The processes of rebellion, independence, and reunification are closely linked and culminated in the birth of modern bilingual Cameroon. Rebellion broke out in the French Cameroon in 1955. The rebellion was championed by the Union des Populations du Cameroun (UPC), and it ultimately degenerated into a bloody guerrilla war that spilled over into the postcolonial era. Instead of implementing the provisions of the trusteeship system in Cameroon, France preferred to treat Cameroon like an ordinary overseas colony. Article 76(b) of the United Nations (UN) Charter set forth the political objectives of the trusteeship system, which was to promote the evolution of trust territories like Cameroon and Togo toward self-government and independence. France ignored this procedure and proceeded to integrate Cameroon into the French Union in line with its colonial policy of creating a "Greater France."
The UPC was formed on April 10, 1948, and under the leadership of its secretary general, Reuben Um Nyobe, the party adopted a radical nationalist program that envisaged immediate independence and reunification with the British Cameroons. Such a program aroused the wrath of the French because it ran contrary to their postwar integrationist colonial policy. The UPC further infuriated the French by establishing ties with the Rassemblement Dйmocratique Africain, an affiliate of the French Communist Party. The stage for a tug-of-war between France and the UPC was set. The UPC was therefore subjected to systematic harassment and discrimination ranging from the arrest and intimidation of its leaders to the obstruction of its members from winning any election organized in the territory.
The UPC responded in May 1955 by starting a series of violent demonstrations in a bid to oust the French from Cameroon. By the end of the month, when the colonial authorities had restored order, 26 people had lost their lives and 176 had been wounded. On July 13, 1955, the French government outlawed the UPC. This triggered a long-festering rebellion (1955-1971) that was initially concentrated in Basaland but finally spent itself in Bamileke country.
The independence of the French Cameroons was made inevitable by changing local and international circumstances. The UPC nationalist ideals were gradually espoused by moderate Cameroon nationalists, and France came under increasing international pressure, particularly from the anticolonial bloc in the UN to introduce political reforms in Cameroon. Furthermore, the defeat of France in Indochina forced the French to grant independence to the Associated States of Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam in 1954 and to Morocco and Tunisia in 1956. These concessions signaled the possibility of an explosion in French Sub-Saharan Africa if constitutional reforms were not quickly introduced. So the French parliament enacted the Loi-cadre (Enabling Act) on June 23, 1956, which provided the introduction of internal self-government. The Loi-cadre dictated the holding of fresh elections in Cameroon on December 23, 1956. The UPC nationalists did not participate in the elections, which turned out to be the last before independence, because the ban on their party was still in force. The logical outcome of such an election, without the UPC, was the emergence of an overwhelmingly moderate and pro-French assembly.
Andre-Marie Mbida, the leader of the Dйmocrates Camerounais, was appointed premier by the French high commissioner and endorsed by the assembly on May 15, 1957. Owing to his firm opposition to independence and reunification, Mbida suffered from parliamentary sanctions and fell from office on February 17, 1958. His successor, Ahmadou Ahidjo, was wise to conform to the mode of the time by openly subscribing to the nationalist goals of independence and reunification, and France conceded.
On January 1, 1960, the French government proclaimed the independence of the French Cameroons in the presence of UN Secretary General Dag Hammerskjold, and Ahidjo became the first premier. Thus, by an ironic twist of events, the UPC that fought and shed their blood for independence failed to be its beneficiaries.
After the independence of the French Cameroons in 1960, reunification with the British Southern Cameroons followed in 1961. Reunification was the dream and struggle for, and the attempt at re-creating, German Cameroon within its original 1884-1916 boundaries. The sentiments of reuniting the British and the French Cameroons were nurtured by memories of a common colonial experience under the Germans. The Anglo – French partition painfully separated frontier ethnic groups and families, and subsequent attempts by Britain and France to impose boundary restrictions only worsened matters. During the interwar years, petitions from Cameroon’s educated elite against the partition of their homeland were registered.
It was, however, in the post-World War II period that the reunification ideology was popularized and vigorously pursued. The UPC forcefully pursued reunification and implanted the idea in the British Cameroon through French Cameroonian йmigrйs. The UPC was sensitive to French colonial despotism and the reluctance of France to ensure the evolution of the territory toward self-government. By inserting reunification as part of their political program, the UPC hoped to locate the legal battle field for the advancement of the French Cameroons in the UN.
The first prominent British Cameroonian reunifica – tionist was Dr. E. M. L. Endeley. When in December 1949, Endeley’s Cameroon National Federation met with the UN Visiting Mission for the first time, it denounced the British colonial arrangement of administering the British Cameroons as an appendage of Nigeria, and requested the reunification of the two Cameroons. In 1953 Endeley formed the Cameroon National Congress to struggle for the achievement of independence.
Britain granted a quasi-autonomous regional status exclusively to the Southern Cameroons in the Nigerian federation in 1954, and Endeley started retreating from reunification. Reunificationist converts under the leadership of John Ngu Foncha abandoned Endeley and formed the Kamerun National Democratic Party in 1955, with secession from Nigeria and reunification as its avowed objectives.
The UN finally resolved the issue of the political future of the British Cameroons by organizing plebiscites in the Southern Cameroons on February 11, 1961 and in the North Cameroons on February 12, 1961. The Southern Cameroons overwhelmingly voted for reunification, with 235,571 votes against 97,741, while the Northern Cameroons opted to remain in Nigeria. On October 1,1961 the Southern Cameroons obtained independence by reunifying with the independent Republic of Cameroon.
Nicodemus Fru Awasom
See also: Ahidjo, Ahmadou; Cameroon: Colonial Period: British and French Rule; Colonial Federations: French Equatorial Africa.
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Martin, A. R. "French Capitalism and Nationalism in Cameroon." African Affairs Review 40, no. 1 (1997): 83-111.