A Short History of Cameroon
Cameroon officially known as the Republic of Cameroon is a nation in West Africa. It is bordered by the Central African Republic to the east, Chad to the northeast, Nigeria to the west, and the Republic of the Congo, Gabon, and Equatorial Guinea to the south. The country’s coastline lies in the Bight of Biafra, a section of the Gulf of Guinea, and the Atlantic Ocean.
Early settlers of Cameroon included the Baka hunter-gatherers in the southeastern rainforest and the Sao civilization, found in Lake Chad. In the 15th century, Portuguese explorers arrived at the coast and named the region Rio dos Camarões which translates to Shrimp River. This later became Cameroon in English. In the 19th century, the Fulani soldiers established the Adamawa Emirate in the northern region of the country. A number of ethnic groups of northwest and west of country also created powerful chiefdoms. It was in 1884 when Cameroon became a German colony referred to as Kamerun.
When World War I came to an end, the region was divided between the United Kingdom and France as per the mandates of the League of Nations. In 1960, the region of Cameroon governed by the French acquired independence as the Republic of Cameroun and Ahmadou Ahidjo was the president. In 1961, the southern part of British Cameroons integrated with the Republic of Cameroun to form the Federal Republic of Cameroon which was abandoned in 1972. The same year, the country was renamed the United Republic of Cameroon and later on the Republic of Cameroon in 1984.
Currently, Cameroon enjoys high social and political stability. This has enabled development of railways, roads, agriculture, and timber and large petroleum industries. Nonetheless, the majority of the citizens live in poverty and rely on subsistence farming. Power is solely in the hands of Paul Biya who has been president since 1982, and his political party, Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement Party.
With the above in mind, a brief history of the country will be given below.
Early History of Cameroon
Modern-day Cameroon was first inhabited during the Neolithic Era. The Baka (Pygmies) people were believed to be the first inhabitants of Cameroon and they still occupy the forests of the east and south provinces. The first group of people to move out of Cameroon were Bantu speakers who originated from the Cameroonian highlands. Around 1500, the Mandara Kingdom was founded in the Mandara Mountains. The kingdom built fortified structures, but the exact history and purpose of these structures have never been resolved.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Aro Confederacy of Nigeria settled in western Cameroon (later known as British Cameroon). Trade and migration were their main reasons for settling in that region.
The Fulani people, a pastoral Islamic community of the western Sahel, seized most of the territory of what is currently northern Cameroon during the late 1770s and the early 19th century. After conquering the region, they subjugated and displaced most of the inhabitants who were non-Muslim.
In the 16th century, the Portuguese arrived in Cameroon. However, malaria prevented them from forming European settlements and conquering of the interior regions until the late 1870s when quinine and huge supplies of malaria suppressants became accessible. European presence in the country was mainly devoted to the acquisition of slaves and coastal trade. The northern region of the country was a significant territory of the Muslim slave trade system. Slave trade was, however, banished in mid-19th century and towards the end of the century, Christian missionaries established their presence, which continues to play a role in the lives of the Cameroonians.
Colonization of Cameroon
On July 5, 1884, all of Cameroon and some regions of its neighbors became a German colony. The country was initially referred to as Kamerun and its capital city was at Buea and later on at Yaoundé. The German regime made significant investments in the country’s infrastructure, for instance, the single-span bridge on the south of the Sanaga River. The Germans also opened hospitals across the colony including two main hospitals in Douala, one focused on tropical diseases. Despite the usefulness of these projects, the locals were hesitant to work on these projects. As a result of these, the Germans put in place an unpopular and harsh system of forced labor.
At the Treaty of Fez in 1911, after the Agadir Crisis, France yielded a portion of the territory of French Equatorial African to Kamerun. This region came to be known as Neukamerun. Germany, on the other hand, yielded a smaller region in the north in modern-day Chad to France.
