THE ROAD TO THE UNITARY STATE OF CAMEROON 1959-1972


Bongfen Chem-Langhëë

Introduction

Before 1884, the region which later became the Protectorate of Kamerun comprised many independent indigenous polities varying in size and administrative system. Between 1884 and early 1914, the Germans colonized and began to administer the region as a single polity and thus laid the groundwork for a subsequent Kamerun identity and citizenship. However, the outbreak of the First World War radically changed the situation. On the 27th of September 1914 Britain and France jointly attacked Kamerun and the administration of the territory was disrupted: those areas still under German control were barely administered. This period of hostilities in Kamerun was, at best, an interregnum (Elango 1985: 657-73) and the situation only began to alter when the Germans were defeated and ousted from Kamerun in January 1916. General Dobell proclaimed the partition of the territory into British and French spheres on the 17th of March 1916.
In 1922, these two spheres became mandates of the League of Nations and, after the Second World War, they became United Nations trust territories. Cameroun, the French sphere, was administered in association with the French Equatorial African colonies. The British sphere was divided into Northern and Southern Cameroons. The former was administered as an integral part of the Northern Region of Nigeria while the latter was administered as an integral part of the Eastern Region of Nigeria until 1954 when it became a quasi-autonomous Region of Nigeria which was transformed into a full Region of the Federation of Nigeria in 1959. Thus, in political and administrative terms, the two British sectors and the French sphere had little in common with each other.
However, a number of political options were already being discussed before 1959. Unification proposed that Northern and Southern Cameroons be amalgamated to form a single administrative unit within or outside the framework of the Nigerian political system. Integration proposed that Northern and Southern Cameroons, either singly or together, be constituted permanently into autonomous regions or states of the Federation of Nigeria. Secession proposed that Northern and Southern Cameroons sever links with Nigeria and develop together as an independent state either as two provinces or as a single unit. Unification, Integration and Secession were likewise advocated in Northern and Southern Cameroons. Finally, there was the option, termed Reunification, that all the sectors of the former Kamerun be reunited to form a single independent state. While this option had advocates in all the three sectors, its supporters in Northern and Southern Cameroons desired an evolutionary path to Reunification on a federal basis, those in Cameroun, however, preferred immediate Reunification in whatever form (Chem-Langhëë and Njeuma 1980: 25-64; see also Njeuma’s discussion of Reunification in this volume).
The following analysis is based on a detailed study (Chem-Langhëë 1976) of the petitions which Southern Cameroonians addressed to the United Nations (UN) between 1959 and 1961; speeches of the Southern Cameroonian politicians to the UN Visiting Missions, and at the various conferences in Britain and Southern Cameroons; and the speeches of the various delegates at the Mamfe Plebiscite Conference of 1959. Unification was apparently supported by most politically-conscious Southern Cameroonians, as indicated by the political programmes of the various political parties and associations. The majority of the indigenous inhabitants of Victoria and Kumba Divisions and a substantial number in Wum and Nkambe Divisions were inclined to support Integration. On the other hand, the majority of the indigenous inhabitants of Mamfe, Bamenda, Wum and Nkambe Divisions opted for Secession. Reunification was supported by the overwhelming majority of students and graduates and some activists in Kumba and Bamenda Towns. Broadly, aside from Unification which seemed to have had no opponent, Secession seemed the most popular option, closely followed by Integration. Reunification was the least popular option.
At the UN the imbroglio was intensified by the Cold War. The advocates of Integration, who argued for a plebiscite, were identified as ‘non-communists’ and so received the support of ‘anti-communists’. Conversely, the advocates of immediate Reunification, who also argued for a plebiscite, were identified as ‘communists’ and were strongly backed by the Soviet bloc. Moreover, the advocates of Secession and also those promoting evolutionary Reunification, had no ideological friends or enemies. Initially, they were supported mainly by Third World countries but lost that support in 1959 when the UN membership came to believe that an independent Southern Cameroons would not be economically viable. As the ‘non-communists’ and the ‘communists’ in Cameroon both advocated the same plebiscite questions, it was easy for the representatives at the UN, within the Cold War context, to make its decision. It was finally agreed to make Integration and Reunification, respectively, the plebiscite questions (Chem-Langhëë and Njeuma 1980: 51-52).
Events developed rapidly in favour of a unitary state of Cameroon. In late 1959, the UN invited the Northern and Southern Cameroonians to choose between Nigeria and Cameroun, i.e. between Integration and Reunification, in plebiscites which it proposed and eventually supervised. In February the majority of the Northern Cameroonians opted for Nigeria while the majority of the Southern Cameroonians voted in favour of Cameroun. Northern Cameroons became the Sardauna Province of Northern Nigeria and Southern Cameroons became the State of West Cameroon, and Cameroun became the State of East Cameroon. In October 1961 the West and East Cameroon States federated to form the Federal Republic of Cameroon. On the 20 th May 1972, in a national referendum organized and conducted by the Cameroon National Union (CNU), by now the sole political party in the Republic, the overwhelming majority of the electors voted in favour of a unitary state which became the United Republic of Cameroon (URC) on the 2 nd June 1972.

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