Regarding Race, Nation, and Our Future

Written Work by Graham T. Baden

Pan-African, Pan-Cameroonian: The Exceptionalism and Entanglement of Cameroon’s Independence History




Pan-African, Pan-Cameroonian:

The Exceptionalism and Entanglement

of Cameroon’s Independence History


The Republic of Cameroon is known affectionately by many names. For geographic reasons, it is known in travel books as “The Hinge of Africa;” locally, sometimes as the “The Armpit.” Because nearly every weather and ecological system found elsewhere in Africa is represented in one country, the region is often referred to fondly as “Africa in Miniature.” Though it received this, its most popular name, for its incredible variety of biological conditions, the term could also be used to describe the unique historical position Cameroon occupies in the story of decolonization. Within a nation often overlooked in Africa’s historical narrative, one might be surprised to find a variety of political actors and anti-colonial agents exposed for further avenues of historical analysis.

Between the end of the Second World War and the beginning of the Swinging Sixties, three dozen new states achieved autonomous independence from the colonial rulers they had known since the “Scramble for Africa” of the late nineteenth century. Decolonization was a dramatic cultural and political shift on a global scale, but followed no single course of evolution. Some regions shifted smoothly and peacefully. Others however, notably in regions with high populations of white settlers, took a more militant path and achieved sovereignty only through intense periods of violent revolution. Some new African nations acquired stable governments almost immediately after independence; others found them only after decades of authoritarianism and civil war. Here, like in its geography, Cameroon offers an exceptional example as a microcosm of the African continent. As also in many other nations of Africa, the national politics and cultural identity of the fledgling nation is as confused today as it was when it was formed. It has continued to be a point of contention even after the turn of the twenty-first century.

Beginning after the Brazzaville Conference and the passing of the loi cadre, France introduced legal reforms that allowed for greater authority within local governments. By a plebiscite held in 1956 that declared French Cameroun to be a sovereign state, a series of territories known collectively as the Cameroons began a slow process of independence and reunification that was finalized in 1961, when it became the Federal Republic of Cameroon. This independence was made more complicated by the conflict between native African leaders’ deep attachments to France and their desire to express independent African action apart from the metropole.

The Union Populaire Camerounais,Cameroon’s first political party and native association, was formed just after the end of the Second World War. Though the UPC was the most well-organized, best-established, and popularly-regarded party of Cameroon in the 1950s, it failed to achieve its political goals and fell from favor before Cameroon could realize its independence. Due to intra-party competition and political division, neither of its goals were accomplished before its fall from power. Further, though the UPC was vilified and attacked by the French-sponsored National Assembly during its rise to popularity— its two leading members assassinated by French forces— their characters, goals, and rhetoric were appropriated by the assimilationist-leaning moderates of the National Assembly and used to seize popularity and authority for the Ahidjo regime.

One primary reason for Cameroon’s exceptional uniqueness is its relationship with Europe. Over the course of less than a century, it participated in deep cultural and political exchanges with three different European nations: France, Britain, and Germany. From Germany, Cameroon was introduced to its first unified “national” identity by the bordering of colonial “Kamerun” in 1884. From France it learned the assimilationist policies of localized administration and rule from the metropole. From Britain it learned the associationist practices of “rule by proxy” by “Native Authorities.” This triple-colonial relationship, causing political divisions that continue today, is due directly to the failures of the League of Nations “Mandate” and the United Nations “Trust” systems. These determined the course of Cameroonian politics from 1917 until its independence in 1961.


Germany arrived late to Europe’s imperial game of colonial checkers. With the invention of flat-bottom boats and the implementation of Quinine, led by the power of the Maxim Gun, European nations stretched their empires onto African soil. They sought resources and energy with which to power the engine of the Industrial Revolution. France, Britain, and Portugal had already partitioned most of Africa by the time Germany raised its flag above the small colonies of Togo and Kamerun in West Africa and the broader savannas of German East & South-West Africas in 1884. After a brief twenty years, and the carnage of the First World War, Germany’s time in Africa was ended. The Treaty of Versailles stripped the conflict’s aggressors of their imperial possessions worldwide and allotted them to the Allies. The League of Nations Mandate declared Kamerun to be transferred to the authority, jurisdiction, and “tutelage” of France and Britain in 1919. The League of Nations Covenant’s ultimate goal was that these territories would be guided by the Allies to their eventual independence. In practice, though, Article 22 of the Covenant was too imprecise. The imperial powers of Britain and France sought the inevitable end of Mandate status and the territories’ integration into the Crown Commonwealth and the French Community.

