What is today the state of Cameroon did not exist until Germany colonized the territory in 1884, but the peoples who lived here have a long and proud history far back in time. Many believe the Bantu language originated in the area that today constitutes Cameroon.
The first Sudanese kingdom in Cameroon had been established in the 900s in the Charid Delta in the north. At least as early as the 13th century, settlements and agricultural communities were established along the coast. The first Europeans, who were Portuguese, came to the Cameroon coast around 1472 and found several peoples there, including bubi, bakweri and douala. The Portuguese soon established trading stations along the coast, trading slaves and palm oil. British, Spanish, French and German trade interests also came to Cameroon.
Relatively little is known about the southern part of modern Cameroon’s ancient history; Something more is known about the northern part of the region that is historically called Western Sudan, a savanna belt from Senegal in the west to Lake Chad in the east.
Some of modern Cameroon’s political problems are due to colonial history. The territory was first brought under German rule from July 12, 1884. The German government in Cameroon ended in 1916 with a combined British-French invasion and occupation. After the First World War, the League of Nations transferred Cameroon to France and the United Kingdom as a mandate. France administered about 80 percent of the territory, while the British got about 20 percent, which was administered as part of Nigeria.
In French Cameroon, the first party was formed as early as 1948: the Union des populations du Cameroon (UPC), which demanded a united and independent Cameroon. In 1955, the UPC was behind a revolt that was defeated by French forces. Several of the leaders were in exile, and in 1957 a group returned and started an armed liberation struggle against the French government.
Cameroon gained internal autonomy in 1956, with André-Marie Mbida as prime minister the following year. In 1958 he was succeeded by Ahmadou Ahidjo. On January 1, 1960, Cameroon became an independent republic, and Ahidjo was elected president.
In British Cameroon, divided into a northern and a southern part, the political development was related to Nigeria. A form of internal self-government was achieved in the southern part, and a national assembly first met in 1954. In 1955, the Cameroon National Democratic Party (KNDP) was formed, merging with French Cameroon on the program. In 1961, a UN-led referendum was held in both regions to determine the country’s future. The southern part agreed to join the Republic of Cameroon in a federation, while the northern part chose to enter Nigeria, becoming June 1, 1961 to Sarduna Province in Nigeria. On October 1 of that year, the southern part became the western state of the new Federal Republic of Cameroon. Ahidjo became president of the new federation.
In 1960, the French-administered territory became independent and was followed the following year by the southern part of the British-administered territory. The northern mandate area ruled by the British became, after a referendum, belonging to Nigeria. Parts of the English-speaking population have sought the release of Cameroon and the establishment of a separate state. The desire for secession has become stronger from around 2010 and a group of activists have established the country of Ambazonia on paper. Even more people want greater independence for the English-speaking parts of the country. This periodically creates major political conflicts in Cameroon.
After a referendum in 1971, Cameroon’s two parts were united. Local autonomy was abolished and the country took the name of the United Republic of Cameroon. Ahidjo was re-elected as president in 1970, 1975 and 1980. He was nominated by the only allowed party, the Union National Cameroonaise (UNC), formed in 1966. Only UNC could make lists in the new parliament elections in 1973 and 1978 as well.
Towards the end of the 1970s, opposition to Ahidjo’s autocratic rule grew, and several minor clashes ensued. In 1982, Ahidjo resigned as president, leaving the position of Vice President Paul Biya. Ahidjo continued as UNC leader, leading to a power struggle with the new president. In 1983, Biya announced that a coup plot had been revealed; then Ahidjo resigned as party leader, and Biya took over the position. In the ensuing trial, Ahidjo, who had sought refuge in France, was indicted for having been behind the plot and sentenced to death in absentia. A new coup attempt took place in 1984, here too the suspicion was directed at Ahidjo. At the party congress in 1985, the state party was renamed the Rassemblement démocratique du Peuple Camerounais (RDPC), and several supporters of Ahidjo were excluded.
Biya was elected president without a counter candidate in 1984 and 1988. After a long-standing political pressure, from both exile groups and democratic forces in Cameroon, in 1990 a multi-party system was introduced. At the 1992 election, RDPC remained the largest party. Biya hardly won the subsequent presidential election, against John Mrs. Ndi. Several acts of violence were linked to both elections, as in subsequent elections.
