The road to the independence of the Republic of Cameroon (La République du Cameroun) was no easy one – some people paid with their blood and it is sixty years today after it all happened.
The Diamond Jubilee of Cameroon’s independence coincides with another bloody period in the history of the country – war against Boko Haram in the Far North, battle against separatists in the North West and South West regions and widespread security challenges in the East and Adamawa regions.
It would be a tedious journey taking us through Cameroon before the 1884 annexation by the Germans. Indeed, as early as 1520, the Portuguese set up sugar plantations and began slave trade in Cameroon. It was in the 1600s that the Dutch took over the ‘lucrative’ slave trade from the Portuguese.
Cameroon became a German colony in 1884, referred to as Kamerun at the time. In 1911, under the Treaty of Fez, signed to settle the Agadir Crisis Franco-German conflict over Morocco, France is forced to cede territories to the east and south to Cameroon.
But in 1916, the British and French troops forced the Germans to leave Cameroon and in 1919, the London Declaration divided Cameroon on paper, with the French taking about 80% and the British about 20% of the territory. The British would further divide their own share of the land into Northern and Southern Cameroons under a League of Nations mandate.
France administered its own part of the territory directly from Paris. During the French administration, the port at Douala was built, the coffee and cocoa industries increased and extensive road-building was undertaken.
In the British area, there was local participation in government, and both Northern and Southern Cameroons were joined to parts of Nigeria for administrative purposes. After 1945, the UK and France continued to administer the country as UN Trust Territories.
During this period, political parties emerged, the largest being the Union of the Peoples of Cameroon, UPC led by Ruben Um Nyobe.
The UPC, which demanded that French and British Cameroons should be united into one independent country, was banned in the mid-1950s, leading to a rebellion in which thousands of people were killed, including Um Nyobe in 1958. Nonetheless, the country proceeded to partial self-government in 1957 and full independence on 1 January 1960.
In 1960 therefore, French Cameroon was granted independence and became the Republic of Cameroon (La République du Cameroun) with Ahidjo as president.
After a UN plebiscite in 1961, Northern Cameroons chose union with Nigeria, as part of the Northern Region. Southern Cameroons joined the Republic in October 1961. The country became a federal republic in the same year, with both components retaining their local parliaments. In 1972 the federation was dissolved and the country became a unitary republic (the United Republic of Cameroon), the name changing once again to the Republic of Cameroon in 1984.
Following independence, the country was ruled first by President Ahmadou Ahidjo (from 1960 to 1982) and then by President Paul Biya, who took office as President in 1982. A one-party regime was established in 1966 through the merger of the two governing parties and several opposition groups.
In 1968 the ruling party was reconstituted as the Union National Camerounaise (UNC) and was renamed once again the Rassemblement démocratique du peuple camerounais (Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement – RDPC or CPDM) in 1985.
It was in 1986 that 1,700 people died when Lake Nyos in Menchum Division of Cameroon’s North West Region released carbon dioxide. Hundreds of animals were also killed and property destroyed.
Cameroon has never had a successful military coup. A plot by military officers was uncovered in 1979. A further planned coup was discovered in 1983 and in February 1984 the former President Ahmadou Ahidjo (then in exile where he subsequently died) was tried in absentia and found guilty, along with two of his military advisers.
Two months later, the Republican Guard attempted a coup. This was foiled by the army, but 500–1,000 people were killed in the fighting; the Republican Guard was then disbanded.
Political protest against the one-party system was widespread up to 1992, through a campaign of civil disobedience known as villes mortes or ‘ghost towns’, when towns were virtually closed down to prompt reform. Multiple political parties became legal in 1990 and legislative elections were held in March 1992. They were contested by 48 political parties but boycotted by the Social Democratic Front (SDF). The ruling CPDM took 88 seats, the opposing parties a total of 92 seats.
The CPDM formed a coalition with the Movement for the Defence of the Republic, which had six seats, thus securing a majority of eight.
At presidential elections in October 1992 Paul Biya was re-elected with 40 per cent of the votes (in 1988 he had stood unopposed, winning 98 per cent of the vote). Of the eight candidates, his nearest rival was John Fru Ndi of the SDF, who gained 36 per cent.
In 1995, with the approval of all other member countries, Cameroon joined the Commonwealth.
