Cameroon, history of

Cameroon, history of


      history of the area from prehistoric and ancient times to the present.

Early history
      From archaeological evidence it is known that humans have inhabited Cameroon for at least 50,000 years, and there is strong evidence of the existence of important kingdoms and states in more recent times. Of these, the most widely known is Sao, which arose in the vicinity of Lake Chad, probably in the 5th century AD. This kingdom reached its height from the 9th to the 15th centuries, after which it was conquered and destroyed by the Kotoko state, which extended over large portions of northern Cameroon and Nigeria. Kotoko was incorporated into the Bornu (Kanem-Bornu) empire during the reign of Rābiḥ al-Zubayr (Rabah) in the late 19th century, and its people became Muslims.

      Islam (Islāmic world) became a powerful force in the northern and central portions of the country through conquest, immigration, and the spread of commerce from north and northwestern Africa. The most significant bearers of this faith, the Fulani, entered northern Cameroon beginning in the 18th century. The first small groups of pastoralists were welcomed by the host populations. Eventually the Fulani, frustrated under non-Muslim rule and encouraged by the teachings of the mystic Usman dan Fodio, revolted. In the early 1800s Modibbo Adama was appointed by Usman to lead a jihad over large areas centred in northern Nigeria, which were incorporated into Usman's Sokoto empire.

      The Fulani expansion reached its southernmost point with the conquest of Bamoum, a kingdom founded in the 17th century by Nshare, the son of a Tikar chief. Bamoum was one of the largest of numerous kingdoms that emerged in the grassland areas of Cameroon at least 300 years ago. The Fulani conquest was brief and did not result in Islamization, although this faith was accepted by a later ruler, Sultan Njoya, in the early 20th century.

      Islam was a significant influence entering Cameroon from the north; other powerful influences entered from the southern coastal region. In 1472 the Portuguese Fernão do Pó was the first European to view the Cameroon coast, although Hanno, a Carthaginian, may have sailed there 2,000 years earlier. Pó was followed by traders, many of whom were involved in the Atlantic slave trade. Cameroon became a significant source, with slaves sold and traded at Bimbia, Douala, and other ports. Routes linked these ports far inland where the Bamileke, Bamoum, and other kingdoms provided the needed supply of slaves. In the early 1800s the slave trade declined, and attention turned to “legitimate” trade in rubber, palm oil, and other items. Earlier Portuguese and Dutch influences were largely replaced by the British and (British Empire) the Germans.

      Christian missionaries were also becoming a factor. Under the leadership of Alfred Saker (Saker, Alfred), a Briton, and West Indians such as Joseph Merrick, a Baptist station was established in 1845 at Akwa Town (now Douala). Saker established a larger post at Victoria (now Limbe) in 1858. The American Presbyterian mission opened a station in 1871. The origin and denomination of the missions changed frequently, but the Presbyterians, Baptists, and Roman Catholics have been the most important.

      In spite of the predominant role of the British along the coast, in 1884 the Germans claimed the region as Kamerun. The explorer Gustav Nachtigal (Nachtigal, Gustav) arrived in July 1884 to annex the Douala coast. The Germans moved inland over the years, extending their control and their claims. Initially, their major dealings were with African traders, but direct trade with the interior promised greater profits, and colonial power was used to break the African monopoly. Plantation agriculture was another major German economic activity. Large estates were established in southwestern Kamerun to provide tropical produce for Germany. Traders, plantation owners, and government officials competed for labour, and force was used to obtain it. The system established was harsh, and many workers died serving German interests.

The mandates
      In World War I British, French, and Belgian African troops drove the Germans into exile, beginning a period of British rule in two small portions and French rule in the remainder of the territory. These League of Nations (Nations, League of) mandates (mandate) (later United Nations trusts) were referred to as French Cameroun and British Cameroons.

      The British trust territory consisted of a strip of land bisected by the Bénoué River along the eastern border of Nigeria. British rule was a period of neglect. This, coupled with the influx of numerous Nigerians, caused great resentment. The old German plantations—eventually united into a single parastatal, the Cameroon Development Corporation—were the mainstay of the economy. Development also occurred in peasant agriculture, especially in the latter years of British rule. Cacao, coffee, and bananas saw rapid growth.

      The French territory had an administration based on that of the other territories of French Equatorial Africa. Greater agricultural development took place in French Cameroun. Limited industrial and infrastructural growth also occurred, largely after World War II. At independence French Cameroun had a much higher gross national product per capita, higher education levels, better health care, and better infrastructure than British Cameroons.

