Very little is known about the region that is Togo before about 500 years ago. However, for much of its known history, the region around and including the country that is now Togo played a large role in early European colonization. When the first Europeans arrived, tribes including the Ewe, Mina and the Guin had already settled the region. Beginning in the 16th century and continuing for the next 200 years, slave traders, with the help of the Mina, raided the region, also known as "The Slave Coast," in search of slaves.
In 1847, German missionaries came to Togo to evangelize primarily to the Ewe, Togo's largest tribe. German traders later followed the missionaries, and in 1884, Togoland, as it was called, became a self-supporting colony of Germany. Although a model colony for Germany, this all changed upon the start of World War I when Germany quickly lost control of its colony to British and French forces in 1914. After the war, Togoland became a League of Nations mandate divided between the United Kingdom and France. Following World War II, Togoland once again experienced administrative changes as it became a trust territory of the United Nations, the world organization that had replaced the defunct League of Nations.
Still split administratively between the United Kingdom and France, residents of the British portion voted to join the British Gold Coast to form the new country of Ghana in December 1956. During that same year, French Togoland became an autonomous republic within the French union under the leadership of Prime Minister Nicolas Grunitzky. He lost power in 1958 during an unsupervised general election to Sylvanus Olympio, and on April 27, 1960, Togo became an independent nation.
Following independence, a new constitution in 1961 gave far-reaching powers to the executive president who had little, if any, real checks and balances from the weak National Assembly. In the country's first elections since independence, Olympio's party won with 90 percent of the vote and all National Assembly seats.
The years that followed were marked by unrest as Olympio squelched opposition by jailing those who hadn't successfully fled the country to avoid arrest. Olympio was assassinated in January 1963, allowing Grunitzky to become president. Although Grunitzky tried to implement government reforms by allowing multiple parties to be represented, his power was weakened by an attempted overthrow in 1966. Although unsuccessful, a subsequent bloodless military coup led by Lt. Col. Étienne Eyadéma in 1967 removed Grunitzky from power, banned all political parties and suspended the constitution. Later in 1972 with just one national party, Eyadéma ran unopposed and became the country's president.
With the fall of communism in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union in the late 1980s and early 1990s, the desire for a more democratic form of government was felt in other countries such as Togo. Riots broke out in the capital city of Lomé after students handed out antigovernment tracts. The subsequent trial of these students on Oct. 5, 1990, sparked even more violence leading the government and the opposition to agree to hold a "national forum" on June 12, 1991. Following the forum, tension between the opposition and the government remained high with paralysis of the government and violent flare-ups continuing over a three-year period. In spite of the obstacles, members from both the opposition and Eyadéma's government drew up a new constitution on Sept. 27, 1992.
Tension erupting in waves of violence continued for many years during the 1990s. Numerous attempts were made on President Eyadéma's life, but all were unsuccessful. Then on July 29, 1999, the government and the opposition signed an accord called the Lomé Framework Agreement. Among other things, the agreement included a pledge by Eyadéma to not seek another term after 2003. This pledge was later broken when Eyadéma's government amended Togo's constitution to allow the president to run for an "unlimited" number of terms. The following year, President Eyadéma was re-elected with 57 percent of the vote, amid accusations of voter fraud.
President Eyadéma's 33-year rule came to a sudden end Feb. 5, 2005 when he died onboard an airplane en route to France for treatment of a heart attack. In a military coup-like fashion, the transfer of power went from father to son, making Faure Gnassingbé, the former minister of public works, mines and telecommunications, the new president. However, international pressure forced Gnassingbé to step down. On April 24, elections were held showing Gnassingbé to be the clear winner with 60 percent of the vote. Though the election was disputed, Gnassingbé was sworn in as president on May 3, 2005.
Democratic gains since then allowed Togo to hold its first relatively free and fair legislative elections in October 2007. At that time, parliamentary elections were held with the ruling party, Rally of the Togolese People (RPT), winning a majority of the seats by a narrow margin over the opposition party Union of Forces for Change (UFC). After years of political unrest and condemnation from international organizations for human rights abuses, Togo has finally been re-welcomed into the international community.