Regarding Race, Nation, and Our Future

Written Work by Graham T. Baden

Imagining a Bilingual Nation: A Study of Cameroon’s Independence and Reunification at its Fiftieth Anniversary

Cameroon's Changing BordersAbstract:

Considering the unique position of the Cameroons, having had three colonial rulers within the 20th century, what were the political, social, and economic reasons for the unification of Anglophone British Cameroons and the Francophone French Cameroun? Why further, was its independence so troubled, with aftermath continuing even until today?

Countries, like people, are not born with an identity; they acquire them through a long process of learning and growth. Martin Lipset, in his The First New Nation, admits that the growth of a national identity is “a process which is a notoriously painful affair.” This paper examines the long, strange story of the Cameroons, its independence, and its eventual unification into the Federal Republic of Cameroon between the years of 1948 and 1978. It explores specifically the cultural identity inherent in the development of Cameroonian nationality from the context of three specific perspectives: ethnic and regional rivalry, slow economic growth, and the evolution from old colonial political policies to a new national federation. a bilingual nation.COMPLETE  

Imagining a Bilingual Nation


Imagining a Bilingual Nation:

A Study of Cameroon’s Independence and Reunification

at its Fiftieth Anniversary 


See me wonders, njanga di chop mololo!

See me wonders, njanga di chop mololo!

See my wonders, the prawns ate the mololo fish!

See my wonders, the prawns ate the mololo fish!

-Traditional Cameroonian Children’s Song[1]

In the first years of the 1960s, a series of states under the administration of France and Britain, called collectively the Cameroons, underwent a process of independence through the United Nations Trustee System. Although the people of Cameroon belong to a vast grouping of tribal ethnicities, sharing little but a common geography, the reunification process of the 1960s brought multiple Cameroonian Trusteeships together into one federal nation. The impetus for this checkered reunification— its troubles continuing even until today— has been pondered by scholars of Western Africa for half a century.

Historians have offered theories for this reunification, referencing causes as disparate as party politics and village gender roles; nevertheless, there is one prevailing spirit in all of these theories. In their works written about the independence and reunification of the Cameroons, historians seem to offer only answers to the questions of how and why Cameroon reunited, but do not reveal, however, who the Cameroonian People are. The history of this period suggests that, by the very naming of Cameroon, through the bordering of a nation and the nomination of its people, the Cameroonian spirit, an invisible identity, was born.

Before the navies of Europe knew anything of Cameroon save its volcanic Mount Cameroon, the Bantu-speaking tribes originating in the Western highlands were the first to form organized settlements in the coastal region of the Wouri River as early as the 16th century.[2] In the 1800s, the Fulani, a nomadic tribe consisting of mostly herdsmen, expanded their territory from the sub-Saharan regions of northern Africa and into Cameroon.[3] The Fulani Invasion, as it has sometimes been named, was at first peaceful, its herders even paying taxes to the non-Fulani kingdoms for grazing rights. Then in the 19th century, Fula herdsmen embraced the culture of Jihad. Under the leadership of Mohibo Adama, the Fulani tribes invaded from the northern reaches of Cameroon to capture and sell slaves to the Portuguese and Dutch.[4]

For much of the early history of the central African region, Cameroon and its equatorial neighbors were all but ignored by Europe. Cameroon is located at the elbow of the West African coast where the Equator meets the Atlantic Ocean. Due to the formidable physical obstacles raised by its dense jungles, mangrove swamps, and the threat of malaria and dysentery, what little wealth Cameroon and its neighbors had to offer through bananas and lumber did not spur Europe’s trade exploits.[5] One thing Cameroon could boast was its lucrative slave trade in the coastal kingdoms. This rich coastal trade system provided thousands of slaves to Brazil and the Caribbean, and ultimately lead to the first European naming of Cameroon.[6] In 1472, the Wouri River, feeding into the port that would later become Douala, was affectionately dubbed “Rio dos Camarões.” This, when translated literally from Portuguese, means River of Prawns.[7] This process of imperial European nomination, in no small way, decided the fate of the Cameroonian people for the next five centuries. It is a process that Stephen Greenblat refers to in Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World as a “christening.”[8]

Europe would not ignore Cameroon for long, however. In 1884 Gustav Nachtigal, the German Empire’s counselor for West Africa, raised the German flag over Douala, drawing the first official borders of Cameroon in an agreement through treaties between British, French, and tribal Douala kingdoms.[9] In European imperialist fashion, Germany named the colony Kamerun, a German derivative of the previous European name for the region. In the following thirty years, despite armed conflicts with the Kpe, Bulu, and Bafut tribes of the region, Germany established a large-scale plantation and trade system, expanding the borders of the colony in the process.[10] By drawing cross-ethnic labor groups to work the plantation fields and the demarcation of the borders of the colony, Germany provided for the first shared-identity of the Cameroonian people, an identity that continued to evolve especially with the coming of the First World War.[11]