In 1914, the British attacked Cameroon from Nigeria and in February 1916, the last German fort surrendered. When World War I came to an end, Cameroon was divided between France and the United Kingdom as per the June 28, 1919, League of Nations mandates. France acquired the majority of the geographical share and shifted Neukamerun back to the bordering French colonies and governed the rest from Yaoundé as Cameroun – French Cameroons. The French incorporated Cameroun’s economy with that of France and enhanced the infrastructure with skilled workers and capital investments thus modifying the forced labor system. British territory bordered Nigeria from the sea to Lake Chad and the region was governed from Lagos as Cameroons – British Cameroons. Locals of this colony complained of being neglected. Migrant workers from Nigeria moved to Southern Cameroons in large numbers bringing to an end to forced labor but nonetheless infuriating the locals who felt besieged.
In 1946, the League of Nations mandates were changed to United Nations Trusteeships. The question of independence also became a persistent subject in French Cameroun. The Union des Populations du Cameroun (UPC) political party was outlawed by France on 13 July 1955 resulting in the assassination of Ruben Um Nyobé, the party’s leader, and a long guerilla. British Cameroons was more peaceful and the main question was whether to join Nigeria or reunite with French Cameroun.
Independence of Cameroon (1960)
French Cameroun attained independence from France on 1 January 1960 with Ahmadou Ahidjo as the president. British Southern Cameroons reunited with French Cameroun on 1 October 1961 to create the Federal Republic of Cameroon. There was an ongoing war with the UPC and Ahidjo took advantage of that to concentrate power on the presidency. This went on even after the UPC had been suppressed in 1971.
On 1 September 1966 and in 1972 Ahidjo’s political party, the Cameroon National Union (CNU), became the only legal political party. The federal structure of government was gotten rid of in favor of a United Republic of Cameroon governed from Yaoundé. Ahidjo put in place a fiscal strategy of planned liberalism that prioritized petroleum and cash crops development. Oil money was used by the government to pay farmers, create a countrywide cash reserve, and facilitate key development ventures. Nonetheless, most of these ventures failed due to the appointment of unqualified personnel overseeing them.
Paul Biya was appointed as vice president on 30 June 1975 and Ahidjo stepped down as president on 4 November 1982 and handed over power to Paul Biya, his constitutional successor. Ahidjo was, however, still in control of the CNU and often attempted to govern the nation behind the scenes. He did this until he was forced to resign by Biya and his associates. Biya commenced his administration by shifting towards a more democratic regime. He was, however, pushed towards the leadership structure of his predecessor (authoritarianism) by a failed coup d'état in 1984. Biya won the elections in 1983 and 1984 when the country was renamed the Republic of Cameroon and he has been in power ever since winning the multiparty elections in 1992, 1997, 2004, and 2011. His political party, Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) party holds a huge majority in the government.
From the mid-1980s to the late 1990s the country was faced with an economic crisis arising from factors such as drought, global fiscal conditions, mismanagement, years of corruption, dwindling petroleum prices, and cronyism. To deal with and reduce the effects of the crisis Cameroon privatized industries, reduce government expenditure, and turned to foreign aid.
21st century Cameroon
In October 2002, the International Court of Justice passed judgment in favor of Cameroon with regards to the oil-rich Bakassi peninsula. Cameroon and Nigeria had been fighting over the peninsula and in June 2006 talks concerning the matter were held between President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, President Paul Biya of Cameroon, and the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. The talks resulted in Cameroon controlling the oil-rich peninsula. The northern section of the peninsula was handed over officially to Cameroon in August 2006, and the remaining section two years later in 2008.
In February 2008, the country went through its worst violence in over a decade after a strike by a transport union heightened and became violent demonstrations in 13 municipal territories.
In the rise of the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapping in May 2014 in Nigeria, President Paul Biya and his counterpart President Idriss Déby of Chad declared to wage war on Boko Haram. Both presidents sent soldiers to the Nigerian border to help fight the terrorist group.