Week 23: Focus Cameroun

Reunification should precede independence.  Dr. Félix Roland Moumié (1948)

Cameroon: Timeline from 1200 to 1900s

Written history was first recorded in the north in the eighth century and increased after the arrival of arabized peoples in the late 1200s. Written records of developments in the south, however, did not begin until the end of the fifteenth century and the arrival of the first Europeans. The organized states that developed in the Sudanic belt — a region running across Africa south of the Sahara and north of Lake Chad — had a direct influence only on the northern half of the country.

By the early 1200s the Bornu, living west of Lake Chad, had fallen under the hegemony of the Kanem empire east of the lake.
In 1386 attacks from the east forced the mai to relocate west of Lake Chad, and by bringing some of his more loyal followers with him he was able to transfer the dynasty and the basic socio-political order associated with it to the new geographic base. The Sefuwa dynasty maintained its dominant position by means of a feudalistic hierarchy, which by the end of the eighteenth century had been transformed into a centralized bureaucracy.
After the early 1800s and until defeat by the Europeans at the end of the nineteenth century, the Fulani controlled the region running from the east of Nigeria to the Chad Basin. Their superior organization, religious zeal, and skill as mounted warriors enabled them to establish a state.
1884 the Germans claimed the region as Kamerun, in spite of the predominant role of the British along the coast. The explorer Gustav Nachtigal arrived in July 1884 to annex the Douala coast.
1916 Cameroon ceased to be a German possession after Germany lost her colonies during the First World War (1914-1918)
1919, the country was given the status of a League of Nations mandate administered by Britain and France.
During the 1990s, anglophone Cameroonians felt they were politically and economically at a disadvantage, and the tensions rose with their francophone compatriots.

A controversial independence

In 1919, after the First World War, France and Britain each got a piece of formerly German Cameroon. in 1946 Jeucafra, which had survived the war, was reorganized into the Union Camerounaise Francaise (Unicafra). The new party failed as it offered no agenda for Cameroon’s political future.

Established in 1948 by Reuben Um Nyobé, the UPC was determined “to group and unite the inhabitants of the territory in order to permit the most rapid evolution of the peoples and the raising of their standard on living. Even more worrying for the French, the UPC leaders managed to make themselves heard outside the country — in France, but also in New York, where Um Nyobè traveled on three occasions to make the case for Cameroonian independence before the United Nations. Each time he returned to Cameroon, those who openly defied the French regime eagerly welcomed him. His moderate and determined speeches to the Trusteeship Council and the General Assembly were duplicated and distributed throughout the country.

The UPC, the National Union of the Peoples of Cameroon under the leadership of Félix Roland Moumié, now argued that both Cameroon should first be reunited before they became jointly independent. But then Prime Minister Ahmadou Ahidjo saw independence as the country’s primary goal. This led Moumié to found the Cameroonian Liberation Army in May 1959. It consisted of UPC fighters who had already rebelled against the French government months earlier.

On New Year’s Eve of 1959, shots rang out in the city. The next morning, President Ahidjo proclaimed independence. South Cameroonians, controlled by the British, were watching very closely what was happening on the French side.

After independence was declared on January 1, 1960, an Orwellian silence descended on the state. In the decades that followed, the slightest evocation of the liberation movement that France had helped the postcolonial state to repress resulted in arrest, interrogation, imprisonment, or worse. Judges in military tribunals sentenced dissidents to years of imprisonment in the regime’s ominous internment camps. Cameroon’s liberation movement leaders could only be honored clandestinely, out of sight of security forces as brutal as they were omnipresent.

British South Cameroon gained independence in a UN referendum on February 11, 1961. It was immediately attached to the former French Cameroon, while the British northern part was annexed to Nigeria. The Republic of Cameroon and South Cameroon became federal states. Nine months later, on October 1, 1961, they formed the Federal Republic of Cameroon. The federation of two states became the United Republic of Cameroon after a second referendum on May 20, 1972.

40 years of separate history under two different “lords”, as well as the circumstances and consequences of this “unification” have left their mark to this day. Official bilingualism, different school and judicial systems and a separatist movement are the most obvious evidence of this.

In 1984, the young President of the Republic, Paul Biya, decided by decree to rename the country the Republic of Cameroon. The Anglophone population of Cameroon felt excluded and systematically oppressed in a country they had not wanted to belong to from the start.

The central government in Yaounde is trying to defuse the tension through measures like decentralization and the recognition of a special status for the English-speaking regions. But three years of war have done much damage. So far the civil war started by Anglophone secessionists has claimed 3000 lives. Thousands were displaced. Almost the entire economy of the English-speaking part of the country has been badly affected. Sixty years after independence, Cameroon has yet to shed the burden of the past.

From united Cameroun to Cameroon

In Cameroon, there has been a surge in protests by the English speaking minority against the dominance of the francophone majority. Understanding the country’s colonial past helps explain the depth of this animosity.

There are two English-speaking regions in Cameroon, but eight French-speaking ones. Anglophone Cameroonians complain to this day that English speakers are underrepresented in key government positions and that ordinary people are marginalized because they lack a good command of the French language.

In 1995, the Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC)  came to fore with the demand for the creation of an independent state called Southern Cameroons. That was the term for the southern part of British Cameroons.  A government crackdown on the SCNC ensued. In one incident, Amnesty International reported in 2002 that six members of the SCNC had been detained without charge at.

In 2017, some firebrands are agitating for secession from francophone Cameroon, but more moderate Anglophones favor the federalism that existed from 1961 to 1972 when Ahmadou Ahidjo was president.

The surge in protests by the anglophone minority, which began as lawyers and teachers strikes in October 2016, is an expression of perceived economic injustice as well ass cultural and linguistic discrimination.  Cameroon is rich in oil and is among the most prosperous countries in sub-Saharan Africa, but the English-speaking community complains that the wealth hasn’t been shared out fairly.