During the Great War, Kamerun was invaded and controlled by the French and British. The forces of German Kamerun ultimately surrendered at the fortress of Mora in 1916.[12] Then, after the war, in an agreement through the League of Nations Mandate system of 1919, the British and French divided the colony of Kamerun between themselves. The two nations were given legal administrative authority over Kamerun in a broad-sweeping, punitive action against Germany in response to the atrocities of the war. What had been Kamerun now became three separate states, their border lines drawn artificially and haphazardly, neither following geographical lines nor traditional tribal territories.[13]

Article 22 of the League of Nations Covenant called for the establishment of independent states out of the land that had been the colonies of Germany.[14] This Eurocentric vision of independence was to be fostered by the Cameroons’ protectorate sponsors. The Covenant states with unmistakable prejudice that these colonies are “inhabited by peoples not yet able to stand by themselves under the strenuous conditions of the modern world,” and declares that “the tutelage of such peoples should be entrusted to advanced nations who by reason of their resources, their experience or their geographical position can best undertake this responsibility.”[15] The Eastern portion of the previous colony fell under the sponsorship of France and was subsequently renamed to suit the Francophones in charge. The territory, christened Cameroun, was henceforth governed by the French West African Federation (AOF), a centralized and hierarchical system of officials appointed by Charles DeGaul, the President of France himself.[16] The British, who were given charge over the Western portion of the colony, named the region an anglicized version of Kamerun and further divided the territory so that it might be more easily governed as extensions of the North and South Nigerian governments. These northern and southern states are referred to collectively as the Cameroons.[17] Again, by partitioning Cameroon, the powers of Europe christened Africa and its inhabitants with three additional names, extending the imperial reach of Kipling’s White Man’s Burden.[18]

However, there are many problems with this system. Sadly, instead of how the mandate was intended to work—  to offer these newly released territories responsible, liberal tutors, and bring them to future autonomy— the French and British overextended their powers in the imperialist fashion of the nineteenth century, treating the territories much like the neighboring colonies of Nigeria and Equatorial Africa. The French went so far as to recruit natives in Cameroon for compulsory crop cultivation to aid in the war effort of the Free French.[19]

After the League of Nations was dissolved in 1946, the United Nations Trusteeship Program was established to create a better system to replace the Mandate before it. The Charter states, in more specific terms than the Covenant, that the territories would be governed for the “freely expressed wishes of the peoples concerned.”[20] The Charter maintained the French and British as Cameroons’ sponsors and these two nations would continue to govern the Cameroons until their eventual independence of 1960 and reunification in 1961.

Pointedly, the British treated the Cameroons in many ways as an extension of Nigeria, never giving the territories their proper attention. The existing leper colonies were all but ignored. Medical services were brief, irregular, and provided only by Nigerian doctors from across the border.[21] In fact, there were no permanent hospitals established in Northern Cameroons during the Mandate Period.[22] While the UN Mandate gave the British charge of the most usable land for agriculture, they adhered to a strict open-door policy of free competition with foreign economic enterprises and relied on foreign influence to build the economy of the Cameroons.[23] Interestingly, after seven years of occupation when the British still could find no buyers for the properties that had been plantations, most were sold back to their previous German owners.[24] After World War II, when plantations became the official property of Nigeria, the Cameroons Development Corporation sent nearly eighty percent of its profits to Nigeria as a tax.[25] By 1938, the British Cameroons maintained only 185 miles of road, a condition that the UN Visiting Mission found “poor, inadequate, and unsatisfactory.”[26] Langhee calls the Trustee system “little more than a monitored colonialism” and argues that while the trust system is generally considered to have been a better form of governance than that of straightforward colonialism, in the case of the British Cameroons, that is not the case.[27]

In the first post-war decade, much of Africa and the colonial world began to groan under the weight of foreign rule. Soon after Vietnam achieved independence from the French, the colonies of Africa would one-by-one come to find their own independence. This period is often referred to as the African Tide.[28] In 1948 Ruben Um Nyobé, an anti-imperialist and hyper-Cameroonian nationalist, founded the Union des Populations du Cameroun (UPC).[29] It would shortly become the Cameroonian branch of the RDA, an African political group with ties to the French Communist Party. The RDA operated in the interests of the independence movements of inter-territorial sub-Sahara.[30] In the growing heat of southern Cameroon’s nationalistic passion, the UPC staged multiple violent protests and demonstrations in favor of the unification of Cameroon.[31]

