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Beginnings of Modern Nationalism

Reforms begun in French Cameroun shortly before World War II — including official support for mixed European-African quasi-political organizations, modifications of the administration, and the establishment of municipal councils — did not reflect French interest in local political development as much as French concern for the security of its regional African interests. Germany had launched a major campaign for the reestablishment of Grossdeutschland (greater Germany). This campaign included the use of mass media as well as diplomatic pressure and was supported by German plantation owners in adjoining British Cameroons.

Events of the early war years brought a change in French attitudes. Gratitude for support by French Camerounians and other African peoples for the Free French cause — including military enlistments — was reflected at the January 1944 Brazzaville Conference of French colonial administrators. Participants not only proposed to offer Africans representation in the organs of the new Fourth French Republic but also African participation in the structuring of its constitution. The basic perspective, however, remained assimilationist; although Africans were to exercise increased control over local administration, political evolution independent of the French Republic was not envisioned.

The agreement in 1946 to place French Cameroun under the trusteeship system of the United Nations left the political future of the territory open. Although the United Nations Charter specified that eventual self-government was the goal of the trusteeship and established a Trusteeship Council with more powers than its counterpart had under the League of Nations, the manner and final form self-government was to take was left vague as a result of divergent opinions at the 1945 Charter Conference in San Francisco. The French first agreed to trusteeship in early 1946 but then hesitated and delayed negotiations until late in the year. The final terms submitted to the United Nations were loosely structured but were accepted by that body rather than delay or prevent international supervision.

The federal political structure discussed at the Brazzaville Conference was more decentralized than the French Union actually formed under its 1946 Constitution. The constitution did, however, bring nu- merous administrative and judicial reforms and moved toward representational government. It established the French Union, composed of the French Republic, the independent associated states, and the associated territories. Cameroun was classified as an associated territory. All territories were granted representation in the Assembly of the French Union, but this body had mainly an advisory role in the preparation of legislation related to overseas territories.

The dependencies were not only given local representative assemblies but also seats in the legislative bodies of the French Republic. Election to the representative assemblies, enlarged and renamed territorial assemblies in 1956, and to the French National Assembly was by the vote of a dual electoral college. Under this system Europeans and assimilated Africans voted for one group of representatives and the African majority, for another set. Representatives sent to the Council of State of the French Republic and to the Assembly of the French Union were selected by the representative assembly. The role of this body was largely advisory except in budget matters. Deliberations were subject to veto by the Council of State of the French Republic.

Such action occurred only twice, however, between 1946 and 1956. Under the 1946 Constitution of the French Union, the dual legal system underwent two major alterations. The new system distin- guished between French nationals who were considered citizens of the French Republic and were subject to metropolitan legal codes and Africans who became citizens of the French Union. Both were assured the same rights, but Africans were liable to traditional legal codes. They were no longer subject, however, to the systems of prestation or indigenat. Citizens of the French Union were given the right to vote if they belonged to one of several categories. By 1952 these categories included all property holders, notables, taxpayers, heads of families, and literate citizens.

Other reforms were initiated later. In January 1949, for example, the membership of the Council of Notables was enlarged to include representatives of labor unions, traditional associations, and cooperatives. The growth of other representative institutions, such as municipal councils and the representative assembly, reduced the importance of the council, except in the north.

As in the case of the reforms instigated just before World War II, the various administrative changes brought about by the 1946 Constitution reflected neither French response to nor the actual presence of growing national political consciousness. In 1945 JEUCAFRA remained the only political organization; although it supported the concept of self administration, its platform was assimilationist. Nonetheless, the variety of external factors—including the position of French colonial administrators at Brazzaville and reforms in other French territories — resulted in the creation of a framework in which debate could take place, issues could emerge, and national awareness might be nurtured.

The development of national consciousness shifted between parliamentary maneuvers and spurts of extra-parliamentary violence. Political parties did not play an influential role during the 1940s, however, and candidates in early elections campaigned on a popularity basis rather than in terms of an appeal to party affiliation.

The first groups to play an organized role in local politics were labor unions. The scarcity of goods in Cameroun in 1944, soaring inflation, and the administration's support for the first time of the right of labor to organize and strike stimulated the formation of labor unions. The most important of these was the Cameroun Federation of Labor Unions (Union des Syndicats Confederes de Cameroun — USCC). The USCC was sponsored by the largest of all the French metropolitan labor organizations, the General Federation of Labor (Confederation Generale de Travail — CGT), which was dominated by communist-oriented groups. The inability of the USCC to obtain satisfaction through negotiation resulted in wildcat strikes and riots in Douala. The unrest was quickly quelled by the French.

As the 1946 elections approached, various metropolitan political parties sought to establish local affiliates. A small local group without affiliation, the Camerounian Democratic Movement (Mouvement Democratique Camerounais), also was formed. The politicized Union of French Cameroun (Union Camerounaise Francaise — UNICAFRA), which was formed from JEUCAFRA in 1945, also prepared to participate in the trust territory's first elections. All these groups were short lived. They held in common the feeling that the French were not helping Cameroun to develop politically, but they disagreed over tactics to improve the situation. One camp supported evolution through the existing framework and cooperation with France. The other adopted a more radical approach calling for self-government outside the context of the French Union, a proposal defined as illegal by the 1946 Constitution. This led to violent agitation, which continued into the independence period.