After the dissolving of the League and the tumult of the post-World War II political shifts, the United Nations Charter attempted to dissolve any ambiguities of the Mandate with the implementation of the new “Trusteeship System.” 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.” The Charter maintained the French and British as the Cameroons’ sponsors, but from an imperial perspective, placed the relationship on shakier footing. Britain and France became unsure of the future of these Trusteeships, and the citizens of the localities groaned for autonomy.

This “trust” relationship was insufficient at best. Both France and Britain invested far more energy and resources into their colonial holdings than they did their Trust Territories.The French government ruled their colonies directly, promising assimilation to become citoyens of the French Empire, but invested less in infrastructure than their German predecessors, even demanding indigénat, forced labor. The British practiced “indirect rule,” installing “native chiefs” and utilizing local political structures. In Anglophone Cameroons, though, for ease of legislation, these political structures were not even Cameroonian, but Nigerian! By the French use of indigénat and British governance not just by proxy, but by proxy-proxy, the two imperial systems of colonial legislation are highlighted exquisitely.

Neither of these systems were administered efficiently. The 1958 UN Visiting Mission found conditions to be unfavorable and incomplete in both the Anglophone and Francophone portions of Cameroon. Even before the end of the Second World War, Cameroonian Nationalist feelings had begun to grow. By 1941, Peter M. Kale, originally from Lagos Nigeria, and Emmanuel Endeley established the Cameroons Youth League (CYL), a Cameroonian common-interest and welfare association. These two also aided Nnamdi Azikiwe, interestingly another Nigerian, in the founding of the National Council of Nigeria and Cameroons (NCNC).[1] These associations were neither political parties, nor native to Cameroon, but led to the foment of the nationalistic feelings within South Cameroons that would come to a boil within a decade.


As the colonized world grew to political independence in the first post-war years, many nations, following especially the example of Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi’s non-violent revolution in India, achieved sovereignty through a smooth political process. Beginning with the ouster of France from Indochina (now Vietnam) in 1954, though, a series of violent revolts rocked through the colonies. The “Mau Mau Rebellion” of Kenya, intermittent guerrilla wars in Zimbabwe, and decades of racial turmoil in South Africa tinged the rising tide of African consciousness with their isolated occurrences of struggle. Here again, finding its inclusion in this short list of violent uprisings, we encounter another case of Cameroonian exceptionalism.

Like Kenya, Algeria, and South Africa, Cameroon had a sizable population of European settlers. Plantation owners from Britain, France, Switzerland, and the Netherlands all occupied the fertile areas of the south-western highlands. The German population however, remaining in the now-Anglophone region despite the change of colonial authority, outnumbered all the others combined. Though the total populations of white settlers numbered in the low hundreds, their plantations, stretching for thousands of acres, employed over 30,000 Africans from both Cameroon and Nigeria between 1925 and 1955.[2] Especially in Anglophone Cameroon, European influences and authorities competed for land and resources.

When the African continent shed the yoke of colonial subjugation, it entered into an era with a new form of repression, often referred to as “neo-colonialism.” Sometimes, filling the vacuums left by the flight of metropolitan authority, new African leaders grew fat off the gifts of foreign capital. These new nations were funded by foreign investments and built on the backs of an impoverished population. Often, in regions with heterogeneous communities, ethnic and religious strife was drawn by hastily erected borders and unpopular representation. Though they had neither prompted it, nor encouraged it, Africans were drawn into a global conflict of polarized factions; a Cold War that offered limited political options or avenues of progression.

The new nations of Africa, born in the ashes of Empire, were thrust into a world bifurcated by polarized political systems. These systems were so diametrically opposed, their armies lined up across borders and erected the walls that divided the world. They paired off, aiming their bombs and their rockets; their military dominance matched in a dance of mutually assured destruction. The only thing that saved the world, it seems, was the assurance that, after a political war of nuclear scale, there would be no world left over to govern. The Eurasian Cold War was one of rumors and threats, not of bullets. It was not merely cold, it was frozen in stalemate.


With the independent factors introduced by Africa’s new nations, however, the balance of power within the United Nations was tested. Africa’s Cold War was not just hot, it was muggy. There were few political options for these new nations: they could accept external influence and enter into a Neo-Colonial alliance with the Americans or Soviets, or, as a growing number of Pan-Africanists and Afro-Asian leaders suggested, they could remain “non-aligned.”