On January 1, 1960, after a long but relatively peaceful political process, Ahmadou Ahidjo became the first President of the Cameroun Republic. East Cameroun became a sovereign nation, ending its fourteen year trusteeship and casting off its eighty year bridle of European rule. The festivities, attended by the UN Secretary General and multiple other foreign diplomats, were tarnished by UPC violence in the cities of Yaoundé and Douala, however.[32] The British Cameroons’ process of independence was not as simple as that of their francophone Camerounian neighbors though. The British Cameroons were torn between two languages, two governments, and two cultures. In order to determine the future political status of the confused territories, the UN offered three plebiscite votes to the states of the Cameroons. Hoping for continued trusteeship status, North Cameroons cast their first vote in 1959, maintaining the status quo, and staying the vote until an undetermined time.[33] Later, in the final plebiscite of 1961, held simultaneously in both Cameroons, the North chose to integrate with its co-lingual neighbor Nigeria while the South chose overwhelmingly to reunify with the Cameroun Republic, becoming the Cameroon Federal Republic.[34]

There have been many interpretations of how and why Southern Cameroons reunited with the Cameroon Republic after it obtained its independence. Scholars can offer only theories regarding whether or not it should have, though. Beginning in the 1950s and continuing until today, political scientists and historians have asked questions such as, “Why did two bilingual countries, one Anglophone and one Francophone, unite to form one bilingual union?” and “What were the causes of Cameroonian nationalism that led to reunification?” The interpretations of evidence vary considerably, and no two scholars seem to share the same view on any point. These perceptions vary primarily due to their many regions of origin and the decade in which the works were written. Yet no one history seems complete; no single history answers every question presented.

In the years leading up to the Cameroons’ independence in 1960 and 1961, and for a decade after, much of the nationalistic fervor in the region had a central focus. The goal of the rhetoric of the time was the wresting of power from the hands of the colonial rulers of the day. Much of the political talk of the late 1950s and early 1960s centered around an idea of one Kamerun Nation. The terms Kamerun Nation and the Kamerun Idea relate to a previous day in Cameroon’s colonial history, when the Germans had drawn the original borders of the colony.[35] The Cameroonian nationalist parties of the 50s and 60s became outraged by the imperialist partitioning of their country, calling for a return of the Kamerun Nation and a reunification of Cameroon so that it might assume its previous borders. Much of the talk from nationalist parties spoke of the once-grand Kamerun Nation and its previous glory.[36] Nationalist sympathizers like Ruben Um-Nyobe of the Union des Populations du Cameroun (UPC), a nationalist and anti-colonialist party with Marxist sympathies, utilized this myth as a catalyst for party development in the years leading up to independence.[37] Later his party changed its tune and responded against the theory that Germany had given Cameroon its borders, and thus, its spirit. He said that Germany had neither discovered Cameroon nor created its Cameroonians. In his report to the Congress of the UPC of 1952, he stated, “Tout le monde reconnaîtra que Dieu a créé un seul Cameroun.” God alone had made one Cameroon and its people, he said.[38]

The referrals to the Kamerun Idea and Nation are refuted by many scholars, the foremost being the late Victor Le Vine PhD. Le Vine, an often-cited leader in the study of African tribal affairs and professor emeritus of political science at Washington University, was one of the first scholars to write about the struggle of Cameroon in its first years after independence. He spent four years on the ground in Cameroon during 1960s and saw its independence and reunification first hand. He states in his multiple books about the event, primarily The Cameroons, From Mandate to Independence (1964), that Germany could not have had enough time for all the achievements for which the nationalists give them credit. Having been in control of Kamerun for less than three decades between the years of 1884 and 1916, less than half the time the Cameroons had been under the administration of France and Britain, it is unlikely that Germany could inspire such nation-building ideals. In fact, he says, the myth of the Kamerun Nation was used as a political tool with which to drum up support for the independence of French Cameroun.[39]

