Remarks Olympio exhibition vernissage

It is a great honor for me to be with you today to open this exhibition of historic images and documents about the visit of President Sylvanus Olympio to the United States.

I discovered these images and documents in 2015 before my arrival in Lome, when I was preparing to take my post as ambassador.  I was impressed by the extraordinary quality and vibrancy of the images, and by the large quantity of documentation in the collection of the John F. Kennedy Library in Boston, Massachusetts.  When I arrived in Lome and learned about the CVJR and the work of HCRRUN, I conceived the idea of this exhibition as a means to support the process of political reconciliation.

The visit of President Olympio to America in 1962 has great historic significance.  The visit demonstrated the strong commitment by the United States to Togo and the other newly-independent nations of Africa.  In the period after the Second World War, the United States served as an important model and inspiration to countries around the world that were pushing for independence through the process of decolonization.  The United States was well known for its own struggle for independence from a foreign colonial power, and the Americans strongly supported the aspirations of Togo and other African countries for self-government and full independence.

Beginning in the late 1940s Sylvanus Olympio traveled frequently to the United Nations in New York to campaign for Togo’s independence.  He appeared many times before the United Nations Trusteeship Council, and he developed close relationships with other African leaders who sought independence for their countries.  He was well known to American authorities and greatly respected, long before he became prime minister and president of Togo.

You will see in the images and documents of this exhibition how the United States Government and the American people expressed their deep respect and admiration to the first President of Togo, during his historic 12-day visit in March 1962.  You will notice remarkable details, such as the fact that President Kennedy personally welcomed President Olympio on the tarmac at the airport in Washington DC.  In New York, President Olympio was honored with a “ticker-tape” parade on Broadway, a unique American tradition that is reserved for astronauts, military heroes, sports figures and certain heads of state.  Since the tradition began in 1886, only 200 people have ever been honored with such a parade.  The evidence of that parade still exists today, as President Olympio’s name is inscribed in granite on the sidewalk on Broadway.  President Olympio was interviewed on the most important national television news program, and millions of Americans heard him speak.

I wish to express my gratitude to several people for their strong support of this project.  First and most importantly, I thank his Excellency the President of the Republic and Mr Gilchrist Olympio.  I salute them for their tremendous political courage and their tireless support over many years for peace and political reconciliation in Togo.

I would like to thank Mme la Presidente de HCRRUN and her colleagues for their collaboration and assistance in realizing the exhibition.  I congratulate them for the vital work that HCRRUN is carrying out to advance the process of peaceful reconciliation.

I thank Mme la Ministre et Directrice de Cabinet Victoire Dogbe for her enthusiasm and encouragement of the project.

I thank Colonel Col. Vincent Kolani-Nagoure and his staff of the Palais des Congres for their kind collaboration in preparing this room for the exhibition.

Finally, I would like to highlight the talented young Togolese graphic designer, Mr. Adrien Folly-Notsron from the enterprise AGO Media, who created this beautiful exhibition from the photos and text that we supplied.  We should all be very proud that Togo has such talented artists, and I am pleased to tell you that this entire exhibition was produced here in Lome.

We purposely chose this venue in the Palais des Congres to ensure that this exhibition will be freely accessible to the public, and we hope that many thousands of Togolese will come and enjoy it, for free, during the next four weeks.  I wish to dedicate this exhibition especially to Togo’s young people, and I invite them to conduct research and discover the rich history of the period of the early years of independence of Togo.

I believe that this exhibition marks a historic step forward for reconciliation in Togo, and I hope it will inspire a spirit of transparency and openness for all Togolese to examine the history of the country in the years to come.

Thank you.