Before the May 1997 general election there was an outbreak of violence in the North-West Region, which was attributed to the Anglophone separatist movement. A curfew was enforced and public meetings banned. In the election, with Commonwealth observers present, CPDM took 109 of the 180 Assembly seats, the SDF 43, the National Union for Democracy and Progress 13, and the Union for Democracy and Change five.
In the run-up to the presidential election, the leading opposition parties, the SDF, the National Union for Democracy, and Progress and the Union for Democracy and Change, were urging reform of the presidential electoral system, and introduction of a two-tier process. The three parties boycotted the election and advised their supporters not to vote. The Commonwealth therefore declined to send an observer mission. In October 1997 President Paul Biya was re-elected for a seven-year term, defeating the six other candidates in a landslide victory, receiving more than 92 per cent of the votes cast.
Under President Paul Biya, Cameroon in 1998 and 1999 won the prize as the most corrupt country in the world by business monitor Transparency International.
In 2000 June, the World Bank approves funding for oil and pipeline project in Cameroon and Chad, despite strong criticism from environmental and human rights activists.
It was in October 2000 that the Catholic Church in Cameroon denounced corruption, saying it has permeated all levels of society.
Fears for Cameroon’s environment increase in June 2001, with Global Forest Watch reporting that 80% of the country’s indigenous forests had been allocated for logging.
Separatist sentiments emerged in October 2001 when growing tension between government and separatists lobbying on behalf of country’s five million English-speakers. Unrest resulted in three deaths and several arrests.
A ruling by the International Court of Justice in October 2002 gave sovereignty of oil-rich Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon. But Nigeria, whose forces occupy the area, rejected the ruling. But in June 2006, Nigeria agreed to withdraw its troops from the Bakassi Peninsula to settle its long-running border dispute with Cameroon.
It was in the same 2006 that the Paris Club of major lending nations agreed to cancel almost all of Cameroon’s $3.5bn debt.
In February 2008, a nationwide transport strike to protest high fuel costs turned into a series of anti-government demonstrations in the capital, Yaoundé, as well as in Douala, leaving at least 17 dead.
In a bid to secure his life presidency project, Biya in April 2008 asked Parliament to amend the constitution to allow him to run for a third term in 2011. The opposition condemned the move as a “constitutional coup”.
Biya in January 2011 secured a Chinese loan to build deep sea port at Kribi, terminal of an oil pipeline from Chad and would later in October 2011 wins a landslide re-election as president, officially taking 78% of the vote. His opponents rejected the result, alleging widespread fraud.
In February 2013, a French family of seven was kidnapped by the Islamist group Boko Haram near the Nigerian border, and released two months later after a negotiated settlement. In November 2013, a French priest was kidnapped by the Islamist gunmen in the Far North Region but was freed in January 2014.
This forced Cameroon to deploy about 1,000 troops to the border with northern Nigeria in May 2014 to counter a rising threat of incursions and kidnappings by Boko Haram.
In October 2014, Cameroon succeeded to liberate twenty-seven hostages kidnapped by Boko Haram earlier in the year, including 10 Chinese workers and the wife of Deputy Prime Minister Amadou Ali. Chad in January 2015 pledged military support for Cameroon against Boko Haram.
In October 2016, peaceful protests against the imposition of French in Anglophone parts of Cameroon were met with violence from security forces. Matters came to a head in January 2017 when the leaders of the lawyers’ and teachers’ strikes were arrested and internet cut in the North West and South West regions.
Late in 2017, six uniform officers were killed in the restive regions, forcing Biya to order firmer measures. The crisis has since deepened, with Biya going on in October 2018 to win a seventh term in a vote marked by low turnout and voter intimidation.
In 2019, Cameroon lost her right to host the 2019 African Football Cup of Nations because she was ill-prepared. Huge sums of money dedicated to ready infrastructure for the tournament seem not to be yielding any visible results even as the Confederation of African Football retained Cameroon to host the tourney in 2021.
60 years after independence, Cameroon remains poverty stricken, with PhD holders sleeping in the cold over Government’s inability to provide them with jobs as unemployment and underdevelopment soars. Thousands have died in the North West and South West regions, hundreds of thousands are internal displaced, some without shelter, while others are refugees in Nigeria.
The troubles notwithstanding, 87-year-old Paul Biya and his 49-year-old wife, Chantal Biya and their family are known to have coughed out over FCFA 1.4 billion of the people’s money to buy alcoholic drinks for their end of year feasting.
May their champagne party never end!
Mimi Mefo Info