During the 1960s and 1970s, there arose two distinct theories for why Cameroon reunited. The first, a popular one among scholars of early-Independence history, is called the Partitioned Ethnic Groups Theory. This theory suggests that Cameroon had ultimately reunited for tribal and ethnic reasons. The artificial border drawn by France and Britain had severed ethnic boundaries, separating tribal lands and even families. Edwin Ardener, in The Nature of Reunification of Cameroon (1967), argues that although the Partitioned Ethnic Group Theory is a tempting premise, there were not enough tribes cut literally by the border to have justified the outcry for reunification. While his citations of ethnic population numbers are compelling, they only tell of vast ethnic populations, not of tribal groups, and are thus difficult to analyze accurately.[40] Ndiva Kofele-Kale, in Tribesmen and Patriots (1981), reassessed this argument by conducting a case-study in anglophone, western Cameroon in 1972 and again in 1973. His findings suggest that feelings of ethnic identity and further, nationalism, correlated specifically with the level of urbanization of the studied region. He found that in rural populations, making up nearly 90 percent of the total population of Cameroon, villagers and tribesmen had little knowledge of the towns within twenty miles of their own and even less about the political events and leanings of their nation.[41]

The second-most accepted theory of the 1970s, one that seems to have been alluded to in the works by Le Vine, Kofele-Kale, and Ardener, suggests that there was a different uniting factor for the Cameroonians. This unifying sense of identity, one that extended across inter-Cameroonian borders but not international borders, is referred to as Pan-Cameroonianism, or the Ethnic Solidarity Theory.[42] Drawing from the works of the historians before him, Bongfen Chem-Langhee, a Cameroonian historian, has written several papers regarding the impetus for unification. He suggests in “Pan-Kamerun Movement, 1949-1961” (1978) that despite the cultural difficulties inherent in a bilingual nation, Cameroonians shared a common feeling of Cameroonian-ness. Though, at the time, a portion of the population of the Southern Cameroons favored integrating into their neighbor Nigeria, the overwhelming majority felt more kinship with the French Camerounians than they did with Nigeria.[43] While there were many ethnic groups represented in the Cameroons, they united to form a Pan-Cameroonian movement in favor of reunification.

Many recent studies have explored the politics behind the UN plebiscites in 1960 and 1961. As the Cameroons approached the 1960s, there were three separate and distinct camps within their governments. One camp, based primarily in North Cameroons, with some support in South Cameroons, was referred to as the Integrationists.[44] These Integrationists wished to integrate with Nigeria, their long-mandated partner under British administration. Conversely, Ahmadu Ahidjo, the Prime Minister of the newly independent Republic of Cameroun in the East, claimed his constituency maintained an unanimous desire to reunite with the North and South Cameroons.[45] However, there was a third camp that is not often recognized in early historical accounts of independence and reunification. In “Pan-Kamerun Movement,” Chem-Langhee writes that South Cameroons, under the leadership of Premier John Ngu-Foncha, desired secession from the Cameroons as a whole to become a new independent nation unto itself.[46] In 1959, representatives from South Cameroons gathered to discuss what options should appear on the upcoming UN Plebiscites of 1960 and 1961. The conference, however, was torn by social and local bickering and accomplished little for or against reunion. Sir Sydney Phillipson, the chairman of the Conference at Mamfe, though he was a supporter of succession, wrote a study that concluded that South Cameroons was not sustainably viable without the support of either Nigeria or the Cameroun Republic.[47] Though delegates at the Mamfe Conference eventually voted overwhelmingly that the options on the ballot be either integration or succession, the UN Fourth Committee for the plebiscite was marred by infighting and global politics and did not hear the requests presented by the representatives.[48]

According to Langhee, citing multiple government documents, the United Nations denied the ballot as suggested by the Mamfe Conference for primarily political factors. Britain, a staunch liberal and anti-communist nation, supported the integration of the Cameroons with Nigeria, while Russia and the Eastern Bloc backed the UPC and anti-colonial nationalists in their support of reunification. In reality, while neither the communists nor the capitalists of the United Nations served to gain anything by the outcome of Cameroon’s independence, the political agendas of the Cold War determined the fate of Cameroon in many ways. Propaganda efforts in Cameroon and the UN cast tribalism in a bad light that undermined South Cameroons calls for secession. Self-determinism was a, “can of worms which, if opened, might have called for the redrawing of boundaries and endless strife,” Langhee says, and from the perspective of the Cameroons’ sponsors, this was to be avoided at all costs.[49]

