History of Cameroon

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German-built building at Ambam, today used as a school

This article documents the history of Cameroon.

Early history[edit]

The earliest inhabitants of Cameroon were probably the Baka (Pygmies). They still inhabit the forests of the south and east provinces.[1] Bantu speakers originating in the Cameroonian highlands were among the first groups to move out before other invaders. The Mandara kingdom in the Mandara Mountains was founded around 1500 and erected fortified structures, the purpose and exact history of which are still unresolved. The Aro Confederacy of Nigeria had presence in western (later called British) Cameroon due to trade and migration in the 18th and 19th centuries.

During the late 1770s and the early 19th century, the Fulani, a pastoral Islamic people of the western Sahel, conquered most of what is now northern Cameroon, subjugating or displacing its largely non-Muslim inhabitants.

Although the Portuguese arrived on Cameroon's doorstep in the 16th century, malaria prevented significant European settlement and conquest of the interior until the late 1870s, when large supplies of the malaria suppressant, quinine, became available. The early European presence in Cameroon was primarily devoted to coastal trade and the acquisition of slaves. The northern part of Cameroon was an important part of the Muslim slave trade network. The slave trade was largely suppressed by the mid-19th century. Christian missions established a presence in the late 19th century and continue to play a role in Cameroonian life.

Treaty with the King and Chiefs of Cameroon*.—Signed in the Cameroons Jiiocr, December 17, 1850.

A Conference held this day on board Her Majesty’s steamer Jackal, Lieutenant Bediugfeld commanding, before John Beecroft, Esquire, Her Britannic Majesty’s Consul, agents and supercargoes of the different vessels, on the one part, and the King and Chiefs of Cameroons, on the other part.

Abt. I. That all old palaver are considered to be settled up to this date, and cannot be again brought up, to the detriment of trade.

II. That in the event of any misunderstanding between any agent or supercargo and the Kings or traders of the rivers, such agent or supercargo shall be at liberty to go ashore free of molestation, and with the Kings, Chiefs, and traders, settle peaceably any dispute.

III. Any vessel arriving in the river for the purpose of trading shall pay the usual comey to the King or headman, at the beach where his cask-house is situated; and no other King, Chief, headman, or trader is entitled to demand, under any pretence, any other comey, custom, or tax whatever.

IV. That after the usual payment of the King or headman for the use of the cask-house, if any agent or supercargo can prove that his cask-house has been illegally entered or broken into, and property stolen therefrom by any of the natives, the said King or headman bo held responsible for the loss.

V. That any King or Chief attempting or threatening to stop the trade of any agent or supercargo, after the usual comey has been paid or tendered for the privilege of trading, such King, Chief, or trader be held responsible for such stoppage.

YI. That any person acting as pilot shall receive as compensation the value of a crew’ for every 3 feet of the vessel's draught.

VII. Whereas boats have been frequently stopped and taken from alongside ships, that any aggressions or depredations committed upon the property or persons of British subjects shall be satisfactorily adjusted by the Kings and Chiefs.

VIII. That the regulations long-existing, made by the natives, respecting intentionally watering or fermenting oil, should still be force.

IX. That as the practice of stopping canoes has been exceedingly detrimental to trade, for the future all disputes of the kind between the natives themselves shall be adjusted by the Kings and Chiefs assembled, their decision to be final; and under no pretence ■whatever shall any boat or canoe arriving from any place adjacent be molested or stopped, or her crew detained.

X. That any servant, male or female, running from the town they belong to any other town, the King or headman of such town is bound to apprehend and send back such fugitive within 48 hours from the time of his being made acquainted with tho circumstance.

XI. And be it further enacted, that for any breach of any one Article of this Treaty, the person or persons so offending to be liable to the penalty of 5 puncheons, equal to SO crews, of saleable palm-oil.

XII. In the event of any offender attempting to evade the penalty, or committing himself as a trader, so that it should be considered necessary to prevent his trading, notice is to be given to each ship coming in the river, and the master or supercargo trading with such person after having received the above notice, to be liable to the penalty of 100 crews.

Signed in our presence, this 17th day of December, 1850, on board Her Majesty’s steamer JacJcal> in the Cameroons river.

Signed : JOHN BEECROFT, Her Britannic Majesty's Consul. NORMAN B. BEDINGFELD, Lieutenant Commander IIM's ship Jackal.

W. H. ASHMALL, Resident Agent.

DANL. McGOWAN, Resident Agent.


schooner Selina.

THOS. HORTON JOHNSON, Baptist Mission.

HENRY HARRIS, Master, brig







Cameroon over time
  German Kamerun
  British Cameroons
  French Cameroun
  Republic of Cameroon
German Settlers celebrating Christmas in Kamerun
Further information: German Kamerun, French Cameroun, British Cameroons

Beginning on July 5, 1884, all of present-day Cameroon and parts of several of its neighbours became a German colony, Kamerun, with a capital first at Buea and later at Yaoundé.