In 1995, the Constitution was amended, and a two-chamber system for parliament was passed by the establishment of a Senate. At the 1997 parliamentary elections, the RDPC was again the largest party; The Social Democratic Front (SDF) became the largest opposition party. The opposition boycotted the presidential election that year, with only one candidate voting against Biya. He was re-elected in 1997, 2004 and 2011.
Throughout the second half of the 1990s and the early 2000s, the UN and other international organizations expressed concern about the human rights position in Cameroon. Especially criticized were violations of freedom of expression, as well as violence related to elections.
In the first half of the 1990s there were violent contradictions in Northern Cameroon, both in connection with the elections and related to demands for a reintroduction of internal self-government for the English-speaking parts of Cameroon. In 1993, the Cameroon Anglophone Movement brought together about 5,000 participants at the first All-Anglophone Conference in Buea. From the mid-1990s, there was a further radicalization in the English-speaking parts of the country, led by the Southern Cameroons National Council, which also deployed military funds, and in 1999 announced the region’s independence. However, the attempt to establish a new state, Ambazonia, has not progressed.
While there was a certain degree of reconciliation between the English-speaking and French-speaking parts of Cameroon in the early 2000s, the conflict flourished again after approx. 2015 as a result of Cameroon’s weakening economy and failure to replace political leadership. Detachment of the English-speaking Cameroon and the establishment of an independent, new state, Ambazonia, have again led to great political divide in the country. While the authorities with President Biya in the lead, hard on all forms of demonstrations for detachment, several supporters of Ambazonia taken to arms. The so-called “Amba boys”, more or less coordinated gangs of young men living in the rainforest in southwestern Cameroon, have since 2017 carried out a series of attacks against the police, the military, public offices and government employees. More than 500 people have been killed in the confrontations and close to 50,000 have fled to Nigeria, while almost half a million have had to move internally in the country. The conflict intensified after the French-speaking Paul Biya won the presidential election for the seventh consecutive time in October 2018. Biya is accused of pursuing a policy that discriminates against the English-speaking population in a number of areas, including education, infrastructure and positions of power.
From independence, Cameroon has maintained close political and economic ties to France, which has long had a permanent military base in the country. Cameroon traditionally belongs to the Western-oriented, conservative group of African states.
During the first half of the 1990s, a border conflict with Nigeria was close to leading the two neighboring countries to war. In 1991, Nigeria claimed that Cameroon had annexed nine Nigerian fishing villages at the border, and in 1994 members of Cameroon’s security forces entered Nigeria, with several killed as a result. Nigerian forces responded by occupying two Cameroon islands in the Gulf of Guinea, and Cameroon called for French military aid under the defense agreement between the two countries. Despite the mediation attempt, the conflict continued in 1995-96, with several military clashes on the Bakassi Peninsula. The areas here contain significant oil deposits.
Cameroon brought the conflict before the International Court of Justice in The Hague in 1994, but the opposition continued, with occasional clashes, and at times fears that the conflict would develop into war. In 2002, the court ruled that the peninsula belonged to Cameroon. Nigeria refused to accept the conclusion, and both sides strengthened their military presence at the border. Following the UN intervention, in 2002, Nigeria committed to transfer control in September 2004, which however did not happen.
Relations with the other neighboring countries have been less problematic. In 2001, a tense situation arose when forces from the Central African Republic crossed the border into Cameroon, but they withdrew. The relationship with Equatorial Guinea was weakened in 2002, when it backed Nigeria’s demand for Bakassi. The construction of an oil pipeline from Chad to the coast of Cameroon has strengthened cooperation with this country. In 1995 Cameroon became a member of the British Commonwealth.
Boko Haram also operates in northern Cameroon, and the Cameroonian army is actively helping to fight the rebel group together with the Nigerian army. The security situation in the north of the country is very demanding and parts of the population have had to move from their homes. Cameroon military generally have little confidence in the population, often expressing as much fear of them as Boko Haram.