In early 1947 radicals disappointed with the outcome of the elections sought to convert UNICAFRA to a more radical position. They were composed mainly of trade union members and were led by Reuben Um Nyobe, secretary general of the USCC. Failing to convert the UNICAFRA, which dissolved shortly afterward, the radicals formed the Camerounian Assembly (Rassemblement Camerounais — RACAM). RACAM was soon banned by the French for its antiassimilationist stand. After its dissolution Um Nyobe formed the Union of Cameroonian Peoples (Union des Populations du Cameroun—UPC).

Initially, UPC leadership was dominated by Um Nyobe and other Bassa leaders. Dissatisfied Douala and Bamileke were soon attracted to the UPC. Frustration ran particularly high among the urban Bamileke who had emigrated as a result of population pressure on dwindling land resources and who had encountered the hostility of local peoples with whom they competed for employment. They also complained about the low percentage of government positions they received. The Bassa were more optimistic about the benefit of working with the French administration than were the Bamileke, who advocated radical tactics. As a result of this disagreement, UPC leadership became factionalized.

Both of the leading factions sought to build local support on the basis of traditional political institutions and social organizations. The Bassa were more effective in mobilizing support. Bamileke efforts were greatly hindered by the fact that the reforms of land control they advanced adversely affected the status of traditional leaders from whom they sought assistance. For a time the UPC was supported by the kumsze, a pan-Bamileke movement that claimed traditional roots, but this support was withdrawn in 1950.

Unable to obtain increased support for its radically phrased platform, the UPC sought involvement in local issues. UPC support of riots and other forms of violent protest agitated the French. Initially, the French sought to counter the UPC by supporting more moderate groups, such as the Bamileke Union (Union Bamileke) and the Camerounian Democratic Bloc (Bloc Democratique Camerounais). Following UPC affiliation with the African Democratic Assembly (Rassemble- ment Democratique Africain—RDA), a sub-Saharan transnational movement, the French took restrictive action.

Bureaucrats known to be members of UPC were transferred to remote areas, public facilities were not opened to UPC activities, and the French renewed their support for the formation of parties, such as the Camerounian Social Evolution (l'Evolution Sociale Camerounaise — ESOCAM), which would favor French assimilationist policy. In response to these steps, UPC began to build itself into a sophisticated hierarchical structure. Subsidiary groups were organized on different social levels to serve as propaganda elements and communication links for UPC. The overall strength of UPC, however, remained limited by its revolutionary call for independence and its inability to win support in the Muslim north.

More than twenty parties supporting evolutionary policies competed with ESOCAM and UPC in the 1951 elections for the French National Assembly and the 1952 elections for the Camerounian representative assembly. The extension of the vote to all those literate in French or Arabic yielded an electorate of more than half a million. Although the personal following of men like Louis Aujoulat, Paul Soppo Priso, and Charles Okala overshadowed party politics, the electorate obviously supported evolutionary candidates. Although none of the evolutionary parties drew support from an extensive area, the UPC failed to profit from its complex organizational structure. The UPC accused the administration of stuffing ballot boxes, but the enlarged electorate was clearly conservative.

After the elections the UPC adopted a new attack and advocated reunification of the British and French mandated territories. Political leadership in the British Cameroons became increasingly split over the issue, and the UPC sought to exploit fears that continued association with Nigeria would result in a loss of identity. Um Nyobe took the issue before the United Nations in 1952. Although his discussion focused more on abuses of the French administration, upon his return to Cameroun Um Nyobe used his appearance at the United Nations as evidence of international support for reunification.

Throughout 1953 unification became increasingly popular and was widely adopted in the platforms of other groups. The French began repressive actions designed to restrict UPC influence. Bureaucrats suspected of UPC leanings were sent to Douala in order that they might be kept under surveillance and their political influence might be localized. In view of its visible loss of influence throughout 1954, the leadership of local UPC groups debated appropriate tactics. As the radical influence of Felix Roland Moumie, who had recently returned from abroad, increased, less radical members left the party to join other more moderate groups.

Having gained control of the party, Moumie led UPC to support riots in May 1955 with the expectation that there would be a general uprising in the country. A considerable number of deaths and property damage resulted. The UPC was declared an illegal organization and dissolved in July 1955. The UPC thus was no longer able to participate in political processes — including elections and representative bodies — in which its platform of independence and reunification had become increasingly popular; its reliance on agitation to gain political support had limited its constructive role in Camerounian political development.

Following the legal dissolution of the UPC the leadership split along factional lines. The Bamileke and Douala leaders fled to British Southern Cameroons where, under Moumie, they sought to affiliate with the Kamerun National Democratic Party—KNDP. Um Nyobe took the Bassa leadership into hiding near Eseka. Communication between the two was marginal, and after 1955 the two factions operated almost as separate organizations.

After a brief pause following the 1955 elections these two factions renewed their activities in a two-faceted civil war that was to last until the early 1960s. Between 1956 and 1957 the major center of terrorist campaigns was in Bassa territory, although violence also occurred in Bamileke territory along the border with Nigeria. Following the death of Um Nyobe in 1958 at the hands of a government security patrol, Bassa violence decreased. The major focus of violence shifted in the next year to Bamileke areas under the direction of a newly formed National Liberation Army of Cameroun (Armee de Liberation Nationale du Kamerun — ALNK). Precise figures for the total damage to public service facilities in Cameroun were not available, but the damage to churches, hospitals, and schools in the Bamileke region was estimated at the equivalent of about US$6.4 million. The number of persons who lost their lives during the rebellion was estimated by various sources at between 10,000 and 80,000.

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Page last modified: 26-09-2016 19:07:18 ZULU