The Imperial German government made substantial investments in the infrastructure of Cameroon, including the extensive railways, such as the 160-metre single-span railway bridge on the South Sanaga River branch. Hospitals were opened all over the colony, including two major hospitals at Douala, one of which specialised in tropical diseases (the Germans had discovered the 1912, wrote in an official report in 1919 that the population of Kamerun had increased significantly. However, the indigenous peoples proved reluctant to work on these projects, so the Germans instigated a harsh and unpopular system of forced labour.[2] In fact, Jesko von Puttkamer was relieved of duty as governor of the colony due to his untoward actions toward the native Cameroonians.[3] In 1911 at the Treaty of Fez after the Agadir Crisis, France ceded a nearly 300,000 km² portion of the territory of French Equatorial Africa to Kamerun which became Neukamerun, while Germany ceded a smaller area in the north in present-day Chad to France.

In World War I the British invaded Cameroon from Nigeria in 1914 in the Kamerun campaign, with the last German fort in the country surrendering in February 1916. After the war this colony was partitioned between the United Kingdom and France under a June 28, 1919 League of Nations mandates (Class B). France gained the larger geographical share, transferred Neukamerun back to neighboring French colonies, and ruled the rest from Yaoundé as Cameroun (French Cameroons). Britain's territory, a strip bordering Nigeria from the sea to Lake Chad, with an equal population was ruled from Lagos as Cameroons (British Cameroons). German administrators were allowed to once again run the plantations of the southwestern coastal area. A British Parliamentary Publication, Report on the British Sphere of the Cameroons (May 1922, p. 62-8), reports that the German plantations there were "as a whole . . . wonderful examples of industry, based on solid scientific knowledge. The natives have been taught discipline and have come to realise what can be achieved by industry. Large numbers who return to their villages take up cocoa or other cultivation on their own account, thus increasing the general prosperity of the country.


Towards Independence (1955-1960)[edit]

On 18 December 1956, the outlawed Union of the Peoples of Cameroon (UPC), based largely among the Bamileke and Bassa ethnic groups, began an armed struggle for independence in French Cameroon. This rebellion continued, with diminishing intensity, even after independence until 1961.[4] Some tens of thousands died during this conflict.[5][6]

Legislative elections were held on 23 December 1956 and the resulting Assembly passed a decree on 16 April 1957 which made French Cameroon a State. It took back its former status of associated territory as a member of the French Union. Its inhabitants became Cameroonian citizens, Cameroonian institutions were created under the sign of parliamentary democracy. On 12 June 1958 the Legislative Assembly of French Cameroon asked the French government to: 'Accord independence to the State of Cameroon at the ends of their trusteeship. Transfer every competence related to the running of internal affairs of Cameroon to Cameroonians`. On 19 October 1958 France recognized the right of her United Nations trust territory of the Cameroons to choose independence.[7] On 24 October 1958 the Legislative Assembly of French Cameroon solemnly proclaimed the desire of Cameroonians to see their country accede full independence on 1 January 1960. It enjoined the government of French Cameroon to ask France to inform the General Assembly of the United Nations, to abrogate the trusteeship accord concomitant with the independence of French Cameroon. On 12 November 1958 having accorded French Cameroon total internal autonomy and thinking that this transfer no longer permitted it to assume its responsibilities over the trust territory for an unspecified period, the government of France asked the United Nations to grant the wish of French Cameroonians. On 15 December 1958 the United Nations’ General Assembly took note of the French government’s declaration according to which French Cameroon, which was under French administration, would gain independence on 1 January 1960, thus marking an end to the trusteeship period (Resolution 1282. XIII).[8][9] On 13 March 1959 the United Nations’ General Assembly resolved that the UN Trusteeship Agreement with France for French Cameroon would end when French Cameroon became independent on 1 January 1960 (Resolution 1349. XIII).[10]

Cameroon after independence[edit]

French Cameroon achieved independence on January 1, 1960 as La Republique du Cameroun. After Guinea, it was the second of France's colonies in Sub-Saharan Africa to be granted independence. The following year, on October 1, 1961, the largely Muslim northern two-thirds of British Cameroons voted to join Nigeria; the largely Christian southern third, Southern Cameroons, voted, in a referendum, to join with the Republic of Cameroon to form the Federal Republic of Cameroon. The formerly French and British regions each maintained substantial autonomy. Ahmadou Ahidjo, a French-educated Fulani, was chosen president of the federation in 1961. Ahidjo, relying on a pervasive internal security apparatus, outlawed all political parties but his own in 1966. He successfully suppressed the continuing UPC rebellion, capturing the last important rebel leader in 1970. In 1972, a new constitution replaced the federation with a unitary state called the United Republic of Cameroon. This is the major cause of tension between the French and English speaking areas of Cameroon. Southern Cameroonians feel the agreement at the Foumban constitution conference is not respected.

