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Papavi Hogbedetor: leader of Western Togoland separatist group dies

The 87-year-old died at St Paul’s Hospital in the Akatsi South Municipality after a brief illness, multiple sources report

The leader and founder of the separatist Homeland Study Group Foundation (HSGF), Charles Kormi Kudzordzi, popularly called Papavi Hogbedetor, has passed away, family sources say.

The 87-year-old died at St Paul’s Hospital in the Akatsi South Municipality after a brief illness, multiple media sources say.

Kudzordzi, a retired teacher who moved about with the help of a walking stick, has been the leader of the separatist group in the Volta Region. His supporters fondly called him “Papavi”, meaning grandfather.

Why the push for a new country?

Separatists say the Volta area has a unique history and culture and warrants being its own country.

However, they reject accusations of planning violence to achieve their goal.

“Our activities have always been in the open,” the fugitive secretary of the HSGF, George Nyakpo, told Agence France Presse (AFP) in 2019.

Role of the colonisers

The region’s problems are deeply rooted in divisions created by its colonial past.

During the so-called Scramble for Africa, Britain seized much of what is today Ghana, while Germany grabbed areas to the east, then Togoland.

After Germany’s defeat in the Second World War, Togoland was split west from east between Britain and France.

When Britain began to abandon its empire in 1956, Ghana was among the first African colonies to gain freedom. The people of British Togoland were then given a choice between joining Ghana and becoming part of Togo.

Britain said nearly two-thirds opted to incorporate their area into Ghana.

If Western Togoland existed

If Western Togoland were a country, it would be home to millions of people and possibly rich in oil and gold reserves.

Multiple ethnic groups live in the area. There are Christians, Muslims and followers of voodoo.

Separatists say the territory is a strip 550 kilometres (340 miles) long and 60 kilometres (35 miles) wide, stretching from the border with Burkina Faso in the north to the Gulf of Guinea, sandwiched between Ghana and Togo.

UN documents from 1955 estimate the size of the then-British Togoland at 33,776 square kilometres (13,041 square miles), slightly bigger than Belgium.

But where the colonial-era area was landlocked, separatists today claim access to the sea.

Widespread support?

Historians reject a claim by separatists that in 1956 the people of Togoland were promised another referendum after 50 years.

“It is not true,” said Professor Wilson Yayoh, from Ghana’s University of Cape Coast.

Backers of Western Togoland claim widespread support, but many in Volta seem suspicious. “Their mission is impossible,” said the trader Doris Mawusi. “Ghana is our homeland and we are here to stay.”

“We don’t trust these HSGF people,” said Joseph Doe, a 57-year-old fisherman. “They are pursuing their parochial interests. What track record do they have to rule over us?”

The separatists began campaigning in 1972 as the “National Liberation Movement of Togoland”, dominated by the Ewe tribal group. Their calls to renegotiate borders sparked tensions between Ghana and Togo, and in 1976 Accra banned the group.

Back then, US diplomatic cables said the government was “unusually sensitive to Ewe separatist challenges, which may be real or imaginary”.

Today, the question seems to cause no less twitchiness in the Ghanaian capital.

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