The “Golden” Flag
The history of the flag of Togo, like the flags of many African nations, has it’s roots in European colonization. In 1884, German explorers signed a treaty with King Mlapa III to create the German protectorate of Togoland, containing present day Togo and the Volta Region of Ghana.
Prior to World War I, German colonies all had their own flags – usually the historic German black, white, and red tricolor defaced with a coat of arms. Little was known about the Togoland flag until researchers found descriptions of the colonial flags in Germany’s national archive in 2010. A reconstruction is pictured to the right.
After World War I, Togoland was separated into two League of Nation protectorates under British and French administration and were blandly named British Togoland (part of present day Ghana) and French Togoland (present day Togo).
The French maintained administrative control for several decades – including during the territory’s transition into a UN Trust Territory after World War II – but records of a unique French Togoland flag do not start surfacing until 1957. By this time French Togoland was an autonomous republic within the French union, complete with a legislative body and prime minister. The flag was a simple dark green field with two stars in the upper-right and bottom-left corners and a small French Tricolor in the canton (typical of most French colonial flags). By 1958, a new variant was made that was identical to the previous design, save for the French Tricolor in the canton. Little information exists about these two variants. The only possible connection I found was that an election for a new prime minister was held in 1958 (won by Sylvanus Olympio) so perhaps the new variant was made to commemorate that event.
Following the election 1958, newly elected Prime Minister Olympio set up a contest to choose a new national emblem. From here, the story splits two ways but both end up in the same place: the new national flag would be designed by renowned Togolese artist Paul Ahyi. One account says that after Ahyi graduated from the École nationale supérieure des Beaux-Arts in Paris, he entered the design contest under the pseudonym Johnson Jean and won. The other account says that Ahyi was actually commissioned by the government to create a design after failing to find a suitable flag through the contest. Either way, Ahyi’s design was unveiled on April 28, 1960, the day that French Togoland severed ties with France and became the independent nation of Togo.
According to a Togolese writer, each element of the design has a purpose. Red represents the blood shed for, and to protect, independence. Green represents hope for the future as well as the nation’s agriculture. Yellow represents national unity and fertile soil. The white star represents peace and life. The five striped design is meant to evoke the action of the five fingers in a hand and the work that the Togolese people have, and will continue to do, to overcome all of their obstacles.
Perhaps the most notable thing about the Togolese flag is its aspect ratio. It is the only national flag to use “the golden rectangle” or “the golden ratio” €“ a geometric and artistic concept that is said to produce a rectangle with dimensions that are aesthetically pleasing. In order to create a “golden rectangle,” one must start with a square, find the midpoint of one of the sides and draw a line from that midpoint to an opposite corner. By using that new line as a radius, you can define the length of the longer side of a golden rectangle. In numeric form, the golden ratio equals 1:1.618.