Although Ahidjo's rule was characterised as authoritarian, he was seen as noticeably lacking in charisma in comparison to many post-colonial African leaders. He didn't follow the anti-western policies pursued by many of these leaders, which helped Cameroon achieve a degree of comparative political stability and economic growth.

Ahidjo resigned as president in 1982 and was constitutionally succeeded by his Prime Minister, Paul Biya, a career official from the Beti-Pahuin ethnic group. Ahidjo later regretted his choice of successors, but his supporters failed to overthrow Biya in a 1984 coup. Biya won single-candidate elections in 1983 and 1984 when the country was again named the Republic of Cameroon. Biya has remained in power, winning flawed multiparty elections in 1992, 1997, 2004 and 2011. His Cameroon People's Democratic Movement (CPDM) party holds a sizeable majority in the legislature.

By April 6, 1984, the country witnessed its first coup d'état headed by col. Issa Adoum. At about 3 am rebel forces mostly of the Republican guard under the orders of colonel Ibrahim Saleh, attempted to unseat Biya's government. The rebels took charge of the Yaounde airport, national radio station and announced the takeover of government. They attacked the presidency. The civilian northerner who was manager of FONADER Issa Adoum was expected to become the new interim president. Unfortunately, many reasons led to its failure. The principal coup plotters had been arrested by April 10, 1984 and President Biya addressed the nation that calm had been restored.

On August 15, 1984, Lake Monoun exploded in a limnic eruption that released carbon dioxide, suffocating 37 people to death. On August 21, 1986, another limnic eruption at Lake Nyos killed as many as 1,800 people and 3,500 livestock. The two disasters are the only recorded instances of limnic eruptions.

In May 2014, in the wake of the Chibok schoolgirl kidnapping, Presidents Paul Biya of Cameroon and Idriss Déby of Chad announced they were waging war on Boko Haram, and deployed troops to the Nigerian border.[11][12]

In early 2006 a final resolution to the dispute between Cameroon and Nigeria over the oil-rich Bakassi peninsula was expected. In October 2002, the International Court of Justice had ruled in favour of Cameroon. Nonetheless, a lasting solution would require agreement by both countries’ presidents, parliaments, and by the United Nations. The peninsula was the site of fighting between the two countries in 1994 and again in June 2005, which led to the death of a Cameroonian soldier.


Cameroon has received some international attention following the relative success of its football team. It has qualified for the FIFA World Cup on a number of occasions. Its most notable performance was at Italia 90, when the team beat Argentina, the then reigning Champions in the opening game; Cameroon eventually lost in extra time in the Quarter Finals to England.

Prominent footballers from Cameroon include:

See also[edit]


  • Background Note: Cameroon from the U.S. Department of State.
  • Bullock, A. L. C. (1939). Germany's Colonial Demands, Oxford University Press.
  • DeLancey, Mark W., and DeLancey, Mark Dike (2000): Historical Dictionary of the Republic of Cameroon (3rd ed.). Lanham, Maryland: The Scarecrow Press.
  • Schnee, Heinrich (1926). German Colonization, Past and Future: The Truth about the German Colonies. London: George Allen & Unwin.


  1. ^ > "About.com". 
  2. ^ DeLancey and DeLancey 125.
  3. ^ DeLancey and DeLancey 226.
  4. ^ http://uca.edu/politicalscience/dadm-project/sub-saharan-africa-region/britishfrench-cameroon-1948-1961/
  5. ^ Eckhardt, William, in World Military and Social Expenditures 1987-88 (12th ed., 1987) by Ruth Leger Sivard.
  6. ^ The Cambridge History of Africa (1986), ed. J. D. Fage and R. Oliver
  7. ^ http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F00817FC385B117A93C2AB178BD95F4C8585F9&scp=1&sq=Cameroon+independence&st=p
  8. ^ http://www.cameroon50.cm/en/history-and-presentation/167-tutelle-a-independance.html
  9. ^ http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/RESOLUTION/GEN/NR0/747/26/IMG/NR074726.pdf?OpenElement
  10. ^ http://daccess-dds-ny.un.org/doc/RESOLUTION/GEN/NR0/335/84/IMG/NR033584.pdf?OpenElement
  11. ^ "Cameroon, Chad Deploy Troops to Fight Boko Haram - Nigeria". ReliefWeb. Retrieved 2014-06-10. 
  12. ^ Kaze, Rennier (2014-06-06). "Dans le Nord du Cameroun, la "guerre" contre Boko Haram a commencé - Cameroon". ReliefWeb (in French). Retrieved 2014-06-10. 

External links[edit]