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Western Togoland: a Secessionist Conflict in the Heart of Ghana


Although Africa has seen the emergence of many secessionist movements such as in Katanga, Biafra, and Casamance, only two countries have successfully achieved full independence since the decolonization process ended: Eritrea in 1993 and South Sudan in 2011. The Organization of African Unity (predecessor of the African Union) decided in 1963 to maintain the colonial borders as they had been established by colonial powers to avoid potential border conflicts. However, rooted in economic, cultural, and historical factors, secessionist movements have persisted in Africa. In recent years, we have witnessed a rekindling of these types of conflicts with the war in Tigray, the escalation of the conflict in Anglophone Cameroon, and the breakdown of the ceasefire in Western Sahara. Though there has been little attention given by the academia and the media, an old secessionist movement has also resurfaced in the heart of Ghana.

After World War I, the winning powers divided the African colonies of a defeated Germany, including the small protectorate of Togoland. The western half of the territory was given to the British who unified it with the Gold Coast (present-day Ghana), while the eastern half became French Togo.¹ This artificial partition was rejected by the Ewe people, who were divided into two different territories. However, the union with the Gold Coast was ratified in a referendum in 1956 and followed by the creation of the independent state of Ghana in 1957. Although the option of unifying with Ghana won with 58 percent of the vote, the southern Ewe regions voted in favor of remaining under a UN mandate.

Following the unification, the Ghanaian government divided the territory into several regions. Western Togoland today corresponds mostly to the Volta region and some territories in the Northern, Upper East, and Upper West regions. While Ghana's President Kwame Nkrumah advocated for the integration of Togo as a seventh region of Ghana, the Togolese government took a stand against the division of Togoland and the Ewe people. The then-Togolese president Sylvanus Olympio called for the unification of Western Togoland with Togo. This issue created strong tensions between both countries, which eased after the assassination of Olympio in 1963.

Since then, many Ewes continued to fight for the right to self-determination. The National Liberation Movement of Western Togoland (known as Tolimo) gained popularity in the 1970s after filing an official complaint to the Organization of African Unity supporting the unification of the former British Togoland with Togo. Ghanaian government suppression, following an attempted coup d'état led by the Ghanaian Ewe in 1975, and the decrease in Togolese government support since 1978 led to the decline of Tolimo.² The secessionist movement entered a phase of lethargy until its recent comeback under the leadership of new groups.

In 2017, the Homeland Study Group Foundation (HSGF), a platform created to discuss the rights of the people of Western Togoland, announced its intention to declare the independence of the territory. Several members of the organization were arrested, charged with treason, and subsequently released. The HSGF then developed a strong advocacy campaign and, in the same year, Western Togoland became a member of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO). The central government accused the HSGF of having an armed militia while the HSGF maintains its support of non-violence. HSGF's leader Charles Kormi Kudzordzi, who later died, was arrested on conspiracy charges in 2019 with dozens of HSGF members.

In 2019, the Western Togoland Restoration Front (WTRF), a political-military organization that openly advocates armed struggle against the Ghanaian government, was formed. In September 2020, it carried out a unilateral declaration of independence for a sovereign state of Western Togoland. Members of the independentist movement barricaded roads, attacked police stations, and looted arms depots in the Tongu North district. Their leader, Togbe Yesu Kwabla Edudzi, urged Ghanaian security forces to leave the territory. The riots resulted in numerous arrests, several injuries, and one death. The most recent phenomenon was the arrest of six secessionist activists in January 2022 who were on their way to pick up some weapons that were allegedly going to be used to rob the Bank of Ghana.

In late 2020, a video circulated on social media showing several uniformed and armed activists calling themselves the Dragons of Western Togoland. In their video statement, the group claimed to have 4,000 armed members in a neighboring country ready to control the territory and fight for independence. However, the lack of information on this group since that announcement has led to suspicion that the proclamation was just a propaganda campaign.

In the past few years, the government has incrementally increased pressure against the HSGF, arresting many activists, raising the securitization of the secessionist issue, and declaring its intention to put an end to the secessionist aspirations. During the voter registration exercise in 2020, the government deployed the army in the region. Although the measure was allegedly taken to secure the border with Togo in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, there were accusations that the action intended to stop the registration of Togolese in the region. Different scholars emphasize the underlying problem that the securitization of secessionist disputes may bring.³ Military solutions rarely put an end to secessionist movements, which may even see an increase in their grievances. Conversely, fostering political consensus on the need to find a long-lasting peace that addresses the grievances and diminishes the power of polarized narratives is considered a better strategy.

The lack of an adequate response that addresses the grievances and demands of the people in Western Togoland along with the increasing securitization of the issue could lead to an undesired adverse reaction. The WTRF could follow in the wake of other secessionist movements in the region such as those in Anglophone Cameroon, which quickly turned into an open armed conflict with the Cameroonian government. This risk could be combined with others, such as the expansion of Jihadist movements southwards as well as the increasing piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, posing a real threat to Ghana's stability. However, Ghana is widely recognized as one of the most peaceful countries in Africa as well as an example of a successful African democracy with three decades of uninterrupted democratic multiparty system. There is room for home-grown solutions such as the indigenous peace mechanism used to solve a chieftaincy conflict in Dagbon or the potential role that the National Peace Council and the Kofi Annan International Peacekeeping Training Centre (KAIPTC) could play in supporting peace efforts at different levels in Western Togoland. It is crucial to keep a watchful eye on the conflict and support the democratic and peaceful resolution of tensions, addressing the root causes of the tensions and avoiding a potential escalation that could threaten the stability of one of the most peaceful countries in Africa.

  1. Ki-Zerbo, J. (2011). Historia del África negra: de los orígenes a las independencias. Edicions Bellaterra.
  2. Brown, D. (1980). Borderline Politics in Ghana: The National Liberation Movement of Western Togoland. The Journal of Modern African Studies, 18 (4), 575–609.
  3. Ker-Lindsay, James. (2021). "Western Togoland | Ghana's Ewe Independence Movement." YouTube. Available at: Accessed: 20 April 2022; ISS. (2020). "Ghana's Western Togoland Crisis and Africa's Unanswered Secession Questions". Institute for Security Studies. Available at: Accessed: 20 April 2022; Heise, Julius, and Werner Distler. (2021). "Ghana's secessionist conflict has its genesis in colonialism: it's time to reflect". The Conversation. Available at: Accessed 20 April 2022.

Ignacio Madurga-Lopez is a climate security specialist with a background in peace and conflict studies currently working at CGIAR Focus Climate Security, a global research partnership that aims to address gaps in knowledge about climate change and food security for peace and security policies and operations.

Photo Source: Map of Western Togoland within Ghana. Original image by Lexicon via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0), adapted for use by the Wilson Center Africa Program. 

The opinions expressed on this blog are solely those of the authors. They do not reflect the views of the Wilson Center or those of Carnegie Corporation of New York. The Wilson Center's Africa Program provides a safe space for various perspectives to be shared and discussed on critical issues of importance to both Africa and the United States.

About the Author

Ignacio Madurga-Lopez

Africa Program

The Africa Program works to address the most critical issues facing Africa and US-Africa relations, build mutually beneficial US-Africa relations, and enhance knowledge and understanding about Africa in the United States. The Program achieves its mission through in-depth research and analyses, public discussion, working groups, and briefings that bring together policymakers, practitioners, and subject matter experts to analyze and offer practical options for tackling key challenges in Africa and in US-Africa relations.    Read more