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Togoland Plebiscite: The Historical Fact

October 14, 2023
Togoland Plebiscite: The Historical Fact
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Part I

For the past several years, I have been dismayed and alarmed by the bogus and unsubstantiated claims being peddled both in writing and declamation about the scope and import of the plebiscite that the Organisation conducted in Togoland under British Trusteeship in May 1956.

I have been persuaded to rejoin to stop this misinformation that could trigger some rather serious consequences.

In the first place, it should be pointed out that the only people that were involved were the people of the then districts of , Kpando, Buem-Krachi, Gonja, Dagomba (Dagbon) and Mamprusi (Mamprugu).

Most certainly, the people of Peki, TONGU, ANLO, SOME and related Ewe were not involved, because they had constituted part of the British colony of the Gold Coast right from the second half of the nineteenth Century.

Secondly, there is no iota of truth in the claim that the decision of the United Nations Organisation following that plebiscite was time-bound, that is it was to remain in force for fifty years. 

Thirdly, the demand and agitation for secession of all Ewe people of the of Ghana and with the union of the republic of has no basis in law or fact.

The decision to organise a plebiscite in British Togoland was actually the culmination of a series of developments that had occurred following the demand for unification by the Ewe people who found themselves split into three distinct political entities, namely, the Gold Coast Colony, Togoland under British Trusteeship and Togoland under French Trusteeship. There is no need to enter into so many details here. The reader can consult two publications by the author. These are (1) The Plebiscite in Togoland. A Historical Account in the UNIVERSITAS, an Inter-Faculty Journal, . Vol. 5 No. 2. (New Series), May/November 1976 pp. 126 – 140 and the second, The Ewe Unification Movement. A Political History. Ghana Press 1989. Pp 374.

The facts

In 1954 the U.N. General Assembly decided that in view of the eventual revision or termination of the Trusteeship Agreements under which both Togoland territories were administered by Britain and , steps should be taken, in the light of the particular circumstances of British Togoland, to ascertain the wishes of the inhabitants of British Togoland as to their future: 

“Without prejudice to the eventual solutions that they may choose whether it be independence, unification of an independent Togoland under British Administration with an independent Togo under French Administration, unification with an independent Gold Coast, or some other self-governing independent status” (U.N General Assembly official records. General Assembly Resolution 860 (IX) 14 December 1954).

Accordingly, a mission was dispatched in August 1955 to ascertain the wishes of the people of British Togoland on their future. (U.N. Trusteeship Council official Records doc T/1206 ADD I. published in January 1956 as Doc T/1218. U.N. Visiting Mission to the Trust Territories of Togoland under French Administration and Togoland under British Administration. (Special Report on the Togoland unification Problem and the future of the Trust territory of Togoland.)

The Mission recommended that in view of the fact that opinion in the territory was markedly divided between two rival views, a plebiscite should be held to decide finally whether the people wanted integration with the Gold Coast or whether the territory should remain under trusteeship after separating from the Gold Coast until a practicable future status for it could be finally recommended. 

It recommended specifically that the following questions be put at the plebiscite: a) Do you want the integration of Togoland under British administration with an independent Gold Coast? And (b) 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 Mission also recommended that the plebiscite results be determined separately in four more or less ethnically distinct areas. It suggested that in the northern section where opinion favoured integration with the Gold Coast in view •of the distinctive •ethnic and linguistic characteristics of its population and the general conditions in the area, its future should be determined not by a majority of the total .vote in the trust territory but by a majority of the votes within this area. In the southern districts of Ho and Kpando, the mission had observed divided opinion for integration and independence for a unified Togo.

 Again in these districts, the majority of the people was Ewe and the question of Ewe unification had exerted considerable influence on the course of events in the region. The Mission recommended that in this region also the results of the plebiscite should be taken separately and should determine its future according to the choice of its voters. 

The Buem/Krachi area contained populations of different ethnic compositions and with other distinctive linguistic characteristics. Even within this district, the mission noted that in its northern parts opinion strongly favoured integration with the Gold Coast while in its southern parts, opinion was divided between integration and unification. The Mission accordingly recommended that Buem Karachi be divided into two separate areas to ensure the greatest possible measure of satisfaction for the aspiration of the population. The mission therefore recommended that the results of the plebiscite should be determined separately in the following four areas:

  1. The northern section of British Togoland
  2. Kpando and Ho districts together as one unit
  3. Buem Krachi district north of the southern boundary of the Akan Local Council area
  4. Buem Krachi district is south of the boundary of the Akan Local Council area.

The future of each of these units should be determined by the majority vote in each case. There should, however, be one exception to this, based on considerations of effective administration. If either the northern or southern section alone decided in favour of integration with an independent Gold Coast such wishes of the people of that part should be implemented when the Gold Coast attained independence, If one side or both favoured separation from the Gold Coast pending a further determination of their future this would necessitate the continuance of the trusteeship over that part of the territory pending the ultimate decision as to its future.

Part III

All the same, when the plebiscite figures are broken down, an interesting pattern emerges. In the first place, the northern section voted for, while the southern section voted against, integration. Again, of the six electoral districts, two, the Ewe districts of Ho and Kpando voted for separation. If the four-unit formula recommended by the Visiting Mission were applied these two districts would be separated from the Gold Coast and remain under trusteeship pending a final plebiscite while the other four districts would be integrated with an independent Gold Coast.

