The Reunification Question in Cameroon History
The Reunification Question in Cameroon History discourse has generated controversy in Cameroon since the 1990s and hinges on the issue of the degree of commitment of Anglophone and Francophone Cameroonians to its realization. This essay provides a chronological, comprehensive, and critical survey of the reunification question. Often only part of the history is presented, either inadvertently or deliberately.
It is argued in this essay that reunification was a minority ideology conned largely to the Cameroon people of the Southwestern quadrant. That notwithstanding, its chief proponents were Francophones who conceived it, propagated it, and sustained it until the United Nations recognized it in the 1960s.
The 1961 reunification of the British Southern Cameroons and the former French Cameroons was an extraordinary event, as peoples of different colonial backgrounds decided to form a single state. It presented a counter current in postcolonial Africa to the prevailing trend of the balkanization of old political unions or blocs.
- The British and French Cameroons had been administered separately by Britain and France since 1916 and reunified against the expectations and maneuvers of the metropolitan powers in 1961.
- When the reunification question was heating up in the early 1960s, Le Vine (1961) allegorically referred to the British Cameroons as the “bride” and implied that the Republic of Cameroon was the “bridegroom.” This imagery of weaker and stronger partners is appropriate when one takes into consideration the fact that the Republic of Cameroon was ten times the area of the British Southern Cameroons, had four times its population, and had “immeasurably greater resources and a much higher level of social and economic development” (Le Vine 1976: 273).
The erudite Professor Bernard Fonlon could not resist idealizing united Cameroon as the crucible of African unity (Fonlon 1963, 1965). During the first Cameroon Republic (1961-1982), Ahmadu Ahidjo and John Ngu Foncha stood tall as the architects of reunification and dominated Cameroonian politics until Ahidjo’s political influence faded after his abdication.
The Organization of African Unity (OAU) rewarded the Cameroon nation for its peculiar Pan-African posture by naming two Secretary Generals from Cameroon: Nzo Ekanghaki (1972-1974) and William Eteki Mboumoua (1974-1978). Reunification was therefore perceived as the greatest achievement and the apotheosis of African nationalist struggles par excellence.
Political developments during the Second Cameroon Republic, particularly in the 1990s under President Paul Biya, seem to suggest that reunification was an undesirable and an unfortunate occurrence.Reunification came to be represented as villainy, a plague, an albatross around people’s necks, and anone-too-heroic act.
Against a background of incessant Anglophone agitation for a return to federalism or a secession from the union, some alleged that Anglophone Cameroonians were those who had conceived the reunification idea. One influential opinion, championed by Charles Assale (the first Prime Minister of the Federated State of East Cameroon), and popularized in Le Temoin, Le Patroite, and the Cameroon Radio Television (CRTV), held that reunification was essentially an Anglophone affair.