Despite the best efforts of the secessionists, the plebiscite of 1961 moved forward with only two options: integration or reunification. The plebiscite was to be voted on by all adults born in or having parents both born in the territory of South Cameroons. Not only had the UN put only two options on the ballot of the final plebiscite, Francophone Cameroun actively participated in obstructionist politics in the region. In 1960, approaching the arrival of the final plebiscite, the new Cameroun Republic sent construction equipment to work on the road connecting Mamfe and Kumba, two towns that were on either side of the Anglophone/Francophone border.[50] Also, political “hooliganism,” led especially by the French Cameroonian Welfare Union (FCWU), disrupted lectures and intimidated voters. In further acts of persuasion, it seems French nationalist music was even broadcast via Land Rover equipped with loudspeakers that was driven through South Cameroons in the days leading up to the plebiscite.[51] As Joseph Lon-Nfi pointed out in his article, “Foreign Influence in Elections in Cameroon: French Cameroonians in the Southern Cameroons 1961 Plebiscite” (2011), the results of the plebiscite in South Cameroons may have been considerably skewed by votes from both French Camerounians and Nigerians. According to Nfi, on the eve of the final plebiscite, the KNDP, the hyper-nationalist reunification party with Foncha at its helm, ushered hundreds of French Cameroonians across the border to vote. These French Cameroonians, because it was so difficult to ascertain their true citizenship in a state with no birth certificates, Nfi argues, ultimately swayed the vote in the South Cameroons towards reunification.[52]

Study and debate regarding the true nature of reunification continues after the turn of the twenty-first century. At the fiftieth anniversary of Cameroon’s independence, several scholars shed further light on the events of the 1960s and the repercussions of its hurried and slapdash reunification. It seems even today that the region of Southwestern Cameroon wishes to secede from the Republic of Cameroon to become an independent republic. The Ambazonia Political Party, taking its name from the native term for the region surrounding the Wouri River, demands independence from a “cruel form of subjugation by a fellow African country.”[53] In his article, “Occupation of Public Space: Anglophone Nationalism in Cameroon,” written in 2004, Nantang Jua, a Cameroonian scholar and lecturer at the University of Buea in Western Cameroon, analyzes the efforts of “anglophone marginalization, assimilation, and exploitation by the francophone-dominated state.”[54]  These efforts, Jua Says, have gone unnoticed by francophone scholars of Cameroon. The state’s autocratic policies of the last half century have stifled academic pursuits in the West of Cameroon, and, as Jua states in “Scholarship Production in Cameroon: Interrogating a Recession” (2002), “intellectual endeavors, though already negligible, continue to recede.”[55] The idea of nationisme, the author’s term for the nation-building agenda supported by an “ultra-minor elite,” is a project of the authoritarian state’s efforts to marginalize Anglophone Cameroon. The nationalist feelings of South-Western Cameroon are merely an “unexpected, recent invention,” from the francophone perspective, he says. However, anglophone nationalism is not a recent development by socio-political elites that were not “invited to dinner,” as Jua says.[56] It has, however, posed a challenge and a threat to the unitarian, and at times autocratic, nation-building efforts of the state for fifty years. Put into political context, Emmanuel Yenshu-Vubo, a professor of sociology at the University of Buea, finds that the reintegration of Southern Cameroons into the Cameroun Republic, and the promise of a true federation and future autonomy, was offered due to “political expedience” rather than through the process of popular sovereignty.[57] This rushed reintegration, with the Francophone Cameroun Premier Ahidjo in its charge, was encouraged by the political discord of the UPC’s insurrection attempts.[58] These efforts centralized the states functions and prompted the autocratic policies of the ruling party that have lasted more than five decades.[59]

Benedict Anderson, a leading scholar of the post-modern world, suggests that a nation is a socially constructed community of people that may never actually meet. The members of a nation, an “imagined community”, have but temporal coincidence and are often only aware of others in their community through written language, shared through news media.[60] The observation that ethnic groups are not naturally occurring phenomena is a fairly recent occurrence in the world of social science.[61] An ethnic identity is a fluid and ever-changing concept of the post-modern world. Accompanying the birth of nationalism, in a process called ethnogenesis, an imagined community often self-identifies with a race or an ethnicity; these identities constructed seemingly out of thin air.[62] However, the ghosts of race and nation are not singularly determined by region, tribe, language, or religion. While all of these factors play a part, the true generation of a nation is imagined, social, internal, and does not rely on any single source.

