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German Kamerun

By January 1887 the British had abandoned all of their claims, and German suzerainty over the coastal region of Kamerun was recognized. The establishment of effective control of the interior regions and demarcation of the borders, however, were not effected until after the beginning of the twentieth century. Initial expeditions were designed to promote German commercial interests rather than to achieve military conquest in which the Germans were unwilling to invest. As the problems of coordination and expedition security increased, however, military expeditions were favored, and exploration spread inward in a fan-shaped pattern from the narrow coastal holdings toward the headwaters of the river systems of adjoining territories occupied by other colonial powers. Although employing a strategy seemingly designed to encroach upon these adjacent territories, the military forces of the German colonial administration were never of sufficient size to pose a serious threat.

Exploration of the Nyong River in 1887 led to the founding of the town of Yaounde. An expedition in 1888 penetrated into the western highlands and, after initial resistance by local peoples, obtained agree- ments upon which the German administration was to base its policy of indirect rule. As the Germans turned from exploration to the establishment of political and military control, they met varying degrees of resistance. Campaigns, which lasted three years, were launched in 1891 against the Kpe, living between Buea and Douala, and in 1892 against the Bassa and Bakoko along the Nyong River. A two-year military expedition to the south was sent in 1899 against the Boulou near the present-day border with Gabon. Hostilities in the east continued until 1907 and in the region near Lake Chad until 1911. Even as late as 1914, many areas had been pacified only on paper; the area around Bamenda in the west had received only two visits from German military personnel.

Administration of the German protectorate was headed by a governor under the direction of a division of the German foreign ministry. By 1907 the Germans clearly saw Kamerun as a colony and established an office for colonial affairs independent of the foreign ministry. The governor was granted wide powers, which included lawmaking, levying and collecting taxes, administering the court system, and directing military operations in the colony. Initially, the governor was required to consult an advisory council, which was composed of resident Europeans, on various issues. Its sessions, which discussed mainly the administrative budget and local ordinances, were infrequent. The authority of the council was never clearly defined, and it remained solely advisory.

Although structured differently from region to region, the German colonial administrative system was based on indirect rule and decentralization of authority. The coastal and central regions were divided into districts, each of which was protected by a small fort. Initially, the military commander of the fort served as the district administrator. Except for the more immediate coastal areas, this continued to be the case well into the twentieth century when civilian administrators began to replace the military commanders; Bamenda, for example, was under military authority until 1912. The district administrator was responsible for both administrative and judicial functions as well as the supervision of trade and transportation and the maintenance of good relations with local chiefs. In the north there was heavy reliance on indirect rule achieved by the placement of two German commissioners over the local traditional authorities. Although often involved in settling local disputes, the major responsibility of these commissioners was to assure the loyalty of local peoples to German territorial claims.

The German colonial administration established a judicial system composed of two sets of courts. The system for Europeans was based on German civil and criminal law observed in Europe and followed German court procedure. Each district had its own court, and initially there was a court of appeal in the newly established capital at Buea. Later, appeals were referred to the German metropolitan court system. Acquittals were frequent, and sentences were seldom severe. An indigenous court system tried minor civil and criminal cases but had no jurisdiction over murder trials or crimes requiring the death penalty. Appeals could be made to the governor. Local chiefs served as judges, and traditional customary law was usually followed. Whipping was the most common punishment.

The German administrative structure was never large. In 1890 the governor's staff included about twelve officials. By 1900 the addition of engineers, scientists, and other officials brought the total number of administrators to just under 200. At the end of the German colonial period in 1916 the administration had grown to about 240. In addition, there were about thirty European officers administering a police force of about 1,200 men and 160 German officers supervising about 1,500 soldiers.

The small number of personnel reflected the limited resources allotted to the colony by the German home government. From the beginning the commercial and plantation sectors competed for government support. The traders exceeded the planters in number, were better organized locally, and had firm contacts in the German capital. The German metropolitan government, however, was particularly interested in the prospects of producing commodities, such as tobacco and rubber, in order to relieve its foreign exchange position. The under- developed state of communications and continued unrest in the Kamerun interior, moreover, argued against the economic return of investment in trade. The government, therefore, placed emphasis on the development of plantation agriculture. By the end of the colonial period there were fifty-eight plantations employing a total of about 18,000 local African workers.

The administration adopted a progressive approach to agricultural development. Scientific methods were applied, and technical experts and research commissions were established. A botanical garden was founded in 1893 and was charged with the responsibility of conducting soil tests, distributing free seeds, advancing animal husbandry, and effecting a program of insect control.

The two most pressing problems relating to plantation agriculture concerned land policy and labor competition. Upon the establishment of suzerainty the German colonial administration had claimed all unoccupied land as crown land and shortly afterward began to regulate land sales. The right to expropriate large tracts of land for railroads and urban needs was maintained by the administration. Expropriations for these purposes and moves designed to obtain the fertile lands on the slopes of Mount Cameroon resulted in the dislocation of various local peoples. A special land commission was created in 1902 to oversee land policy, but dissatisfaction mounted and led to unrest in the protectorate.

