Gilchrist Olympio

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Gilchrist Olympio
Personal details
Born 26 December 1936
Lomé, Togo
Political party Union of Forces for Change

Gilchrist Olympio (born 26 December 1936) is a Togolese politician and the President of the Union of Forces for Change (UFC),[1] the country's main opposition party. Since the late 1970s, Mr. Olympio gained notoriety as a charismatic West African political thought leader, because of his courageous and outspoken opposition to the brutal regime of late president General Gnassingbe Eyadema in Togo. Mr. Olympio is also the son the first elected president of Togo and father of the small country's independence movement, former President Sylvanus Olympio, who was assassinated in a 1963 coup led by Gnassingbe Eyadema. Gilchrist Olympio and his family lived in exile from the mid-60s to the early 2000s, but has now returned to Togo.

Early life, business career, and early political career[edit]

Olympio was born in Lomé in December 1936. He was educated in Ghana at Achimota School and at the Kumasi University of Technology now renamed Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology.[2] He attended Hamilton College, Clinton, NY 1958-59. He further studied mathematics and philosophy in the United Kingdom, attending successively the London School of Economics and Oxford University, where he received a doctorate[1][3] in economics.[1] He started his career at the United Nations, working on fiscal and financial studies for the Organization from 1963 to 1964, and then went on to work as an economist for the International Monetary Fund (IMF) from 1964 to 1970. After these early years in America, Mr. Olympio returned to Africa where he joined Lonrho as one of its senior business development managers. Mr. Olympio later became a very successful businessman with interests in various companies throughout West Africa. But throughout this time, he also gained more and more exposure as an outspoken critic and political opponent of the Togolese regime. He was sentenced to death twice in absentia by the regime of Gnassingbé Eyadéma.[1][3] After he was accused of plotting a coup together with other opponents based in Ghana, a warrant was issued for his arrest on 13 July 1979, but the Regime could not imprison him because he was not in Togo.[4] The regime attempted to kidnap him and to have him arrested abroad on several occasions but failed, as Mr. Olympio received the protection of various countries including successively, the United Kingdom, France and Ghana.

Political career: 1991–Present[edit]

Olympio returned to Togo in July 1991[5] and participated in the Sovereign National Conference (Conférence Nationale Souveraine),[1][3] which was held in July–August 1991.[5] 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.[5] On 5 May 1992, his campaign convoy was attacked in an ambush organized by special forces loyal to General Eyadema in Soudou, in the north of Togo;[1][3] 12 people were killed,.[1] Olympio himself received multiple gunshots, but two cars in the convoy, including his, escaped the ambush and crossed the border into Benin before the Togolese military could catch him. Mr. Olympio suffered multiple gun wounds on his back, legs and abdomen. He was evacuated to a French military hospital at the request of Côte d'Ivoire's late president, Houphouet Boigny. Olympio spent a year recovering in hospitals in France and the United Kingdom.[1][3] Following the attack, Olympio lived in exile in Paris and then London.[6] 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.[1]

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.[7] He was, however, disqualified from the election for non-compliance with medical certificates.[1][7] In 1998, he was again a candidate in the disputed June 1998 presidential election, receiving 34.10% of the vote according to official results, in second place behind Eyadéma.[8]

Olympio claimed to have won the 1998 election, and demanded that the election result be annulled; he also demanded that the March 1999 parliamentary election, which was boycotted by the opposition, to be held over again. After initially declining to attend the Inter-Togolese Dialogue held in Lomé in mid-1999 due to security concerns, he arrived in Lomé in July of that from Ghana, welcomed at the border by a sea of supporters, to participate in the talks. 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.[9]

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.[6] 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. Olympio appealed the electoral commission's decision to the Constitutional Court, but it ruled against him on 6 May.[10] 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 was chosen as the UFC candidate for the early presidential election that would be held as a result of Eyadéma's death.[6] 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.

At the UFC's Second Ordinary Congress,[11] 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.[12]

During a visit to Washington, DC in December 2009, Mr. Olympio, then 73, had a serious accident that immobilized him in a hospital for two months.[citation needed] Mr. Olympio’s hospitalization gave the Togolese regime more reasons to disqualify him from the standing in the election against Former General Gnassingbe’s son, who went on (unsurprisingly) to win the election held in April 2010. In May 2010, following the re-election of the standing President, Mr. Olympio called on the opposition to change strategy and to negotiate its participation in the government, rather than let the regime continue to rule Togo unchecked. His party, the UFC, led negotiations on a framework agreement that led to the formation of a “Gouvernement de Relance” with the participation of the UFC, RPT and Civil Society. This landmark agreement was widely lauded by the international community and by Togo's development partners.

As part of this political agreement, a Monitoring Committee was set up to provide a dispute resolution body to keep the implementation of this new government program and agreed upon reforms on track. Mr. Olympio was appointed chairman of this “Comité de Suivi”. Two senior advisors of President Gnassingbe sit on the Committee along with two members of the UFC.

Since the implementation of this agreement, some notable progress has been made to restart Togo’s economy and balance its budgetary situation (Togo's external debt was nearly entirely forgiven, and large infrastructure and education investment programs were launched with the help of the IMF and the World Bank). In other areas, particularly with regards to the needed constitutional reforms and on the issue of the transformation of the army into a truly national corps, progress remains frustratingly slow.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Profile at UFC website (French).
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ a b c d e Michael Tobias, "Le cas Olympio",, 11 November 2007 (French).
  4. ^ Journal Officiel de la Republique Togolaise, 16 October 1979, pages 525–526 (French).
  5. ^ a b c "Historique du mouvement patriotique togolais", UFC website (French).
  6. ^ a b c Nick Tattersall, "Exiled opposition chief to run for president", Reuters (IOL), 3 March 2005.
  7. ^ a b "DÉMOCRATISATION À LA TOGOLAISE" ("CHRONOLOGIE"), Tètè Tété, 1998 ( (French).
  8. ^ "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.
  9. ^ "TOGO: Olympio leaves talks prematurely", IRIN, 27 July 1999.
  10. ^ "TOGO: Constitutional Court upholds Olympio's rejection", IRIN, 7 May 2003.
  11. ^ "2ème Congrès de l’Union des Forces de Changement", UFC website, 20 July 2008 (French).
  12. ^ "L’UFC a désigné son candidat pour la présidentielle",, 20 July 2008 (French).

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