Coming of Independence
Although local political parties unanimously denounced UPC tactics of violence and sabotage during the 1955 election campaign — especially in the Sanaga-Maritime Department of Littoral Province — reconciliation and amnesty for UPC activists gained increasing support after the elections. The increased disposition of the French to autonomy and possible independence brought a search for a meaningful coalition rather than polarization between the UPC and anti-UPC groups. The revised French position was the result of numerous factors. A constitutional dispute within the Cameroun administration played a role, but more important were deliberations at the United Nations over the termination of trusteeship status for Togo and political developments in France leading to the fall of the Fourth French Republic and implementation of policies advocated by Charles de Gaulle. France finally abandoned its dream of an organic link with colonial possessions.
The late 1950s also marked the first attempt of the French administration to Africanize administrative posts. Although several hundred Africans were employed by the administration, most held clerical or subordinate positions. It was not until 1956 that Camerounians were sent to the school in Paris designed to prepare upper echelon officials. In 1956 the French passed a special enabling act — referred to as loi cadre — designed to shorten the parliamentary procedure usually required to institute the reforms necessary for increased autonomy in the overseas territories.
The representatives elected to the territorial assembly in the December 1956 election formed a coalition government in January 1957 under Andre-Marie Mbida. The coalition was grouped along regional lines and included: the Cameroun Union (Union Camerounaise — UC) led by Ahmadou Ahidjo; the Cameroun Democrats (Democrates Camerounais — DC) of Mbida from the central area; and the Independent Peasants (Paysans Independants — PI), more a grouping of Bamileke interest groups than a political party in the usual sense —represented by Djoumessi Njime from the west. The opposition was formed by National Action (Action Nationale — AN), a southern party whose leadership included Charles Asalle and Paul Soppo Priso. With the exception of the PI most parties were formed along regional lines with mixed ethnic membership.
The Mbida coalition survived for little more than one year. Mbida advanced policy positions he personally held — which were almost universally unpopular — without consideration of the political consequences. He proposed a ten-year period of social, economic, and political development before further consideration of independence. He advocated the use of French troops to end UPC sabotage and declined to grant amnesty to former UPC activities. Moreover, he disregarded the unification issue.
A new coalition government was formed in early 1958 under Ahidjo, who had served as minister of the interior under Mbida. Although he was a young Muslim leader from the north, Ahidjo was able to gain the confidence of southern leaders. His coalition with the UC and the PI established a north-south alliance that was to serve as the base for his future political power. He advocated full internal autonomy, a time-table for independence, national reconciliation, and close cooperation with France after independence.
Territorial assembly deliberations over the text of the 1957 French statute that provided increased internal autonomy resulted in the formulation of a complicated series of amendments. In the end, increased concessions by the French — especially after the assumption of power by the new de Gaulle administration — resulted in the drafting of a completely new statute. In December 1958 the United Nations General Assembly voted to end the French trusteeship. Consultations between France and Cameroun resulted in a mutually acceptable schedule for independence, which did not include a referendum on future association with France, as was offered other overseas territories. Autonomy over all matters except foreign affairs passed to Cameroun on January 1, 1959; complete independence for the former French territory as the Republic of Cameroon was achieved on January 1,1960.
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