Countries, like people, are not born with an identity; they acquire them through a long process of learning and growth. Martin Lipset, in The First New Nation, admits that the growth of a national identity is “a process which is a notoriously painful affair.”[63] The culture of Cameroon, it seems, is not just bilingual; it is also bicultural. The imagined, cultural identities of the British Cameroons have English-speaking Cameroonians as a common denominator, but scholars of multiple perspectives deny that language is the single defining characteristic of “anglophone-ness.”[64] The culture of South-Western Cameroon has been equally defined by half a century of “experiences of ‘other-ness’ and second-class citizenship.”[65] In an interview with an unnamed, “highly-placed Anglophone bureaucrat” in Western Cameroon in 1998, Dickson Eyoh, a professor of political science at the University of Toronto, Canada, found:

“No matter how bilingual you are, if you enter an office and demand something in French, because of your accent, the messenger may announce your arrival simply as ‘une anglo’, or respond in a manner intended to mock. You know that stereotypes are a normal part of life in Cameroon and the world over…but the constant reminder that as an Anglophone, you are different, creates the impression that we are second-class citizens.”[66]

The attempts to characterize a nation-state are “constructs of liberal discourse,” Eyoh says in his “Conflicting Narratives of Anglophone Protest” (1998).[67] These concepts are not invented or imagined by the population but are remitted by outside forces. In scholars’ attempts to standardize and categorized “nation-hood,” nations are further subject to revision and redefinition. [68] At its heart, Eyoh says, the ongoing issues between cultural and national identity are indicative of the nation’s experiments in “individual and collective rights to representation.”[69] Vubo suggests that the policies of the post-colonial Cameroonian state have intended to assimilate and extinguish one aspect of that identity. Success in integrating the states of identity and nationhood “can only be achieved when people are directed to manage the various levels of identity themselves.”[70] Cameroonians may then, “freely consider themselves as Nso, English-speaking-Cameroonian, and Cameroonian at the same time.”[71]

Vubo finds two levels of historical awareness of culture: one attached to specific personal needs and the other characterized by a global understanding of nationhood.[72] Inasmuch as the construction of an imagined community decides who or what a nation is, a nation determines itself by deciding who or what it is not. West Cameroonians, as recently as 2006, expressed clearly that they did not identify with the Francophone Cameroun population. They identified even less with the Nigerians from across the border though, and were often heard grumbling about Nigerian immigrants who had come to Cameroon to open businesses.[73] Can these senses of shared Cameroonian identity and Nigerian other-ness have led to solidarity within the Cameroons or at least to an idea of Cameroon-ness? Vubo finds, drawing inspiration from Weber and Chazan’s definitions of cultural identity, that ethnicity is a “subjective perception” that has in its foundation, a feeling of shared, historical awareness.[74] Further, “identity formation is deeply entrenched at the local historical community level, while it is still problematic at the modern state level.”[75] Can communities, then, learn to live dually within the conceptual identities of individual culture and national state, he asks? Still, half a century after reunification, many of the people of Cameroon identify most with others in their own small village; their town politics strongly influenced by inherited tribal hierarchies.[76]

Stéphane Mallarmé, a French scholar and philosopher, said, “To name is to destroy, to suggest is to create.”[77] To create a name for something as objective as a region of land is a fairly straightforward affair. The region of Cameroon, its borders drawn by four different rulers within one hundred years, is named after a derivative of the Portuguese Camarões, the shrimp living in the Wouri River. By christening Cameroon, the various colonial leaders of the region christened a group of people as well. In the case of something as vaguely subjective and invisible as a nation of people, to name is to give to a mere concept a structural framework upon which it may grow. However, as Mallarmé has suggested, while the concept may grow and change, it is limited to the framework of the name and may not grow beyond it. Would Mallarmé then say that the people of Southern Cameroons were destroyed? Were they limited to a life as Cameroonians, even though they wished to create an independent nation unto themselves?

The framework of this name is complex for the people of South-West Cameroon. While having been part of the colony of the once-great Kamerun, like their francophone compatriots, the people of Southern Cameroons do not share either language or culture with the rest of the Cameroonian population. Neither do they share a common culture with the Nigerians that once governed them. Yet, they united with their francophone brothers and sisters, and will defend their Cameroonian nationality as hotly today as they did fifty years ago.[78] It would seem then that the imperialist christening of Cameroon— the naming of a land and a people— is the most significantly unifying feature of the Cameroonian people’s shared identity. By creating a name for the region Cameroon and by the drawing of its borders, it would seem that the European colonial rulers provided a framework upon which the pan-ethnic and pan-lingual Cameroons could find solidarity enough to reunite into one federation. It appears the river prawns of the Wouri, the Ghost Shrimp, are more influential than they once seemed. Perhaps it was not God who had made Cameroon and its people as Um-Nyobe said; it was the Cameroonian people who had created themselves.

[1]           A “Njanga” is a shrimp or prawn in Pidgin English, the common dialect of Southwestern Cameroon. A “Mololo” is a fish about the size of a herring. This traditional Cameroonian children’s song is simply about a strange event. Sometimes, something as small as a crayfish can devour something that is larger than itself. Accessed April 29, 2013.

