1956: The French Togoland Referendum

Philip Gbeho

An article written by Philip Gbeho in the September 19, 1956 edition of the Daily Graphic presents us with an important historical perspective of the Ewe question which raged even in the 1950s.

Headlined “Making French Togoland Is A Move Against Ewes” the subject by all standards agitated the minds of not only Philip Gbeho but his people in the Volta Region.

He said that the issue of a French Referendum in French Togoland was occupying the minds of Ewes in both around the French and British administrations.

According to him the referendum was intended to separate Ewes in French Togoland from their kinsmen in both French Togoland in the Gold Coast and British Togoland.

The referendum, for him, was not an answer to the Ewe problem because, as he put it, from the beginning the Ewes had always wanted to live together as members of one tribe.

“The barriers separating us and making us French Togoland Ewes, British Togoland Ewes, are artificial and are not in our interest. Our fathers have always condemned these lines of demarcation and the imperial powers certainly know about all our grievances in this matter,” he said.

The recent political struggle over the British Togoland was also as he saw it was an attempt to unite the Ewes under a single administration. For him “that struggle is now over and we are awaiting the final results from the UNO sometime in November or December next. He said “It is, of course, obvious that British Togoland will achieve independence with the Gold Coast: if that happens, then about three quarters of the Ewes will be permanently united.”

The whole issue as he said he saw it “was no longer a problem for political parties. It is a purely a matter for the Ewes themselves. The Ewes in the French area cannot and must not remain separated from the rest of the Ewes.”

French Possession

Talking about the genesis of the possession by the French he said “after the French took over that piece of land after the great war of 1914-1918, I must say that the authorities did not consult us but merely handed it over at a Colonial Dinner Table” adding that “the late Casely-Hayford through the National Congress of British West Africa fought the issue from the Gold Coast to No 10 Downing Street but did not succeed.”

He explained that the French did not belong to the French Empire in the early days adding that the French were in Dahomey “and it is not for us to object to their presence there but the Ewes must be free to unite with their brother Ewes in Eweland.”

He was emphatic when he said in the article “the efforts of the French to absorb the Ewes in French Togoland into the French Empire is not acceptable to the Ewes as a whole.”

He charged the Ewes to return to the aspirations for the All-Ewe Conference because, according to him, the referendum falls short of the aspirations of the Ewes.

The All-Ewe Conference, he explained, sought to unite all Ewes in one Ewe country. “I must make it clear that by single administration the All-Ewe Conference had in mind the British Administration in the Gold Coast.”

Continuing he said “this is galling to the French but is true to say that it is largely to the early efforts of the British people that self-government is becoming a reality in the Gold Coast.”

He paid tributes to persons like Maclean, Guggisberg and Fraser saying about them thus “they easily could have planned to let the Gold Coast remain forever a Colonial territory or another South Africa.”

According to him “we Ewes have watched the administration on the sides and prefer to be on the British side which now was almost entirely governed by Africans. At the present moment, the Ewes in French Togoland are not free to express their views in public without incurring the displeasure of the ruling authorities.”

The Ewes who are in French Togoland at the moment, he said, must follow the rest of Ewes wherever they maybe, he charged his people adding that “indeed that was our aim when we were fighting for the removal of the artificial barriers in Eweland through the Ewe conference.”

By A.R. Gomda