      Although there were differences in the French and British colonial experiences, there were also strong similarities. Most important, these rulers continued drawing Cameroon into the international economic system. By the time of independence, the trusts produced raw materials for European industries but were dependent on Europe, and especially France, for finished goods. This fragile economy continues to plague Cameroon.

      After World War II, developments in Cameroon and Europe brought about independence. In British Cameroons the major question was whether to remain with Nigeria or to rejoin Cameroun. In a UN-supervised plebiscite in 1961, the south decided to reunify with French Cameroun to become the Federal Republic of Cameroon. The north voted to join the Federation of Nigeria.

      In French Cameroun the major question was the type and intensity of the relationship with France after independence. The first nationalist party, the Cameroon People's Union (UPC) led by Felix-Roland Moumie and Reuben Um Nyobe, demanded a thorough break with France and the construction of a socialist economy. French officials suppressed the UPC, leading to a bitter civil war, while encouraging alternative political leaders. On January 1, 1960, independence was granted, with Ahmadou Ahidjo (Ahidjo, Ahmadou) the first president. Ahidjo and his party, the Cameroon Union, pledged to build a capitalist economy and to maintain close ties to France.

Cameroon since independence
      Ahidjo ruled from independence until 1982. He centralized power in the capital, Yaoundé, and in one person—himself. Cameroon became an authoritarian, single-party state in which civil rights meant little. The civil war ended slowly and brutally, but the state of emergency continued for years beyond its conclusion. Ahidjo declared nation building to be a major goal, using the fear of ethnic conflict to justify authoritarianism.

      Ahidjo's policy of Planned Liberalism was formulated to encourage private investment, with government to play a strong role in guiding development. Expansion of export crops was to provide the foreign capital needed. In the 1973 announcement of the Green Revolution, the government proposed that the country was to become self-sufficient in food and to become the primary food source for its neighbours.

      The discovery of exploitable petroleum in the 1970s was a great boost to the economy, and petroleum became the most valuable export. Petroleum revenues were used to increase prices to farmers, to pay for imports of materials and technology, and to build financial reserves. Sadly, petroleum income also paid for expensive, badly planned projects.

      Large-scale industrial development projects met with little success. Problems in planning, technology transfer, and market research plagued these projects, and much capital was lost. There was more success in assisting the growth of agribusinesses and small and medium-sized enterprises producing goods for local use. But to a large extent the country still depended on imported industrial goods. Exceptions to this were refined petroleum products, cement, textiles and clothing, beverages, and aluminum. Expansion of transportation facilities, the development of hydroelectric capability, and tremendous growth in education took place.

      In 1982 Cameroon underwent a dramatic political change, and important though less obvious economic changes were under way. On November 4 President Ahidjo resigned the presidency, and two days later Paul Biya took power. Ahidjo retained his leadership of the Cameroon National Union (UNC), the sole political party. The tranquil nature of the transfer did not last. Ahidjo did not expect to end his domination of the political system. He wished to keep overall control while turning over lesser duties to Biya; however, Biya had his own mind. The showdown took place when Ahidjo tried to assert party domination over the government. Biya had built a coalition that was sufficient to overwhelm Ahidjo, who resigned from the party. A minor coup attempt and, on April 6, 1984, a bloody uprising by the Republican Guard—favoured, if not directed, by Ahidjo or his supporters—followed. Biya prevailed, and Ahidjo's UNC soon became Biya's Cameroon People's Democratic Movement.

      Biya sought the development of a more democratic society. Although the country was still a single-party state, he allowed competitive elections for party offices and the National Assembly; he was elected in 1984 and reelected in 1988 in elections in which he was the only candidate. Biya also experimented with freedom of speech and of the press. The conflict with Ahidjo and the 1984 coup attempt, however, brought back some of the restrictions of the Ahidjo era. By 1990, dissatisfaction among the population with the political climate led Biya to support legislation that provided for a multiparty political system, allowed greater freedom of the press, and alleviated many of the limitations on forming political associations. However, dubious political practices and harassment of the media and opposition groups (including Cameroonians advocating for the secession of Anglophone provinces in the south of the country) were recurring problems in the 1990s and 2000s. Biya's rule was extended with his victories in multiparty elections held in 1992 and 1997— both marred by irregularities—and in 2004.