Plantations, traders, and construction projects competed for the limited labor force. Voluntary labor was supplemented by forced labor, which was obtained first as a result of German conquest of resisting ethnic groups and later through a labor tax system under which local authorities were required to provide a certain number of man-hours of labor per year. Both forced labor and contractual labor were placed under government supervision, and after 1902 slavery was abolished. Although the government sought to eliminate abuses of the labor system in the early 1900s, particularly after the very high death rate among laborers sent to the plantations came to public notice, few groups — either European or African — were satisfied with German attempts to supervise the labor sector.

In an effort to encourage the flow of private capital into infrastructure development in the interior, the government granted two charter trade companies monopolies covering almost half of the territory's land surface. The Gesellschaft Nord-West Kamerun was granted an area of almost 2.5 million acres, and the Gesellschaft Sud Kamerun received a territory of almost 2 million acres. In exchange for the exclusive monopoly of trade within these areas, the companies agreed to explore the region, to build bridges and roads, and to encourage settlement. In actual practice, the companies did little beyond that necessary for their own trade purposes. Neither was a financial success. They did, however, provide a major injection of capital into the colony equal to one-fifth of the total German investment during the entire colonial period.

The development of a transportation network was one of the administration's chief interests. Although plantations and charter companies constructed a limited number of roads, the government was the major builder of surface transport routes. After 1900 pacified groups were required to expand and maintain the road system and bridges in their region. By the end of the German administration, there were about 300 miles of roads suitable for mechanized vehicles, but the country remained heavily dependent upon human porters.

Railroad construction was initially totally dependent upon private investment. Until the turn of the century, the only track was of narrow gauge, laid by plantation owners on their holdings. In 1906 the German government approved funding for loans aiding private construction of 100 miles of track, known as the Nordbahn, from Bonaberi near Douala to northeast Nkongsamba. This service was opened in 1911. The government itself undertook construction of a railroad line—the Mittel- landbahn—of about 225 miles from Douala east to Windenmeng, but in 1914 less than 100 miles had been completed.

Health conditions in Kamerun during the colonial period were far from adequate, and improvements were greatly hindered by budgetary limitations. Facilities were limited; even as late as 1912 there were only twenty-nine German doctors in the colony. Of these, fifteen were attached to the military, nine served the civilian administration, and five were working on a special campaign to eradicate sleeping sickness. After 1900 more attention was paid to health conditions, and efforts were made to control such diseases as leprosy, smallpox, and malaria. The greatest progress was made among indigenous plantation workers. Plans for expanded health facilities were drawn up during the last years of the colonial administration but were never implemented.

During the German administration British missions were supplanted by the German Basel Mission. Roman Catholic missions and United States Protestant missions were established later. Although the German colonial administration established a limited number of schools, education during the colonial period was largely the responsibility of mission schools under German supervision. The administration was interested in training personnel for lower level staff positions but favored craft and trade instruction for the general local population. By 1907 standardization of the school curriculum had been effected, and by 1910 all schools were required to follow government regulations in order to obtain financial assistance. Trade schools had been opened, and the German authorities were giving limited support to agricultural schools. At the end of the colonial period there were four government schools with a total of 833 pupils, as compared with 631 mission schools with about 40,000 pupils.

A variety of factors, including an increased budget for colonial territories and internal political developments in Germany, led to increased metropolitan control after 1907. The new Colonial Office began increasing its information on the colonial situation and proposed reforms, which — had they been implemented — would have greatly increased administrative effectiveness in advancing economic and social development in the protectorate. As it was, when German control came to an end, an exchange economy based on agricultural production had been introduced; investments had been made in infrastructure; urbanization had commenced; and certain institutions, based on Western prototypes, had been introduced to urban areas.

The Kamerun colony, was originally divided out into large nember of concessions. Consequently, little progress was made in the construction of roads, telegraph or railway. In 1913 the telegraph did not go beyond Yaunde and Jang, whilst the capital of the colony was without any means of quick communication with Duala the commercial capital. In 1913 a German “Company for navigation in Kamerun ” was floated with a capital of two million marks. It aimed at placing river boats on the Congo, the Sanga and the Ubangi. The Germans were also ambitious of making Duala the largest port in West Africa. But though a considerable number of public works were projected, and should have been completed by 1913, the Germans were only beginning by 1914 to dredge the entrance to the river and construct quays. Meanwhile, goods were landed in the open, the steamers being unable to cross the bar and reach Duala town; there were no go-downs and everything was exposed to the inclemency of the weather.

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Page last modified: 26-09-2016 19:07:17 ZULU