A Union gone sour or one that never really was …


‘Southern Cameroon’ and ‘la République’


The Republic of Cameroon lies in West Africa in the ‘armpit’ of the continent, bordering Nigeria, Chad, Central Africa Republic and Gabon the South. At the end of the colonial era the nation was formed when the people in the Southern Cameroons a protectorate under the British colony Nigeria choose to join the French colonial administered Cameroun after a plebiscite in 1961 conducted by the United Nations.

The title of this column indicates that it was never a happy ‘marriage’ of two peoples who were and are distinctly different not only in language but even more in culture, education, system of administration and ethnic traditions.

This column is written in the wake of the public resentment and demonstrations since the end of 2016 against the blatant marginalization and discrimination of the two Anglophone provinces, North West and South West by the Central Government. This has led to still increasing loss of lives, property, arrests and undue excessive force and violence by crack paramilitary units and administration, as the Cameroun Government reacts to what it sees as ‘civil unrest’.

History mostly explains the past and predicts the future; the facts

Following the ‘scramble for Africa’ after the Berlin Conference of 1884 the Germans made an agreement with King Ndumbé Lobé Bell in Douala at the mouth of the Wouri river, while famous German explorer Dr. Eugen Zintgraff trekked into the thick forest and established posts at Kumba and Bali near Bamenda creating the German administrated protectorate Kamerun. In 1916 after the First World War the Northern and Southern Cameroons became a British protectorate under Nigeria, while the other part became French Cameroun. In fact they were Class B Mandated territories of the League of Nations till 1946 when they became United Nations Trust Territories.

It’s important to realize that British Cameroons and French Cameroun were separate legal and political entities and that the completely differing ways of administration, education and legal judiciary systems by the French and the British over the years which created distinctly separate societies.

After the Second World War, The United Nations explicitly called on the British and French to administer their respective spheres of Cameroon towards self-government.

Before the London Constitutional Conferences of 1957 and 1958, three political options emerged in British Southern Cameroons, namely independence as a separate political entity, independence in association with Nigeria, and independence by reuniting with French Cameroun. The Mamfe All Party Conference of August 1959, which was to establish consensus among Southern Cameroonians failed to reach consensus, due to the British meddling.

The three political options remained on the table with complete independence most popular, next association with Nigeria and least preferred reunification with French Cameroun.

Nevertheless, the UN General Assembly resolution 1352-xiv on the British Cameroons Plebiscite of 1961 clearly ruled out the complete independence. This was due to the British blocking this option and convincing the United Nations that Southern Cameroon was not economically viable. This resulted in just two questions being adopted for the plebiscite:

Do you wish to achieve independence by joining the independent Federation of Nigeria?

Or Do you wish to achieve independence by joining the independent Republic of Cameroun?

An attempt by the Southern Cameroonians to include the option of complete independence by sending a delegation to London in November 1960, led by John Ngu Foncha, failed as the request was rejected.

Nevertheless the United Nations Resolution 1541 (XV) Principles VII and VII states that: Southern Cameroon was qualified to achieve independence either through association or integration which “should be on the basis of complete equality between the peoples of the erstwhile Non-Self-Governing Territory and those of the independent country with which it is integrated. The people of both territories should have equal status and rights.

It is most significant to note that with this understanding on 11th February 1961 British Southern Cameroons voted to join French Cameroun while British Northern Cameroons voted to join the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

This “marriage” between the two Cameroons was further worked out in the Foumban Conference of July 1961 and the Yaoundé Tripartite Conference of August 1961, determining also the legal form. It should be noted that the draft 1961 Constitution was never presented to the Southern Cameroons House of Chiefs and the Southern Cameroons House of Assembly for deliberation and approval as should have been done.

President Ahidjo signed the constitution on 1st September 1961 as President of the Republic of Cameroun when the Federal Republic of Cameroon had not yet come into existence. However Article 1 of the 1961 Constitution reads that the two territories came together as Federation of East Cameroon and West Cameroon.

