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Development and Unification

With the achievement of national sovereignty, the government of President Ahmadou Ahidjo faced a variety of problems. The country lacked a constitution. Reunification with the British Cameroons remained an open issue; and national security was threatened by the civil war that had been supported since the late 1950s by the UPC. Although opposition leaders had pressed for new elections and the structuring of a constitution before independence, Ahidjo had obtained enough sup- port in the territorial assembly to govern by decree for a period not to exceed six months after independence.

A constitution was drafted in final form and was ready for a national referendum in February 1960. In certain respects it mirrored the new constitution of the Fifth French Republic, establishing a mixed presidential-parliamentary system. The president served as head of state and appointed a prime minister as head of government. The president had broad constitutional authority and was empowered to assume increased powers in the case of a state of emergency or, to a lesser degree, in a state of urgency. Accords were negotiated with the government of France covering cultural, diplomatic, and economic cooperation.

The constitution, which became effective in March 1960, was supported by 60 percent of the electorate in the February referendum; the majority of opposition came from the south. Elections for the National Assembly were scheduled for April 1960, and campaign activity by UPC members was legalized. Ahidjo's AN group won fifty-one of the 100 assembly seats. The UPC won thirteen seats but lost five members to a newly formed Bamileke organization, the Popular Front for Unity and Peace (Front Populaire pour l'Unite et la Paix FPUP), which then had eighteen members. Charles Asalle of the National Action Party and Charles Okala merged their supporters and formed a ten- member group called the Progressives (Progressistes). The Democrats (Democrates) of Andre-Marie Mbida obtained ten seats. Ahidjo, who ran unopposed in the May 1960 presidential election, formed a coalition government with these parties and appointed Assale as prime minister and Okala as foreign minister.

Meanwhile, political developments in the British Cameroons had moved at a slower pace than that which had occurred in the former French trust territory. The issue of unification of the two areas was complicated by differing perspectives of political parties in the British Trust Territories of Northern Cameroons and Southern Cameroons and by political divisions within Southern Cameroons. The determination of the area's future political status was scheduled for a plebiscite in February 1961, under the supervision of the United Nations, but the complexity of the negotiations led to an arrangement of separate voting by the two territories. Although in 1958 the United Nations had clearly reported widespread support in Northern Cameroons for integration with Nigeria, the voters in the November 1959 plebiscite chose to postpone their decision. This action was largely a protest, supporting reform of the local administrative structure, which was subsequently effected. In the February 1961 plebiscite the Northern Cameroons voted for integration with Nigeria. The legitimacy of this vote was protested by the government of Cameroon to the International Court of Justice, but the vote was upheld by the court.

In the Southern Cameroons J.N. Foncha, leader of the Kamerun National Democratic Party (KNDP), had supported British Cameroonian independence from Nigeria and reunification with the French territory. E.M.L. Endeley, who led the Kamerun National Congress (KNC) and who had basically opposed the various political positions of Foncha since the early 1950s, had advocated association with Nigeria and, later, advocated federation with the eastern territory. Considerable difficulty was encountered in obtaining agreement over the phrasing of the plebiscite proposition, resulting in a delay of the vote in the Southern Cameroons until after the Republic of Cameroon had achieved independence.

Foncha benefited from ethnic fears of British Cameroons' absorption into Nigeria as well as from resentment of continued Nigerian frequently Ibo domination should the Southern Cameroons be incorporated with Nigeria. In the end, the plebiscite of February 1961 brought approval for the federation of the Southern Cameroons and the Republic of Cameroon. Although consultations between Ahidjo and leaders of Southern Cameroons on the federal constitutional structure had occurred, complete agreement had not been reached before the opening of the Foumban Unification Conference in July 1961. The southerners favored a loose federal structure with a bicameral legislature and a ceremonial head of state rather than a strong federal executive. Ahidjo favored a centralized federal structure in which the federal executive would dominate all other governmental organs on both state and federal levels.

Ahidjo presented a completed constitutional draft to the conference in contrast to the list of general principles brought by the representatives of the Southern Cameroons. The final constitution published in September 1961 followed the Ahidjo model with a strong federal executive and a unicameral legislature. On October 1, 1961, the two territories the states of West Cameroon and East Cameroon were joined as the Federal Republic of Cameroon. As an interim move, representatives to the new Federal National Assembly were chosen by the two state legislatures, and Ahidjo remained chief executive. The first direct elections for the assembly and the federal presidency occurred in 1964 and 1965, respectively.

Although the UPC-led civil war carried over into the post-independence period, it was reduced in both intensity and frequency. In part, this reflected further splintering among the Bamileke. A more moderate group had emerged locally and increasingly took positions independent of those advocated by the exiles. The new group supported the constitution in the February referendum although the Bassa did not and in spite of exile opposition participated in the April elections. By 1962 the Bassa and the Douala had gained dominance over the UPC and sought to disassociate from the Bamileke wing and its policy of terrorism. The intensity of Bamileke resistance by this time, however, had also been reduced by the legislation of UPC activity, the deaths of Um Nyobe and Moumie, and the defection of some UPC members to the UC. Ahidjo also curtailed the resistance movement by alternating amnesty and political patronage with demonstrations of the effectiveness of the new government's military arm. By 1963 this threat to national security was reduced to minor proportions.

The concept of national unity advanced by President Ahidjo extended beyond the creation of a tight federal structure and establishment of internal security; the president's goals included the formation of a unitary party system. In 1961 Ahidjo claimed that the UC was the only national party in East Cameroon, stressing the local character of the opposition parties. In April 1962 the opposition rallied and formed the United National Front (Front National Unifie FNU), which attacked Ahidjo's unitary party concept as being part of a planned progression to authoritarian rule. In mid-1962 FNU leaders were arrested on charges that they were supporting the UPC rebellion, and the front was dissolved.

Ahidjo obtained an agreement with Foncha's KNDP in West Cameroon to form a committee of coordination. This committee was charged with formulation of proposals for the establishment of a single federal party and, in the interim, with coordination of UC and KNDP platforms and candidates. Negotiations continued for four years. Finally in June 1966 agreement was reached between Ahidjo and the leaders of the three small West Cameroonian parties and the leader of the KNDP, leading to the formation in August 1966 of the Cameroonian National Union (Union Nationale Camerounaise UNC).

The task of national unification was not just a political issue; it also involved the complicated adjustment of the divergent social and economic systems of the two federated states. Provisions were made for the gradual achievement of integration. The first steps toward this goal represented basic standardization of the national economy especially in the transportation sector and the complicated coordina- tion of statistics for future planning. By 1962 the currency of the African Financial Community (Communaute Financiere Africaine CFA) the CFA franc was introduced as the federal currency, displacing the Nigerian pound in West Cameroon.

Vehicles in West Cameroon were required to drive on the right-hand side of public roads. Coordination in 1963 continued to place heavy emphasis on the transportation sector. Major investments were made in upgrading and repairing the highway network in West Cameroon. A survey was begun for the construction of a railroad link between Kumbo and Douala, and the state-financed Cameroon Air Transport Corporation was established. At the same time all secondary schools were required to offer both French and English language courses to students. In 1965 a major administrative reform was completed with the shift in authority over taxation from local to federal authorities. The cus- toms barrier between the two states was lifted in 1966, and a federal commission was established to aid in the coordination of the separate legal system that had evolved in the two federal states.

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