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Opinions of Wednesday, 7 October 2020

Columnist: Atta Alfred

The Western Togoland Problem: Two silent issues and matters arising

In light of the current wave of talks, actions and inactions of and about the territory today referred to as the Western Togoland, this article, I believe, will shed some light on the situation as it is happening today, from a historical point of view. In fact, the Togoland question keeps popping up every now and then in Ghana since Ghana’s independence but the current conduct regarding the problem is really worrying and requires all stake holders to take a serious look at it. Some commentators or analysts in the media have offered insights, yet I am afraid, they do not emphasize or rather, they de-emphasize two important issues.

This article actually concerns the territory officially known as British Togoland, the same territory whose people voted to decide their political future in a plebiscite organized by the United Nations and the United Kingdom in 1956. The Volta Triangle (Anlo, Tongu and Peki) which was mapped out of the original German Togoland to the United Kingdom in 1899 and became a Gold Coast territory in 1890, of course, did not vote in the plebiscite. The Volta Triangle was, however, rejoined to the southern section of the British Togoland in 1952 to form the Trans-Volta Togoland for the purposes of “administrative convenience”.

The result of the plebiscite shows that 58% of the people opted for union with an independent Gold Coast and 42% of the people opted for separation from the Gold Coast.

The first silent issue concerns the integration-union dichotomy. These two terms appear to be used interchangeably in the discussion of the Togoland problem today and that more so, whichever is mentioned practically refers to integration where one of the countries loses its sovereignty and identity. It is very important to note the use of the two terms in discussing the problem of the future of British Togoland at the United Nations. Prior to the plebiscite, United Kingdom notified the United Nations of its desire to terminate the trusteeship agreement regarding British Togoland at the attainment of independence by Gold coast. The UK proposed that since they administered British Togoland as an integral part of Gold Coast, and that British Togoland is too small, too poor and too linked to the Gold coast, then British Togoland should be integrated into the Gold Coast. The United Nations charged the trusteeship council to take steps to ascertain the wishes of the people regarding the proposed integration. In response to this call, a visiting mission was sent to both British Togoland and French Togoland in 1955. After their visit and inquiry and consultations, the visiting mission recommended a plebiscite to ascertain the wishes of the people of British Togoland. The mission recommended two questions to be put to voters in the plebiscite. These are:

1) Do you want the integration of Togoland under British administration with an independent Gold Coast?

2) Do you want the separation of Togoland under British administration from the Gold Coast and its continuance under trusteeship, pending the ultimate determination of its political future?

When the report of the visiting mission was submitted and discussed at the General Assembly, the use of term integration officially disappeared in favour of union. Was that a coincidence or it was because the two terms are interchangeable? It was actually not a coincidence nor were the two terms just used interchangeably. In fact, during the course of the debate on the visiting mission’s report, some members of the General Assembly stood against the integration of a nation (British Togoland) into another nation (independent Gold Coast). These persons instead argued for, given the problem at hand, a political union between the two states. The basic intuition is, in integrating the two nations, the bigger one swallows up the smaller, thereby dissolving the smaller one. The objectives of the Trusteeship Agreement will not be achieved by integrating British Togoland into an independent Gold Coast. The term integration was, therefore, abandoned and replaced by union (see paragraph 5 of UN document A/3173), where the sovereignty of the two states coming together will be recognized and maintained. Thus, in the actual conduct of the plebiscite, as reported by the plebiscite commissioner, the questions put to the voters were:

1) Do you want a union of Togoland under British administration with an independent Gold Coast?

2) Do you want the separation of Togoland under British administration from the Gold Coast and its continuance under trusteeship, pending the ultimate determination of its political future?

The question of whether the people understood the “nature and character of the questions” as expressed by the plebiscite commissioner after the plebiscite; whether the people clearly understood what they were choosing or what they were not choosing is not the object of this article.

In essence, the people voted for union with an independent Gold Coast but not Integration with/into independent Gold Coast.

The other issue concerns the decisions taken after the plebiscite. The United Nations General Assembly, upon receiving the United Nations’ Plebiscite Commissioner’s report expressed it approval of the union between the two countries as shown by the plebiscite results and asked the United Kingdom to “take such steps as are necessary” to effect the union voted for by the people and notify the Secretary-General as soon the union has been effected [see UN resolution 1044 (XI)]. They also agreed in the same resolution that the objectives of the Trusteeship Agreement will be attained once the union of the two countries has been effected, only when the Gold Coast also became independent.

Indeed, the United Kingdom at midnight of 5th/6th March, 1957 notified the United Nations, in a letter, of the independence of the Gold Coast as Ghana under the terms of the Ghana Independence Act. According to the letter, under the same act, the union of the former trust territory of Togoland under British administration with the independent state of Ghana took place from the same time and date.

The step taken, i.e., covering the union by an Act is a step in the right direction. The only problem is the union is of the two countries so representatives from both must decide the terms of the act. The Ghana Independence act is essentially an act of independence of the Gold Coast. There is no record of consultation with any Togolander regarding the terms of the act. It is true there are different kinds of political unions. The type of union expected is an incorporating union, a federal or confederal union. The union reflected in the Ghana Independence Act is that of incorporating annexation, where British Togoland dissolves in Ghana. The issue of integration is thus brought back. In history, the type of union referred to by the Act takes place after a conquest of one country by another. In this type of union the conquered country dissolves in the conqueror and the conquered has no or very little say. The Togoland has not been conquered by the United Kingdom nor the Gold Coast to warrant such a union. The United Kingdom has actually succeeded in achieving their desire of integrating British Togoland into Independent Gold Coast and that is the problem.

After the Gold Coast independence and the subsequent “union” of the two nations, the leaders of the Togoland Congress, the political party which championed the agenda for separation, realized they were not in the type of union they voted for. They started talking about the problem but they were quickly met with the Preventive Detention Act, which saw some of them put behind bars and the others run into exile. The mere mention of the Togoland problem became a taboo in Ghana. It worked and almost put an end to the issue in the same way the mention of CPP became a taboo in Ghana after the overthrow of Dr. Kwame Nkrumah.

Just as the issue of the Togoland problem almost died right after the “unionization”, so has the history; almost non-existent in the history books studied in Ghanaian schools. It is, therefore, not strange when the Togoland history is told by many in many different forms. Who is to blame?

The writer is a Political-Historian Email: alfredatta6@gmail.com

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