      The economy also presented problems for Biya, as he inherited a severe economic crisis. Cameroon's economy, extremely dependent on such exports as cocoa, coffee, and oil, was adversely affected by decreases in the prices of these commodities during the 1980s. In addition, poor economic management had long plagued the country, and in 1987 Biya admitted that the country faced an economic crisis. A World Bank structural adjustment program and budget cuts were necessary, and ripple effects were felt throughout the economy. The realization that regardless of the economic progress Cameroon had made since independence it had not been able to change the dependent nature of its economy was the cause of much frustration. Although the crisis had taken root during Ahidjo's tenure, it did not surface until after his resignation. Cameroonians placed the blame on Biya, and by the late 1980s opposition to the government grew. Despite the subsequent efforts made toward economic reform, conditions in Cameroon were less than ideal, corruption was rampant, and periodic demonstrations and strikes to protest the country's economic policies continued into the 1990s. Cameroon's economy experienced some relief with debt cancellation by international creditors—for example, when the majority of the country's sizable debt to the Paris Club, a group of creditor countries, was cancelled in 2006.

      Meanwhile, tensions from a long-standing border dispute with Nigeria over the oil-rich Bakassi Peninsula came to a head in late 1993 and early 1994 when Nigerian troops advanced into the region. New skirmishes occurred in early 1996, and, although a truce was signed, sporadic fighting continued for the next few years. After eight years of investigation and deliberation, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) awarded the peninsula to Cameroon in October 2002. Nigeria and Cameroon entered into two years of mediation and discussion to facilitate the implementation of the ICJ ruling, reaching an agreement to transfer sovereignty of the peninsula in September 2004. Despite these measures, Nigeria did not meet the deadline, citing technical problems with preparing for the transfer. In August 2006 the handover of the Bakassi Peninsula from Nigeria to Cameroon was largely completed. Although the transfer was not without its problems—including the dissatisfaction of many residents of the peninsula who would have preferred to retain their Nigerian identity—the region enjoyed relative peace until November 2007, when Cameroonian troops stationed in the peninsula were killed by assailants who were reportedly wearing Nigerian military uniforms. Nigeria quickly declared that its military was not involved and cited recent criminal activity in the Niger Delta region, where military supplies—including uniforms—were stolen. The assailants' actual identities were not immediately known. A ceremony held on Aug. 14, 2008, marked the completion of the peninsula's transfer from Nigeria to Cameroon.

Mark W. DeLancey Ed.

Additional Reading
Mark W. DeLancey and H. Mbella Mokeba, Historical Dictionary of the Republic of Cameroon, 2nd ed. (1990), also contains a chronology and an extensive bibliography. General histories include Engelbert Mveng, Histoire du Cameroun, 2nd ed., 2 vol. (1984–85), a classic work covering prehistory to independence but concentrating on precolonial and colonial history of French-speaking Cameroon; Tambi Eyongetah Mbuagbaw, Robert Brain, and Robin Palmer, A History of the Cameroon, 2nd ed. (1987), a brief, readable introduction emphasizing the colonial and postcolonial periods; Victor Julius Ngoh, Cameroon, 1884–1985 (1987), emphasizing French and British colonial rule and changes since independence; and Martin Njeuma (ed.), Introduction to the History of Cameroon: Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (1989), seven essays (five by Cameroonians) discussing selected topics including trade and politics just prior to colonial rule, aspects of colonial administration, and the northern lamidates. German rule in Cameroon is examined by Harry R. Rudin, Germans in the Cameroons, 1884–1914: A Case Study in Modern Imperialism (1938, reprinted 1968), the classic study, relying heavily on documents and official reports and presenting a report critical of but generally favourable to the Germans; and Helmuth Stoecker (ed.), Kamerun unter deutscher Kolonialherrschaft, 2 vol. (1960–68), a revisionist view exposing a more exploitative and harsh relationship than in Rudin's work. The best accounts of political history up to the time of reunification are David E. Gardiner, Cameroon: United Nations Challenge to French Policy (1963); and Victor T. Le Vine, The Cameroons, from Mandate to Independence (1964, reprinted 1977), which analyzes the effects of French rule and the rise of independence movements, with some discussion of British rule. Richard A. Joseph, Radical Nationalism in Cameroun: Social Origins of the U.P.C. Rebellion (1977), a history of the most significant preindependence nationalist movement in Cameroon, provides an understanding of the origins of many of the domestic and international political and economic problems of Cameroon. Mark W. DeLancey, Cameroon: Dependence and Independence (1989), provides an analysis of the political, economic and cultural changes incurred in the colonial and independence eras. Mark W. DeLancey and Peter J. Schraeder (comps.), Cameroon (1986), is an annotated bibliography of recent publications on history, politics, and economics.Mark W. DeLancey Ed.

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Universalium. 2010.

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