[2]               Vitor T. LeVine and Roger P. Nye, Historical Dictionary of Cameroon, African Historical Dictionaries, No. 1 (Metuchen, NJ: The Scarecrow Press, 1974), 131.

[3]               LeVine, Historical Dictionary, 51.

[4]               Prosser Gifford and W.M. Roger Louis, France and Britain in Africa: Imperial Rivalry and Colonial Rule (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1971), 518.

[5]               Pat Ritzenthaler, The Fon of Bafut (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1966), 5-6.

[6]               LeVine, Historical Dictionary, 108.

[7]               Victor T. LeVine, The Cameroons: From Mandate to Independence (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1964), xi.

[8]               Stephen Jay Greenblat, Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), 83.

[9]               LeVine, Historical Dictionary, 132.

[10]             Ibid.

[11]             Mark W. DeLancey, Cameroon: Dependence and Independence (San Francisco: Westview Press, 1989), 8-15.

[12]             LeVine, Historical Dictionary, 134.

[13]             Ndiva Kofele-Kale, “The Pan-Kamerun Movement, 1949-1961” An African Experiment in Nation Building: The Bilingual Cameroon Republic Since Reunification, ed. Ndiva Kofele-Kale, Westview Special Studies on Africa (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1980), 27.

[14]             League of Nations, Covenant of the League of Nations, Article 22 (June 28, 1919).

[15]             League of Nations, Covenant of the League of Nations, Article 22 (June 28, 1919).

[16]             J.D. Fage and Roland Oliver, The Cambridge History of Africa, Vol. 8: from c. 1940 to c. 1975 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1984), 616.

[17]             Le Vine, From Mandate to Independence, 193.

[18]             “Take up the White Man’s burden–The savage wars of peace” in Rudyard Kipling’s “White Man’s Burden”, 1899.

[19]             Fage and Oliver, Cambridge History of Africa, 616.

[20]             United Nations, Charter of the United Nations, Chapter XII: Articles 75-85 (June 26, 1945).

[21]             Bongfen Chem-Langhee, The Paradoxes of Self Determinism in the Cameroons Under United Kingdom Administration: The Search for Identity, Well-Being and Continuity (Lanham, MD: University Press of America, Inc., 2004), 5

[22]             Langhee, The Paradoxes of Self Determinism, 5.

[23]             Langhee, “The Pan-Kamerun Movement,” 25.

[24]             Langhee, Paradoxes, 11.

[25]             Ibid.

[26]             Ibid.

[27]             Ibid., 198.

[28]             LeVine, Mandate to Independence, vii.

[29]             LeVine, Historical Dictionary, 117.

[30]             Ibid., 104.

[31]             Ibid., 135.

[32]             Ibid., 136.

[33]             Ibid.

[34]             Ibid., 100.

[35]             LeVine, Mandate to Independence, 31.

[36]             Ndiva Kofele-Kale, “Reconciling the Dual Heritage: Reflections on the “Kamerun Idea”,” An African Experiment in Nation Building: The Bilingual Cameroon Republic Since Reunification, ed. Ndiva Kofele-Kale, Westview Special Studies on Africa (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1980), 12.

[37]             Langhee, “The Pan-Kamerun Movement,” 27.

[38]             Kale, “Reconciling the Dual Heritage,” 3.

[39]             Ibid., 8.

[40]             Ibid., 9 & 19.

[41]             Ndiva Kofele-Kale, “The Political Culture of Anglophone Cameroon: Contrasts in Rural-Urban Orientations Toward the Nation” An African Experiment in Nation Building: The Bilingual Cameroon Republic Since Reunification, ed. Ndiva Kofele-Kale, Westview Special Studies on Africa (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1980), 67.

[42]             Kale, “Reconciling the Dual Heritage,” 9.

[43]             Ibid., 10.

[44]             Langhee, “Pan-Kamerun Movement,” 51.

[45]             Ibid., 40.

[46]             Ibid., 30.

[47]             Langhee, Paradoxes, 14.

[48]             Langhee, “Pan-Kamerun Movement,” 55.

[49]             Langhee, Paradoxes, 13-14.

[50]             Joseph Lon-Nfi, “Foreign Influence in Elections in Cameroon: French Cameroonians in the Southern Cameroons 1961 Plebiscite” Cameroon Journal on Democracy and Human Rights, Vol. 5: No. 1 (June 2011),  60.

[51]             Ibid., 60.

[52]             Ibid.

[53]             Bouddih Adams, “Ambazonia Political Party Formed,” Up Station Mountain Club (July 23, 2004), (accessed April 20, 2013).

