Anglo-French Negotiations Concerning Cameroon during World War I, 1914-1916

Anglo-French Negotiations Concerning Cameroon during World War I and the efforts to resolve them both during the Allied campaigns in the territory and at the end of the war suggest that negotiation can occur even in wartime successfully.

At the outbreak of the war, Cameroon was a German territory like Tanganyika, South West Africa, and Togoland. The Anglo-French grand strategy and war aims were to seize these territories and oust the Germans from them.

Consequently, Cameroon became the theater of an intense military struggle and a pawn of Anglo-French imperial rivalry fuelled by the conflicting territorial ambitions and claims of France and Britain.

The outcome was that both countries, after protracted and often acrimonious negotiations over pieces of territory that were typical of 19th-century imperialism, eventually abandoned a proposed condominium for the joint administration of Cameroon in favor of the outright partition of the territory although Cameroonians were absent from the negotiations.

This paper highlights the issues and traces the main stages in the evolving disagreement that led to this outcome. It is based on research conducted at the Public Record Office (PRO), now National Archives, London. I am grateful to the British Council for its generous bursary, which made it possible.

Anglo-French Negotiations Concerning Cameroon during World War I
Anglo-French Negotiations Concerning Cameroon during World War I, 1914-1916 2


When Britain and France embarked upon the joint conquest of the German colonies of Togoland and Cameroon at the outbreak of World War I, they seemed to have shelved, at least for the time being, the colonial rivalries which had often troubled their relations before the war.

If nothing else, their relatively rapid joint conquest of Togo in August 1914 seemed to encourage this view. Had this wartime cooperation continued it might have enabled them not only to conquer but also to rule those territories jointly during and after the war.

Unfortunately, no sooner had the Allied operations in Cameroon begun than the rivalries resurfaced. The reasons for this are not hard to find. France entered the campaign intent on recovering the territories of Equatorial Africa, now part Cameroon, which she had been forced to cede to Germany in 1911.

Moreover, she had not abandoned the old dream of a French Empire comprising unbroken territory between Algiers and Brazzaville (Osuntokun, 1975, p. 650).

Activities of the British

Britain, on the other hand, was anxious to capture the port town of Duala and its powerful transmission station which the Germans used to monitor shipping and other movements in the South Atlantic.

As the campaign progressed, Britain gradually developed territorial interests and ambitions in Cameroon. In general, she wished to retrieve the lost territories of the Lamido of Yola and the Shehu of Borno whose lands had been divided by the arbitrary map drawing of the partition era (Osuntokun, 1975, pp. 649- 650).

These ambitions eventually gave birth to the strained Anglo-French relations during much of the 18-month campaign. Essentially, then, the war merely provided Britain and France a pretext for further colonial conquest and annexation.

They tried to disguise this fact when, early in the campaign, they agreed to establish a condominium over the territories of Cameroon, which they had jointly conquered and occupied.

The attempted Condominium

This study will show that the projected Condominium never materialized because of the clashing territorial ambitions and claims of the two Allies.

On September 27, 1914, a party of British Marines occupied the port town of Duala, shortly after British battleship H.M.S. Challenger briefly bombarded it and secured its surrender.

The Marines were the first contingent of an Anglo-French force, variously named the African Expeditionary Force, West African Expeditionary Force, and Cameroons Expeditionary Force.

The German Surrender

After surrendering Duala, the Germans retreated into the interior of Cameroon and established the provisional capital of their administration in Yaounde, where it remained until the end of the Cameroon campaigns.

Henceforth, until the Germans were defeated and ousted from the territory in January 1916, Duala served a dual purpose as the headquarters of the Expeditionary Force, commanded by British officer Brigadier-General Charles M. Dobell and the seat of the Anglo-French administration of the occupied territories, also headed by Dobell.

It was from Duala, then, that Dobell administered, in principle on behalf of the Allies, the regions of Cameroon conquered by the Allied troops. But the adoption and proclamation of the principle of joint administration of the conquered territories by the two Allies were one thing, its application another.

Not surprisingly, differences soon arose between the Allies concerning its application. This study attempts to reconstruct the negotiations leading first to the agreement for joint invasion and occupation of Cameroon and next to the eventual partition of Cameroon into British and French territories at the Versailles peace settlement at the end of the war.

More specifically, it tries to show that the administrative “arrangement,” which has been rather grandiosely christened the Anglo-French Condominium by Ndam Njoya (n.d.) and others, was in fact so heavily weighted in favor of the British that it was virtually a British administration.

Anglo-French Reconquest of Cameroon

Naturally, the first concern of the Allied troops after the capture of Duala was the consolidation of their position.

With this object in view, during October- December 1914, they launched combined military-naval operations to the north, to the south, to the southwest, and to the southeast of Duala.

These operations were designed to drive out any pockets of German resistance, prevent their return, as well as secure lines of communication.

Consequently, by December 1914, the Anglo-French troops commanded by Dobell were more or less firmly established in the Nkongsamba-Dschang-Bare district in the north, the Victoria district in the southwest, and the Yabassi-Edea district in the southeast.