However, with the pattern that had emerged from the voting figures, it was unlikely that the U.N. would agree to the isolation of the specifically Ewe areas. It would have required the co-operation of the British Government, but Britain had already made her position clear on this point.

On July 13, 1956, the British Government submitted a memorandum to the U.N. proposing that the only right and practicable course would be for the trusteeship agreement in respect of British Togoland to be terminated. It claimed that this proposal was based on three considerations:

  1. The plebiscite showed that the majority of the territory wanted union with the Gold Coast,
  2. This union was manifestly in the interests of the people of the territory, When the Gold Coast became independent the Trusteeship
  3. Agreements concerning British Togoland would become inoperable.

The British Government's position was strengthened by the General Elections held in the Gold Coast and British Togoland on 12th and 17th July 1956. In the southern section of British Togoland the leaders, parties, issues and appeals were essentially the same as those involved in the plebiscite. The C.P.P., the party of integration and unitary government received 52.6 percent of the votes while in the northern section, the C.P.P. and the N.P.P. between them received 96 per cent.

Thus, whereas the parties of integration had an overall majority of 58 per cent in the plebiscite, in July they received a majority of 73 per cent. The general election results confirmed and strengthened the validity of the plebiscite majority in favour of integration. They also fulfilled the British Government's condition for granting independence to the Gold Coast which was itself a prerequisite for the termination of the Trusteeship Agreement and the integration of British Togoland into the Gold Coast.

These facts and figures were considered by the U.N. in making a final decision on the fate of British Togoland. As against these, the World Body also considered how far the aims of the trusteeship system could be considered met by the territory not actually becoming independent in its own right, but as an integral part of another independent country. It also considered whether the two districts which voted for separation should be allowed the right to self-determination. The U.N. refused to consider the plebiscite results separately for South British Togoland. 

It was unwilling to support the fragmentation of the territory and also to create a precedent that might lead to the fragmentation of other trust territories and thereby delay their advance towards self-government and independence. It considered the overall majority of 16 per cent big enough to warrant the termination of the Trusteeship Agreement. Accordingly, it authorised the integration of British Togoland with the Gold Coast when the latter became independent in March 1957. (U.N. General Assembly official Records Trusteeship Council Resolution 1496 (XVIII) and General Assembly Resolution 1044 (XI).

This decision and its implementation put an end to the Togoland unification question. As has come out in this article the debate on the future of British Togoland had arisen from the demand for Ewe unification, particularly after the modification of this demand to mean the unification of the two trust territories as an initial step. In the first place, it was the fact that other peoples besides the Ewe would be affected by this exercise that necessitated the consultation of the entire population of British Togoland on the territory's future. 

The Ewe unificationists had argued for a simultaneous plebiscite in French Togoland also, but the World Body did not consider that that territory had reached a comparably advanced political stage when a consultation of its people on the question of union with British Togoland would be meaningful. Before 1956 no proper consultation of the people or any scientific determination of the strength of the various political persuasions had been made other than rough assessments based on superficial estimates of the various U.N. Visiting Missions and extravagant claims of the various political groups about the size of their individual following. The 1956 plebiscite was the first scientific assessment and it tore a hole in the claims of the advocates of Ewe unification. It is to be emphasized, however, that this plebiscite actually did not take into account the position in the Ewe sections of the Gold Coast and French Togoland which were, after all, the main supporters of Ewe unification.

Now, even granted that the plebiscite was confined to British Togoland, it was one thing to establish that it was necessary to consult the entire population on the plebiscite options. It was quite another to determine whether the majority decision should apply to the entire territory as one unit or the majority should be determined for each section separately. It should be remembered that Britain did not administer the two sections of British Togoland together as one unit. On the contrary, the southern section of the territory was administered jointly with the “Colony” the northern section was also administered jointly with the “northern territories” of the Gold Coast. Since the destinies of the two sections had hitherto diverged, it is arguable that they really constituted two distinct units each of which could theoretically exercise the right to self-determination. The meaningful question, however, was one of how practicable this was in the given circumstances. The U.N. obviously did not consider that such a solution was practicable.

As pointed out earlier, because of practical consideration, particularly the insistence by Britain, the Administrative Authority that once the Gold became independent it would no longer be possible for Britain to administer any part of British Togoland that might vote against integration, the United Nations decided to treat the Trust Territory as one composite unit and not consider the Ewe section that voted against integration with the Gold Coast separately. Its decision affected the entire Trust Territory, Furthermore, its decision was to be permanent. There was no time limit set. Hence any demand for secession by a section of the former British Togoland does not have any legal basis. In fact, even if the decision came from the entire former trust territory it would still not have any leg to stand on. Furthermore, it could not involve the portion of Ewe people like Peki, Anlo, Tongu, etc who had been part of the Gold Coast since the nineteenth century and did not come in on the wings of the plebiscite.

Emeritus Prof. D.E. K. Amenumey, College of Humanities and Legal Studies U.C.C ([email protected])

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