDERATION OF REPORTS SUBMITTED BY STATES PARTIES UNDER ARTICLE 40 OF THE COVENANT: Addendum TOGO", United Nations International covenant on civil and political rights, CCPR/C/TGO/2001/3, 5 July 2001.
- "Togo: Olympio leaves talks prematurely", IRIN, 27 July 1999.
- "TOGO: Constitutional Court upholds Olympio's rejection", IRIN, 7 May 2003.
- "Olympio souffrant ?", Republicoftogo.com, 14 October 2007 (French).
- "Une campagne « paisible »", Republicoftogo.com, 10 October 2007 (French).
- "2ème Congrès de l’Union des Forces de Changement", UFC website, 20 July 2008 (French).
- "L’UFC a désigné son candidat pour la présidentielle", Republicoftogo.com, 20 July 2008 (French).
- Les Togolais élisent leur président, Libération, 3 March 2010