istorical Background of the Problem
Most of the territory known today as the Republic of Cameroon was a German protectorate from 1884. However, German Kamerun also included British Northern Cameroons, which elected to become part of Nigeria in the plebiscite of 1961. This protectorate was divided into British and French Cameroons in 1916 and confirmed, with some slight modifications, by the Milner-Simon Agreement of 10 July 1919. British Cameroons, which was comprised of Northern and Southern Cameroons, was one fifth and French Cameroun was four-fifths of the entire territory. They were Class B Mandated Territories of the League of Nationsuntil 1946 when they became United Nations Trust Territories.
British Cameroons and French Cameroun were separate legal and political entities and historians have postulated that although this partition was said to be temporary Britain and France instituted two different administrative styles and systems which were to impact on any subsequent movement towards eradicating the provisional nature of the partition and facilitating reunification.(3) After the Second World War, the United Nations (Article 76, b) explicitly called on the British and French to administer their respective spheres of Cameroon towards self-government. It called on the Administering Authorities to “promote the political, economic, social and educational advancement of the inhabitants of the Trust Territories, and theirprogressive development towards self-government or independence as may be appropriate to the particular circumstances of each territory and its peoples…”
Before the London Constitutional Conferences of 1957 and 1958, three political options had emerged in British Southern Cameroons, namely independence as a separate political entity, independence in association with Nigeria, and independence by reuniting with French Cameroun. The Mamfe Conference of August 1959, which was called to hammer out consensus among Southern Cameroonians on one of the options, did not succeed to arrive at a consensus. The three political options persisted, with the most popular being independence as a separate political entity, the next being association with Nigeria and the least popular being reunification with French Cameroun.
Paradoxically, the UN General Assembly Resolution 1352 (xiv) on the British Cameroons’ Plebiscite of 1961, clearly ruled out the separate independence of Southern Cameroons(4), the most popular of the three options. This was thanks to the British who tactfully blocked every chance of the Southern Cameroonians voting for independence as a separate entity, convincing the United Nations that Southern Cameroon was not economically viable and could only survive by leaning on Nigeria or the Republic of Cameroon, and recklessly steering the Mamfe All Party Conference of August 1959 to ensure that the parties did not achieve consensus(5). In fact, the British wanted Southern Cameroons to gain independence in association with Nigeria. Consequently, the two questions adopted for the plebiscite were:
Southern Cameroonians were apprehensive of this move and put pressure on John Ngu Foncha to lead a delegation to London in November 1960 to include the option of independence as a separate political entity. The request was rejected. Nevertheless, according to United Nations Resolution 1541(XV) Principles VII and VIII, Southern Cameroons was qualified to achieve independence either through association or integration which “should be on the basis of complete equality between the peoples of the erstwhile Non-Self-Governing Territory and those of the independent country with which it is integrated. The peoples of both territories should have equal status and rights”. It was with this understanding that on the 11th of February 1961 British Southern Cameroons voted to join French Cameroun while British Northern Cameroons voted to join the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Foumban Conference of 17th- 21st July 1961!
The Foumban Conference of 17th- 21st July 1961 agreed broadly what the “marriage” between the two Cameroons was going to look like. The Yaoundé Tripartite Conference of 2nd-7th August 1961 put this agreement in legal form. Worthy of note here is the fact that the draft 1961 Constitution was never presented to the Southern Cameroons House of Chiefs (SCHC) and the Southern Cameroons House of Assembly(SCHA) for deliberation and approval as should have been the case. Further, it was signed by President Ahidjo on the 1stof September 1961 as President of the Republic of Cameroon when the Federal Republic of Cameroon had not yet come into existence. Be it as it may, the two territories came together in this union as a Federation of East Cameroon and West Cameroon (1961 Constitution, Article 1-1).(6)
In September 1966, all the political parties went into dissolution to form one party in the Federal Republic of Cameroon (the Cameroon National Union), giving birth to one party rule. In 1968, Honourable Solomon Tandeng Muna was appointed to replace Honourable Augustine Ngom Jua without the required Parliamentary endorsement and in contravention of the law which did not permit Muna to handle the posts of Federal Vice President and Prime Minister of the State of West Cameroon concomitantly. Southern Cameroonians saw these moves as dictatorial and undemocratic. They had come from a multi-party democratic society where free debate, alliances, consensus, and respect for the Constitution were the accepted modus operandi.
*Referendum of 20th May 1972*
While West Cameroonians were still bracing themselves for life in a political dispensation which they regarded as imposed on them by circumstances beyond their control and struggling to cope with the manoeuvres of President Ahmadou Ahidjo, he proposed a Constitution that would make the Federal Republic a unitary state, the United Republic of Cameroon. As we all know, in those days it was politically unwise and even unsafe to hold and express views different from those of the President on any issue, and so there was no public debate on the constitution. This constitution was voted on in a national referendum organized and conducted by the Cameroon National Union (CNU), by now the sole political party in the Republic. The results show that the overwhelming majority of the electors in East and West Cameroon voted in favour of a unitary state. Looking back at what happened, many Anglophone Cameroonians now believe that this was the high-water mark of Ahidjo’s deceit and manipulation of West Cameroonians, and some have linked the birth of separatist movements in Anglophone Cameroon to this referendum.
*Subsequent Constitutional Amendments*
Three years later, the Constitution was amended to include the post of Prime Minister, appointed by the President. Following another amendment in 1979 the Prime Minister would be the constitutional successor of the President of the Republic.In 1984, a constitutional amendment changed the country’s name from the United Republic of Cameroon to the Republic of Cameroon. In the eyes of West Cameroonians, Law No 84-1 of 4 February 1984, was incontrovertible evidence that the original intentions of our Francophone brothers and sisters were to absorb Southern Cameroon and not to treat with it as equals. After thirty-threeyears of union, we had all ended up as citizens of the Republic of Cameroon or East Cameroon.