Beginning with intellectuals like Marcus Garvey and W.E.B. Dubois, just after the turn of the century, Pan-Africanists fought for solidarity, cultural consciousness, and the return of power to the peoples of Africa. As Gamal Abdel Nasser rose to leadership in Egypt during Britain’s post-war withdrawal, Kwame Nkruma of Ghana and Ahmed Sékou Touré of Guinea led their nations to independence and rallied behind the Pan-African flag. Felix Houphouet-Boigny, who would later lead Cote d’Ivoire to a moderate and lasting independence in 1959, founded the Rassemblement Democratique Africaine (RDA) at Bamako, Mali in 1946. The RDA was a strong advocate of Pan-African alliances within Françafrique and soon joined with the French Communist Party (PCF), a staunch supporter of anti-imperialism and decolonization. Other post-colonial communities joined the non-aligned movement worldwide and, as Afro-Asian leaders met at the Bandung Conference in Indonesia during the spring of 1955, Africa’s political climate came to a boil.


On the 10th of April, 1948, Ruben Um Nyobé, Felix Moumie, Ernest Ouandie’, and Abel Kingue’ joined with a handful of other Cameroonian union leaders and middling professionals at a cafe’ in Douala, Cameroun to found the UPC upon the ruins of the Rassemblement Camerounaise (RACAM) trade union. It was almost immediately incorporated into the local RDA to become its Cameroonian wing. Ruben Um Nyobé, a government clerk turned labor organizer, became the director general of the UPC and was soon elected Vice President of the RDA. By 1950, the UPC had become “by all odds, the best organized political party in the Cameroun,” says Victor Le Vine, a primary source of Cameroon’s independence history.[3]

It seems, the UPC’s mission was strongly inspired by the “Ewe Issue” in British-French Togo, another Trust Territory. Togo was reunited to become one nation, due in large part to the Ewe People’s desire to be reunited despite the arbitrary boundaries erected by the Mandate System.[4] During the 1950s, the UPC’s propaganda teams released the Voix du Peuple du Cameroun newspaper, and demanded Cameroonian reunification. Heeding these calls for action, Nyobé travelled to the UN in 1952, and again in 1953 and 1955, to express Cameroon’s wishes. He decried France’s failure to fulfill the obligations of the Trust agreement and called for Cameroon’s immediate independence and autonomy.

Though the UPC received growing popularity in the Cameroons, most explicitly in the urbanized workers of the coastal, Anglophone South West, the French local administration prevented the UPC from gaining seats in the Cameroonian National Assembly. Despite the frenzied atmosphere of French colonies during the 1950s, while Vietnam and Algeria underwent violent revolutions, the moderates of the Cameroonian National Assembly were heavily influenced by French assimilationist politics. Louis Ajoulat, the Deputy of Cameroun, and Roland Pre’, the High Commissioner, took a hard line against the UPC and refused them any political agency. In response to the uncooperative administration, and its failures at the UN, the UPC turned increasingly to active militancy and violence. In 1955, the UPC incited a series of worker strikes that degenerated into riots. Cars were overturned, shops were sacked, and houses, schools, and churches were burned.[5] In return, French supported forces from Dakar and French Equatorial Africa stamped these riots out brutally, and the UPC was outlawed as a political party within French Cameroun.


Because of the state’s intense repression of the UPC nationalist movement, Nyobé and Moumié fled to Anglophone British Cameroons, where they attempted to rebuild their organization’s authority in hopes of capturing seats in the coming loi cadre elections of 1956. The relationship between French and British Cameroonian politics became convoluted during the lead-up to these elections, though. Leading political contenders, adopting platforms of integration, dissociation, and sometimes both, blurred the boundaries of Pan-Africanism and Pan-Cameroonianism. For example, during their flight from French Cameroun,  the UPC was provided political refuge in the city of Kumba by another Pan-Cameroonian reunificationist named J.N. Foncha, the leader of the Kamerun Nationalist Democratic Party (KNDP). He would later become Vice President of the Federal Republic of Cameroon. Often, the same historical actors and political parties that joined sides fell from favor within months. The UPC’s time in Anglophone Cameroons was brief, but their militant advocacy continued to cost the lives of many in the South West. Reports vary, but estimates range from 300 to 2,000 total killed. As Africa’s political climate became increasingly favorable to national independence, and the PCF was finally ousted from their seats in French parliament, Boigny steered the RDA steadily towards a more moderate policy of cooperation and assimilation. Because violence remained the UPC’s chief method of political instigation, they were asked to leave the RDA, suffering their second political blow and a steady loss of Cameroonian popularity.

