Cameroon’s Anniversary of Independence


WASHINGTON, On behalf of President Obama and the people of the United States, I am delighted to send best wishes to the people of Cameroon as you celebrate the anniversary of your independence this May 20. Our two nations share an enduring partnership that reflects our long history working on behalf of common causes.

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Peace Corps this year, we honor the Peace Corps volunteers who have partnered with Cameroonians in rural villages and urban towns. Since 1962, more than 3,000 Volunteers have worked with Cameroon to help improve the quality of lives and empower individuals and communities throughout the country.

The United States remains committed to working with the Cameroon Government as it seeks to strengthen democracy, governance, and rule of law. We look forward to seeing the people of Cameroon exercise their right to vote later this year in a free, fair, and credible Presidential election. As you celebrate this special occasion, know that the United States stands with you. We are committed to this enduring partnership to help build a more peaceful and prosperous future for all our people.

Cameroon is a Central African nation on the Gulf of Guinea, bordered by Nigeria, Chad, the Central African Republic, the Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon. Bantu speakers were among the first groups to settle Cameroon, followed by the Muslim Fulani in the 18th and 19th centuries. The land escaped colonial rule until 1884, when treaties with tribal chiefs brought the area under German domination. After World War I, the League of Nations gave the French a mandate over 80% of the area, and the British 20% adjacent to Nigeria.

After World War II, when the country came under a UN trusteeship in 1946, self-government was granted. At this time, the Cameroon People’s Union emerged as the dominant party by campaigning for reunification and independence. In British Cameroon, unification was also promoted by the leading party, the Kamerun National Democratic Party. France set up Cameroon as an autonomous state in 1957, and the next year its legislative assembly voted for independence by 1960.

French and British rule: AD 1916-1960

When World War I breaks out in 1914, aligning France and Britain against Germany, the two German colonies on the Gulf of Guinea are in an impossible position. Both Togoland and Cameroon are sandwiched between British and French colonies. Within weeks of the start of the war military action begins on the borders. By early 1916 the British and French are in control of both German colonies.

The two allies divide Togo and Cameroon between them, administering the regions adjacent to their own colonies. In the Treaty of Versailles, in 1919, Germany renounces sovereignty over all her African colonies. The issue of who shall rule them is referred to the League of Nations. [photo On April 10, 1964, the Federal Republic of Cameroon became a member of the International Development Association (IDA). The Articles of Agreement were signed by His Excellency Jacques Kuoh Moukouri. Also present were IBRD and IDA Secretary Morton Mendels (left) and Mr. Lyle Doucet (right).]


The mandates granted by the League of Nations in 1922 confirm the working division already established in Cameroon between Britain and France. The British are to adminster by far the smaller share, consisting of two thin strips on the eastern border of Nigeria. They are separated by a stretch of land south of the Benoué river, where the Nigerian border bulges to the east. These two regions become known as the British Cameroons.

On the French side, the large eastern area ceded in 1911is returned to French Equatorial Africa. The remaining central territory becomes a new French mandated colony, to be known as French Cameroun. 

French Cameroun enjoys more rapid economic and political development than the British Cameroons, and it feels sooner the effects of the independence movements sweeping through the continent after World War II. From 1956 the French are confronted by a powerful uprising orchestrated by a nationalist party, the UPC (Union des Populations du Cameroun), demanding immediate independence.

The uprising is suppressed by French troops. When independence is granted in 1960 – after Cameroun has voted to remain within the French Community – the ruling party (the Union Camerounaise, founded as recently as 1958 by Ahmadou Ahidjo) is in favour of retaining a strong link with France. 

Meanwhile, with the French mandated territory independent as the Cameroun Republic, the question remains as to the future of the British Cameroons. Should they be merged with Nigeria (now on the verge of independence) or with the already independent Cameroun Republic.

The question is put to a plebiscite in 1961. The northern region votes to join Nigeria. The southern region opts for the Cameroun Republic, which it joins on a federated basis. The new nation becomes known as the Federal Republic of Cameroon. 

 Independence: from AD 1960

Ahidjo, the first president of Cameroon, inherits a smouldering civil war against the supporters of the more radical party, the UPC. It is gradually (if also brutally) won by the government. But the state of emergency becomes in the long term an easy way for Ahidjo to establish a repressive dictatorship. 

He is able to continue his rule for an unbroken period of twenty-two years and then to hand the presidency peacefully in 1982 to a successor of his own choice, Paul Biya. But the calm proves short-lived when it transpires that Ahidjo expects to retain broad control over the nation through his continuing leadership of the only party, the UNC or Union Camerounaise. [photo Equipment repair at the palm oil processing mill on the Dibombari estate as part of the World Bank Group¬タルs second SOCAPALM project]

A power struggle between Biya and Ahidjo lasts for two years, though Ahidjo himself is in exile in Senegal from 1983. It ends with an uprising by the Republican Guard in 1984 in favour of Ahidjo. When this fails, Biya is in undisputed control.

He continues to run a one-party state (forming his own new party, the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement), but with a less heavy hand than Ahidjo. By the early 1990s the pressure for constitutional change leads to elections in 1992 which are narrowly won by Biya and his party. In 1997 they win with a wider margin. On both occasions there are complaints of electoral fraud.

Two issues dominate Cameroon politics of the 1990s. One is a long-running constitutional dispute between the English-speaking southwest of the country (one of the former British Cameroons) and the French-speaking majority. The original federal structure has been replaced in 1972 by a unified republic. Towards the end of the century there is mounting clamour from the anglophone minority for a return to two federated provinces.

Internationally Cameroon is engaged in a long dispute with its neighbour Nigeria over rights in the oil-rich Bakassi peninsula. There are occasional armed encounters on the ground while the issue is considered by the International Court of Justice.