In September 1966, all parties went into dissolution to form the Cameroon National Union, creating one party rule In 1968 Hon. Solomon Tandeng Muna was appointed without required endorsement as Federal Vice President in contravention of the laws which did not permit him to hold that post and be Prime Minister of the State of West Cameroon concomitantly.

West Cameroonians saw this as dictatorial and undemocratic. Theirs had been a Multi-party democratic society where free debate, alliances, consensus and respect for the Constitution and Common Law were the way of life.

The referendum of 20th May 1972 was called by President Ahmadou Ahidjo to change the Federation into a unitary state and so creating the United Republic of Cameroon. The political atmosphere was markedly subdued at the time, so there was hardly any debate on the new constitution. Subsequently the referendum was organised by the Cameroon National Union (CNU) the sole political party and produced a result in favour.

The 1972 constitution was over the years amended several times, to include the post of Prime Minister, appointed by the President and in 1984 changing the country’s name to Republic of Cameroon.

Many West Cameroonians see this manipulation and even deceit as the root of ‘the Anglophone Problem’ and link it to the birth of separatist movement in Anglophone Cameroon. It fuelled the suspicion that to absorb the people of Southern Cameroons was the ultimate goal all along and never creating an equal position for both partners.

“The Anglophone Problem”

It is not difficult to know from the above how “the Anglophone problem” came about, which gave rise to feelings of resentment and fuelled latent separatist desires. These are the major grievances:

  • Failure of successive Cameroon Governments, since 1961 to respect and implement the articles of the constitution that uphold what British Southern Cameroon brought into the Union in 1961.
  • Flagrant disregard for the Constitution e.g. by dissolution of political parties and the formation of one party in 1966 and other acts by decree.
  • The arrogant organization of the 1972 Referendum which removed the foundation (federalism) of the 1961 Constitution.
  • The 1984 Law amending the Constitution to adopt the original East Cameroon name of Republic of Cameroon, which erased the identity of the West Cameroonians as well no longer being and equal partner.
  • The deliberate and systematic erosion of the West Cameroon cultural identity upheld and protected in the Federal bi-cultural 1961 Constitution.

All this could have been avoided even made Cameroon into the rare bilingual and bi-cultural nation in Africa. Nevertheless the deliberate marginalisation and discrimination of anything Anglophone or West Cameroonian by the Cameroon Government and its agents, ministers, institutions etc. shows otherwise.

To give a few examples:

  • Setting the National Entrance Examinations in the French Subsystem of Education and largely Francophone members of Examination Boards.
  • None of the Ministers of the five ministries concerned with Education is Anglophone, neither are the deputies or Secretaries of State.
  • Visitors and clients to government offices are expected to speak French even in the English speaking areas, since most bosses in the offices speak French and make no effort to speak English or understand the culture.
  • This also applies to most Senior Administrators and Forces of Law and Order, causing often misunderstanding and misinterpretations.
  • Flooding Anglophone Cameroon with Francophone Administrators and Workers.
  • ‘Francophonization’ of the English Educational Subsystem and the Common-Law System by flooding education and the legal system of Anglophone Cameroon with French trained and French speaking Cameroonians.

This brought the lawyers into the street to protest and the teachers to strike!

(No) conclusion but a recipe for disaster!

I usually end my column with a conclusion but this I can’t do here, not only given the above, but more because of recent and ongoing alarming and frightening happenings. Despite an Anglophone delegation from West Cameroon mediating with the Government in Yaoundé, reactions to the protests and demonstrations are as to civil unrest, heavy handed and with excessive force.

The cutting off of the internet has of course not put a lid on the situation but caused increased tension, resistance and decidedly peaceful demonstrations.

*Ato Bob is a former Dutch Diplomat who now consults with various NGO’s on African issues. He lives in Rotterdam and may be reached on atobobhensen@hotmail.com