When the UPC was finally expelled from the Anglophone Cameroons by British forces in 1957, the first native Cameroonian party was forced to seek external Pan-African and ex-colonized solidarity. At this juncture, the party was divided. Moumié, Ouandié, and Kingué fled to Cairo, where they were housed by President Nasser and allowed to establish radio and newspaper broadcasts aimed at supporting the greater goal of Pan-Africanism. Nyobé, however, stayed in Cameroon, operating underground and developing the “maquis,” UPC’s nationalist guerrilla movement. Reasons for this division are unclear, but analysis of Cameroonian historiography reveals a primary conflict between Nyobé’s singular Pan-Cameroonian goals and Moumié’s grander Pan-Africanist goals. Whatever the cause, this division would soon spell the UPC’s ultimate defeat within Cameroonian nationalist structures.


Due to the primary differences of French and British styles of colonial authority, the Anglophone and Francophone Cameroons differed fundamentally in their methods of political interest and expression. This, coupled with the contradictions of UPC leadership, led to two divergent calls within Cameroon. Nyobé, though he continued to lead the violent upheavals of the maquis, grew more aligned with Pan-Cameroonianism and French separatism, seeking only to reunite Cameroons into the Kamerunian whole as it was under German authority. Felix Moumié, however, would have agreed with Julius Nyerere, the first president of Tanzania, when he wrote, “African nationalism is meaningless, is anachronistic, and is dangerous if it is not at the same time Pan-Africanism.”[6]

UPC’s independence and reuinificationist work, as well as the violent repercussions of the worker uprisings of the late 50s, solicited letters of support from both Nkruma of Ghana and Nasser of Egypt.[7] The historiography is unclear, and often biased by continuing nationalist sentiments, but it appears that the UPC’s Moumié faction applied for admission to multiple different newly independent nations. Ghana, India, and Sudan are often mentioned; Moumié seems to have spent some time in Khartoum where he was visited by Nkruma at least once. After being granted asylum in Nasser’s Egypt, Moumié entered a hotbed of international independence fighters and was given a position in the Afro-Asian solidarity movement.[8] Sources are unclear, but it seems he moved regularly between Guinea, Ghana, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, and even China and the Soviet Union where he acquired guns and ammunition for Nyobé’s Cameroonian maquis. According to an interview with Moumié’s wife, conducted by a doctoral candidate in 2008, Moumié even became good friends with Patrice Lamumba of Congo and travelled there in 1960.[9]


            The UPC’s other wing, led by Nyobé, took a violent turn after the 1956 election of Andre-Marie Mbida as Premier of the National Assembly. In 1957, after the UPC’s repeated attempts to capture seats in the Assembly and the denial of Nyobé’s amnesty requests for all the imprisoned upécistes, Nyobé’s maquis resorted dramatically to violence on an unprecedented scale, turning to a scorched-earth policy of assassination and brutality. Often, it seems, these battles were fueled as much by intra-revolutionary schisms as they were by tribal competition, though. Especially between the Bassa, Mungo, and Bamileke peoples, these terrorist activities seem to have caused more harm than good to the UPC ralliément. Within a year, lasting only from September of 1957 to October of 1958, despite change of government to Ahmadou Ahidjo, a more nationalist Premier, 371 rebels were killed, 104 wounded, and almost 900 were arrested.[10]

In a surprise ambush at his hiding place near his home in Boumnyébel, the heart of the upécistes left the rebellion. Ruben Um Nyobé was killed by a military patrol on September 13, 1958, and a few days later Theodore Mayi-Matnip, his close associate, surrendered to the authorities.[11] Meanwhile, as Moumié continued his jet-set Pan-Africanist lifestyle, he was invited to dinner in Geneva to interview with a journalist in January 1960. Whether the mistake was due to Moumié’s egotism or ignorance, his dinner “interview” would be his last. Jacques Foccart, working for the French Secret Service, poisoned Moumié with Thallium and decided the final end of UPC leadership.[12]


            Ahmadou Ahidjo rose to Premiership after Mbida’s short and tumultuous time as leader of the National Assembly in 1958. In the following two years, before Cameroun’s independence and reunification with the Cameroons, the UPC continued to be hunted by government forces and defamed by the National Assembly. Despite their demonization during the run-up to independence, Ahidjo utilized the characters of Nyobé and Moumié as heroes of independence and appropriated the UPC’s narrative to strengthen the government’s nationalistic rhetoric. Ahidjo ultimately rode this wave of hijacked nationalistic fervor to become the first president of the Federal Republic of Cameroon in 1961; a position he retained until his resignation in 1982 for health reasons. Neville Rubin writes of Nyobé, “the dead leader was acclaimed as a national hero: he was widely mourned throughout the territory and praised for his dedication and honesty by ministers and other politicians who had been his bitter foes when he was alive.”[13] Even after independence and reunification though, the UPC remained an underground, clandestine nationalist movement. Its final remaining leader Ernest Ouandié was captured and convicted of a conspiracy to assassinate president Ahidjo. He was executed by firing squad in 1971.


