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French Cameroun

The French were reluctant to accept administration over the territory, except as a colonial possession. The terms of the agreement finally made in 1922 limited legal incorporation of the territory as a colonial possession of the French Republic. This was largely a legal distinction, however, and the broad French interpretation of the institutions were to be respected. Although the French administration was again to be aided by an indigenous assimilated elite, under the new policy the administration was to serve as a supervisory power over a decentralized coalition of traditional political structures. Increased flexibility toward economic development was also advocated.

In practice, the French combined both approaches. The policy of association became more a cover for assimilationist hopes and was conceived of as an intermediary step to assimilation rather than a firm commitment to the preservation of traditional culture. Indigenous institutions were maintained particularly in more distant regions for local administration. These institutions were valued by the French, however, not for their inherent merits but as a means of effecting French control. Those practices deemed ineffective were altered or eliminated without regard for social functions and values. The result, by the end of the mandate period, was a system of quasi-direct rule that failed to foresee a political evolution of the territory independent of the French nation.

The French administration in Yaounde was placed under the direction of a governor general who was responsible to the Ministry of Colonies in Paris. He was aided by an administrative council whose members he selected. Initially, the council was composed entirely of Europeans, but periodic expansion provided two indigenous representatives in 1927 and four in 1945. The governor general was not required to accept the advice of the council, but he usually did so. Also under his office were the heads of administrative services and the chiefs of the internal administrative units into which the territory was divided.

Initially, there were fourteen divisions, each headed by a divisional chief. The number was later increased to seventeen, and in 1935 they were retitled regions. Each division was in turn divided into subdivisions. The divisional chief was usually a French colonial supervisor, but the subdivisions were sometimes directed by a French-trained African or traditional chief. In the northern areas the Fulani lamido (local traditional ruler) served in this capacity. Variations on the basic administrative pattern were common, particularly in more remote areas, in areas where there was unrest or in the case of a chief whose continued rule was not felt to be in the interests of the French.

In 1925 a council of notables of ten to twenty members was created in each division. Members were selected by the divisional chief from a list of nominees representing ethnic groups in the area. Although the divisional chief was required to consult the council on certain matters, such as labor levies and head taxation, he was not obliged to follow its advice. In actual practice the council served more to inform its indigenous chiefs of administrative policy than to pass on African opinions to the French.

Under the 1922 statute that established the administrative structure, traditional chieftaincies were separated into three categories. The lamibe and chiefs serving as the heads of subdivisions were classed as first-degree chiefs. Those serving as administrative assistants to the first-degree chiefs or as heads of regional groups larger than a village were classed as second-degree chiefs. Third-degree chiefs were the heads of individual villages. Chiefs receiving such a classification were granted a percentage of the local head tax they collected in exchange for their services.

A dual legal system was structured similar to those in French West Africa and Equatorial Africa. French citizens and assimilated Africans were classed as citoyens (citizens) and fell under the jurisdiction of a set of courts based upon those in metropolitan France. The various qualifications necessary for an African to be classified as a citoyen included general fluency in French, the rejection of polygamy, the willingness to serve in the French armed forces, and the possession of a skill or profession, usually associated with Western technology.

Those classified as sujets (subjects) were tried under native customary law administered by the Native Court, at least one of which existed in each division. The divisional chief presided over each court with the assistance of an African assessor selected by the governor general from a list of local notables. The Native Court under local chiefs was formally deprived of its judicial role but was retained to serve as a body for local arbitration. In reality it continued to try cases under customary law. There was no statutory limit on punishment by the divisional chief's court, but the most common form of sanctions was a fine or incarceration. Appeal was possible to the governor general. Northern Muslim peoples were particularly reluctant to accept the new legal system.

Sujets were also liable to prestation (required service) and a variety of restrictive provisions called the indigenat (civil status of a sujet). The indigenat gave the French discretionary powers, ranging from simple discipline to the control of population movements. Tax delin- quency, laziness, or affronts to French dignity could all be punished under this loosely defined legal concept.

Political development during the mandate period was marginal. Local indignation against the French administration centered mainly on abuses of the indigenat and forced labor edicts. Protests against these abuses were usually presented individually. The few examples of collective action were generally unorganized. They included a feud over control of religious facilities between local religious leaders and returning German missionaries after the Great War, Douala grievances over land expropriated by the German administration, and the issue of taxation on women's wages. These protests were local grievances and did not reflect the growth of national political awareness.

Until the 1930s political organizations were outlawed by the French administration. The French Camerounian Youth (Jeunesse Camerounaise Francaise JEUCAFRA), established in 1938, was the first legally recognized political organization. JEUCAFRA was supported by the French in a move designed to counter the international campaign launched by Germany to regain its former territories. Basically assimilationist, the organization was dominated by the leadership of a young Douala, Paul Soppo Priso. It aimed at rallying urban French-educated youth to the French cause but became the source from which local leadership was to emerge after World War II.

During the early 1940s reform measures were instigated in recognition of the growth of French-speaking urban elites, composed of various ethnic groups, but especially the Pahouin. Municipal councils (communes mixtes urbaines) were established in both Douala and Yaounde. They offered municipal government headed by a mayor and council appointed by the governor general. By the end of the mandate era, plans were underway to convert these councils into elective bodies.

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