Togo: Death at the Gate

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For Sylvanus Olympio, 60, President of Togo, the nightmare began shortly after midnight. Disturbed by strange sounds in his comfortable house in the capital city of Lomé, Olympio grabbed a pistol and went to the head of the stairs. There, to his consternation, was a crowd of mutinous soldiers crowding the floor below. Barefoot, clad in shorts and sport shirt, Olympio leaped through a window onto the soft, sandy earth of his garden.

He made it to the U.S. embassy compound next door. In the graveled courtyard, Olympio found a parked Plymouth sedan belonging to the embassy, and crawled in. There, in the early morning sunlight, he was spotted huddled beneath the steering wheel by one of the mutineers. Crying "All right, you have me!", Olympio surrendered and, prodded by rifle butts, was hustled down the driveway, past a mango tree and through the green gate. There he balked. Sergeant Etienne Eyadema, commander of the rebel detachment, later declared: "He could not stay there. There would have been demonstrations. He would not move. I shot him."

At 7 that morning, U.S. Ambassador Leon Poullada drove up to the embassy building, found President Olympio lying in a pool of blood just outside the compound. There were red finger smears on the gate, as if he had struggled to rise. As embassy aides carried the corpse into the courtyard, fat lizards scuttled away across the gravel and lounging Togolese soldiers watched silently from a nearby street corner.

"Blow to Progress." Thus last week died the man who was ruler of a postage-stamp-sized republic (75 by 340 miles) on the sweltering West African coast. Chief architect of Togo's 1960 independence from French control, London-educated Olympio practiced stern austerity at home, rejected demagoguery, and sided openly with the West. President Kennedy, whom Olympio visited in Washington last March, mourned his death as "a blow to the progress of stable government in Africa."

Suspicion immediately focused on Ghana's Strongman Kwame Nkrumah, who has conducted a bitter feud with Olympio over control of the powerful, 700,000-member Ewe (pronounced Evvy) tribe, which was split between both countries by European boundary-setters. Twice before, assassins had tried to kill Olympio; each time Ghana's agents were accused. But this time it was Olympio's own zealous economies that brought disaster.

"Bon. Ça Va." As part of his economic austerity program, Olympio had stubbornly refused to expand Togo's flyspeck army beyond its standing strength of 250 men—exactly one company. This angered both the "army" and the demobilized, hard-eyed Togolese veterans of French colonial wars, who had fought from Indo-China to Algeria but could find no place in their homeland's armed forces. Recently, a tough ex-sergeant, Emmanuel Bodjolle, 35, jobless and with a family to support, organized a conspiracy with 30 other noncoms. Last week, after Olympio tore up a final plea to take into the service at least 60 of the most qualified veterans, Bodjolle snapped: "Bon. Ça va." That midnight his battle-tough insurgents struck, easily occupying the capital.

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