It seems, while many Anglophone Cameroonians wished for a united Cameroon, because of the UPC’s fight to extend the movement against divide et impera beyond the borders of Cameroon, they lost popular support after the death of Nyobé. In fact, the group’s Marxist leanings disenchanted many Anglophone nationalist groups like the KUNC and NCNC and divided leadership within the nascent Pan-Cameroonianism. The primary objective of every political organization within pre-independence Cameroon seems to have been the winning of an effective base of power. These issues, exacerbated by continued political competition, only hurt the ultimate goal of the Pan-Cameroonian front, that of reunification.

Because of their unique relationship to Europe, the UN, and Afro-Asia, their brief, but violent uprising during the 50s, and the conflicting goals of Pan-Africanism and Pan-Cameroonianism, the history of Cameroon is representative of the many struggles and triumphs experienced throughout the continent. Truly, Cameroon seems both geographically and culturally an excellent example of “Africa in Miniature.” But more, Ruben Um Nyobémay have been correct in saying “Dieu a créé un seul Cameroun, c’est là le point de départ.[14] Whether Cameroon was created by God or its people themselves, its creation was only the beginning of the story, and it has continued to be an African microcosm for fifty years.

Today, there are statues of Nyobé, dedicated in honor of his cry for Cameroonian independence. His image, with arm outstretched and briefcase in hand, was erected in Eseka by the modern UPC in 2007. Though the inauguration, local journalism suggests, was boycotted by government representatives, the figure of Nyobé remains a key national hero and figurehead of the Cameroonian anti-colonialist movement.[15] Partly because of his underground activities, and partly because of his almost mythological influence within Cameroonian nationalist politics, he remains an important figure in Cameroon’s historical memory. The nation remains a center of nationalist debate and an intermediary between the Anglophone and Francophone, Christian and Muslim factions that dominate West-African politics. South Cameroons, who argued for secession during the plebiscites of the 60s and has recently declared itself to be the independent nation of “Ambazonia,” remains as outspoken a community as ever it was.


[1]               Victor T. LeVine, The Cameroons: From Mandate to Independence (Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1964), 199-200.

[2]               Le Vine, Mandate, 124, 196.

[3]               LeVine, Mandate , 148.

[4]               Le Vine, Mandate, 148 and Neville N. Rubin, Cameroun: An African Federation (New York: Praeger Publishers, 1971), 64.

[5]               Rubin, Cameroun, 67.

[6]               Julius Nyerere, Speeches and Writings, cited in Issa G. Shivji, “The Rise, the Fall, and the Insurrection of Nationalism in Africa.” Paper from the Keynote Address to the CODESRIA East African Regional Conference. Addis Ababa: October 29-31, 2003.

[7]               Achille Mbembe, Ruben Um Nyobé: Ecrits Sous Maquis (Paris: L’Harmattan, 1989),  57.

[8]               LeVine, Mandate, 169.

[9]               Jamie Stevenson, “The Union des Populations du Cameroon and Third World Internationalism: Solidarity, Cooperation, and Abandonment,” 2008, 24.

[10]             Rubin, Cameroun, 96.

[11]             LeVine, Mandate, 170.

[12]             Jacques Foccart, counsellor to Charles de Gaulle, Georges Pompidou and Jacques Chirac for African matters, recognized this in 1995 to Jeune Afrique review. See also Foccart parle, interviews with Philippe Gaillard, Fayard – Jeune Afrique and also “The man who ran Francafrique – French politician Jacques Foccart’s role in France’s colonization of Africa under the leadership of Charles de Gaulle – Obituary” in The National Interest, Fall 1997; Documentary : Death in Geneva – The Poisoning of Félix Moumié.

[13]             Rubin, Cameroun, 96.

[14]             Ruben Um Nyobé, “Rapport Present par Um Nyobe au 2e Congress de L’UPC”, 1952.

[15]             Dibussi Tande, Scribbles from the Den. (accessed May 1, 2014).



3 comments on “Pan-African, Pan-Cameroonian: The Exceptionalism and Entanglement of Cameroon’s Independence History

  1. how to start a blog
    September 23, 2014

    This is the right website for anybody who wishes to understand this topic.
    You understand so much its almost hard to argue with you (not that I
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    • grahamtbaden
      September 28, 2014

      Wow, thank’s for the compliment! I work hard on this stuff.

  2. Jjazz Daliton
    April 18, 2017

    Thax so much atleast i have some idea on the novel.

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