Cameroon became a German protectorate in1884 following negotiations between explorer Gustav Nachtigal and local chiefs. Despite this, leaders like Rudolph Duala Manga Bell of Douala and Bakweri chief, Kuva Likenye led inspiring anti-colonial struggles.
A World War I defeat cost Germany its colony. One-fifth of the former German Kamerun, which bordered eastern Nigeria, was assigned to Britain, and the remaining four-fifths was administered by France under League of Nations mandates.
The Post World War II era ushered in a renewed zeal for self-governance. In 1957, the French government created the autonomous state of Cameroun. Its political institutions mirrored those of French parliamentary democracy.
The following year, Cameroun’s Legislative Assembly voted for independence by 1960. French and UN assent marked a victory for Cameroonian nationalists whose unwavering – and bloody struggle forced the occupying powers to the negotiating table. 1959 saw the formation of an internally autonomous government of Cameroun. Ahmadou Ahidjo became prime minister.
Meanwhile, in British-ruled Southern Cameroons, the Kamerun National Democratic Party (KNDP) and John Foncha had become prime minister. Soon Foncha and Ahidjo were discussing the possibilities of unification upon the achievement of independence.
On 1 January 1960, Cameroun became an independent republic. But these were restless times for the young nation as political rivalry dominated its quest for an identity. The Union des Peuples Camerounais (UPC) – a nationalist party, led riots in the Dschang and Nkongsamba. Clashes between Ahidjo and the UPC maquisard*** guerilla fighters, culminated in the French-controlled assassination of party leaders Um Nyobe and Felix Moumi.
Despite this, intermittent uprisings continued.
A draft constitution was approved in a referendum of 21 February and on 10 April a new National Assembly was elected. Ahidjo's Cameroun Union Party won a majority. Running unopposed, he was elected president in April 1960.
In the same year, consultations between Foncha and Ahidjo continued, and a proposed federation was tentatively outlined. On 11 February 1961,***** separate plebiscites were held in the Southern and Northern British Cameroons under the auspices of the UN. The voters in Southern Cameroons chose union with French-speaking Cameroun while those in Northern Cameroons opted to join Nigeria. Less talked about is politician, Paul Monyongo Kalle’s unsuccessful push for a third option to realise a nation state comprising Cameroon’s two English-speaking regions. Kalle’s sentiment is echoed by the separatist Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC) movement.
During the months that followed the plebiscite, guerilla campaigns restarted. In response, the Cameroun Republic devoted one-third of its national budget to crushing the opposition. A draft constitution for the federation was approved by the Cameroun National Assembly on 7 September 1961, and the new federation became a reality on 1 October. The Cameroun Republic became the state of East Cameroon, and Southern British Cameroons became the state of West Cameroon in the new Federal Republic of Cameroon, with Ahmadou Ahidjo as president and John Foncha as vice president. Both were re-elected in 1965 but Foncha was later replaced as vice president, and the office was abolished in 1972.
A proposal to replace the federation with a unified state was ratified by popular referendum on 20 May 1972. Under a new constitution, the country was renamed the United Republic of Cameroon and the two stars on its flag were replaced with one. Ahmadou Ahidjo remained president of the republic. Running unopposed, he was re-elected for a fourth five-year term on 5 April 1975. A constitutional amendment led to the creation of a prime ministerial office and Paul Biya was appointed to the post.
In November 1982 Ahidjo resigned and was succeeded by Biya. To see a clip of Ahidjo resignation speech, please click on this link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Xbg9nx6OlrQ
In spite of giving up the top office, Ahidjo remained head of the ruling party, the Cameroon People's Democratic Movement (CPDM). But Biya proved more challenging than he had anticipated. Following allegations of a military coup plot, allegedly masterminded by Ahidjo, the former president retired to France in August 1983 and Biya became party chairman. Ahidjo was sentenced to death (later commuted to life imprisonment) in absentia in February 1984.
Watch the former president’s widow, Germaine Ahidjo, respond to accusations against him:
Biya's own presidential guard attempted to overthrow the government in April. The rebellion was stamped out by the army. Purges followed, and 46 of the plotters were executed. A state of emergency, which lasted several years, was declared. Late in 1984 the position of prime minister was abolished, and the country was renamed the Republic of Cameroon.
The 1990s presented another turning point Cameroonian politics. A bloody launch of the Social Democratic Front (SDF) on 26 May 199o steered in reform.
Cameroon came closest to civil strife in 1990 when a purported Biya election victory unleashed violent protests. Opposition supporters accused the president of rigging the vote. Biya reportedly got 39% of the vote while wildly popular SDF leader, John Fru Ndi won 35%. Ndi briefly proclaimed himself president before the government released the polling figures. By late 1992, Ndi and his advocates were under house arrest. Their plight drew international condemnation of Biya’s actions.
Credited by some for steering the nation through nearly 30 years of stability Paul Biya’s detractors cite Cameroon’s ethnic diversity and the resultant lack of serious inter-group rivalry as a more plausible explanation. They also point out the president’s failure to stamp out corruption and realise Cameroon’s full economic potential. Biya’s closeness to France (renowned for its neo-colonialist policy of francafrique) remains a constant source of criticism.
On the 10 April 2008 the National Assembly overwhelmingly voted a bill to change the Constitution of Cameroon to provide the President of the Republic with immunity from prosecution for acts as President and to allow unlimited re-elections of the President (it was previously limited to two terms of seven years) along with a number of other changes. The changes took place after a walk-out of the National Assembly by the opposition SDF representatives and just one month after widespread violence resulting in dozens of deaths and hundreds of arrests protesting price rises and the proposed constitutional changes. Five members of parliament voted against the bill. Opposition lawmakers and at least one member of the ruling party, Cameroon People's Democratic Movement, Hon. Paul Abine Ayah, member for Akwaya, criticised the bill as a setback for democracy and the country in general.
Deft politics, a bamboozled opposition and political indifference have not only ensured Biya’s grip on power but also led Cameroon down a political wilderness.
****Cameroonian Maquisard fighters inspired South Africa’s anti-apartheid force Umkotho We Sizwe (spear of the nation). Led by Nelson Mandela, it was the military wing of the African National Congress.
*****The date of the plebiscite was dedicated to Cameroon’s youth and is celebrated as a national holiday in honour of the nation’s young people.
Political Parties: major ones, CPDM, SDF, UNDP, UPC.
Type of Government: Parliamentary Democracy.
National Assembly / Assemblee Nationale: Parliament of Cameroon with 180 members, elected for 5 year terms in 49 single and multi seat constituencies.
Video links courtesy of YouTube.
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