But these were not the only regions of Cameroon jointly or separately conquered and occupied by British and French troops during this initial phase of the campaign.

The West African Expeditionary force (WAFF)

On August 14, 1914, before Dobell’s Expeditionary force arrived in Duala Colonel C. H. P Carter, Commandant of the West African Frontier Force (WAFF) was granted permission to reconnoiter the Nigeria-Cameroon border.

Three columns of Nigerian troops of the WAFF were deployed along the Nigeria-Cameroon border pending orders from Lagos. On August 17, Nigerian troops of the so-called Cross River Column, led by Lieutenant Colonel C. T. Mair, launched an offensive from Ikom on the Nigeria-Cameroon border.

After a few setbacks, the column resumed the offensive and bravely fought their way to Ossidinge (modern Mamfe), and eventually to Bamenda on October 22, 1915 (Gorges, 2004, p. 132).

Two other Columns of Nigerian troops were deployed on the Nigeria-Cameroon border. With some assistance from the French, the British managed to capture Garua and Kusseri, and thus created a Nigerian front in the war. Persistent rumors of an Anglo-French Condominium began to surface.

Not surprisingly, these territories became a matter of contentious bargaining between the Allies in talks at the end of the war. But more importantly, the territories made Nigeria—and its Governor-General Lugard—an important factor in the Anglo-French negotiations concerning the establishment of the condominium, its possible extension beyond Duala and contiguous territories, and the provisional and ultimate partition of the conquered territories of Cameroon.

French Equatorial African troops

The French, on their own part, had initiated hostilities which opened a southeast front of the campaign. On August 6, 1914, French troops from Brazzaville, the capital of Moyen Congo, captured two posts just inside the northeastern Cameroon border (Farwell, 1987, p. 36).

This was only the first operation by two columns commanded by General Joseph Aymerich, Commander of French Equatorial African troops. It was also the first strike in the reconquest of the territory which France had ceded to Germany in 1911.

One column, under Colonel Hutin, advanced from Bongo up the Sanga River; the second, under Colonel Marrison, struck westward from Singa up the Lobaye River and finally reached a line Carnot-Nola-Ouesso on the Sanga River in October 1914.

Here the column was reinforced by a Belgian contingent from Congo and continued its westward march.

By Christmas 1914 these troops had captured Betare and Molundu, two principal towns of the southeast. By March 1915 they were within striking distance of Doume and Lomie, the other principal towns of the southeast.

Other French troops led by Colonel Miquelard engaged the Germans in the southwest and expelled them from German Muni while a column led by Colonel Le Meilleur advanced northwards parallel with the eastern frontier of Spanish Guinea.

The end result of these Franco-Belgian operations under the overall command of General Aymerich was the complete reconquest of the territories ceded to Germany in 1911.

But the reconquest was unaided by any Allied forces commanded by General Dobell. As far as the French were concerned, therefore, the future of these territories was absolutely beyond any negotiation.

Thus, by the end of the war, there were three widely separated groups of Cameroon territories jointly or separately conquered and held by the Allies. The first was what may be conveniently called the core territories in the Duala area where Dobell was in direct control on behalf of the Allies.

This area had been chosen by the Offensive Sub-Committee of the Committee of Imperial Defence as the first Allied objective because, together with Victoria and Buea and their surrounding plantations, Duala represented the administrative and commercial heartland of Cameroon.

Its conquest, therefore, would cripple German administration and provide a base for further conquests (Henderson, 1962, p. 99).

The second area was Northern Cameroon where Dobell was not in direct command. Cunliffe, a British officer was in command there although there was some question as to whether a French or British officer should be the commander (Osuntokun, 1979, pp. 185- 186).

The third was Southeast Cameroon, which had been conquered by the FrancoBelgian troops commanded by Aymerich.

The withdrawal of German administration from these regions inevitably imposed on the Allies the task of filling the vacuum by organizing a substitute administration even while they pursued their principal military objective of conquering the whole of Cameroon.

In the face of repeated German attempts to retake some of these captured areas, especially in the Duala district, the need for some form of administration, as part of the effort at consolidation, was particularly urgent. Otherwise, the Allied hold on these territories would be precarious at best.

This is the immediate background against which the Allies began discussing plans for the joint administration which has been called the Anglo-French Condominium. As will become clear subsequently, this was a misnomer. The Debate over Condominium

Download Notes

Anglo-French Negotiations Concerning Cameroon during World War I, 1914-1916: Occupation, “Condominium” and Partition

The First World War and its aftermath in Cameroon: A Historical Evaluation of a Centenary, 1914-2014

Read More

What is Technical Vocational Training

Studies in Technical High Schools lead to a technical, administrative, commercial and industrial Baccalauréat for French-speaking students and the Technical GCE A-level in similar disciplines for English-speaking students. Admission into high school is conditioned by the presentation of the CAP or BEPC or GCE O / L certificate and candidates have to sit for a competitive entrance examination in the discipline selected.

Read More

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.

Read More