[54]             Nantang Jua and Piet Konings, “Occupation of Public Space, Anglophone Nationalism in Cameroon (Occupation de l’Espace Public, Le Nationalism Anglophone au Cameroun).” Cahiers d’Etudes Africaines, Vol. 44: Cahier 175, (2004), 610.

[55]             Nantang B. Jua and Francis B. Nyamnjoh, “Scholarship Production in Cameroon: Interrogating a Recession” African Studies Review, Vol. 45: No. 2 (2002), 71.

[56]             Jua and Konings, “Occupation of Public Space,” 610.

[57]             Emmanuel Yenshu-Vubo, “Levels of Historical Awareness: The Development of Identity and Ethnicity in Cameroon,” Cahiers d’Etudes Africaines, Vol. 43: Cahier 171 (EHESS, 2003), 596. (accessed March 7, 2013).

[58]             Ibid., 596.

[59]             Ibid., 596.

[60]             See Benedict Anderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism (New York: Verso Books, 1983).

[61]             Christopher A. Airriess and Ines M. Miyares, “Exploring Contemporary Ethnic Geographies,” Contemporary Ethnic Geographies in America, ed. Ines M. Miyares and Christopher A. Airriess (Boulder, CO: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2007), 6.

[62]             Wilber Zellinsky, The Enigma of Ethnicity: Another American Dilemma (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2001), 43-44.

[63]             Martin Lipset, The First New Nation (New York: Anchor Books, 1967), 18.

[64]             Jua and Konings, “Occupation of Public Space,” 610.

[65]             Ibid., 628.

[66]             Dickson Eyoh, “Conflicting Narratives of Anglophone Protest and the Politics of Identity in Cameroon,” Journal of Contemporary African Studies (1998), 263.

[67]             Ibid., 249.

[68]             Ibid.

[69]             Ibid., 271.

[70]             Vubo, “Levels of Historical Awareness,” 621.

[71]             Ibid., 621.

[72]             Ibid., 560.

[73]             Graham T. Baden, “Cameroon Journals,” (2006). The Author spent six months volunteering for Non Government Organizations in Cameroon during the first half of 2006, and recorded rigorous notes of the experience.

[74]             Vubo, “Levels of Historical Awareness,” 592. See N.R. Chazan’s Politics and Society in Contemporary Africa (1992) and Max Weber’s concept of “Verstehen.”

[75]             Vubo, “Levels of Historical Awareness,” 591.

[76]             Baden, “Cameroon Journals”.

[77]             Stéphane Mallarmé, interviewed by Jules Huret, Enquete sur l’Evolution Littéraire (Paris: Fasquelle, 1913), 55-65.

[78]             Baden, “Cameroon Journals”.

i            A “Njanga” is a shrimp or prawn in Pidgin English, the common dialect of Southwestern Cameroon. A “Mololo” is a fish about the size of a herring. This traditional Cameroonian children’s song is simply about a strange event. Sometimes, something as small as a crayfish can devour something that is larger than itself. Accessed April 29, 2013.

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Mallarmé, Stéphane interviewed by Jules Huret. Enquete sur l’Evolution Littéraire, Paris: Fasquelle, 1913. Accessed April 25, 2013.

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Airriess, Christopher and Ines M. Miyares. “Exploring Contemporary Ethnic Geographies.” In Contemporary Ethnic Geographies in America, edited by Ines M. Miyares and Christopher A. Airriess, 1-26. Boulder, CO: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2007.

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Joseph, R.A. Radical Nationalism in Cameroon: Social Origins of the UPC Rebellion. London: Oxford University Press, 1977.

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Jua, Nantang and Francis B. Nyamnjoh. “Scholarship Production in Cameroon: Interrogating a Recession.” African Studies Review 45, No. 2, 2004. Accessed March 17, 2013.

Kofele-Kale, Ndiva. An African Experiment in Nation Building: The Bilingual Cameroon Republic Since Reunification. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, Inc., 1980.

Ritzenthaler, Pat. The Fon of Bafut. New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Co., 1966.

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Lipset, Martin. The First New Nation, New York: Anchor Books, 1967.

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Yeshu-Vubo, Emmanuel. “Levels of Historical Awareness: The Development of Identity and Ethnicity in Cameroon.” Caheirs d’Etudes Africaines 43, Cahier 171 (2003): 591-628. EHESS. (Accessed March 7, 2013).

Zellinsky, Wilber. The Enigma of Ethnicity: Another American Dilemma. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2001.

2 comments on “Imagining a Bilingual Nation: A Study of Cameroon’s Independence and Reunification at its Fiftieth Anniversary

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