*** Cameroon history

Cameroon History

Cameroon history
Figure 1.--This postcard was taken in Cameroon during the 1910s. The writing is in English, but the name still has the German spelling (Kamerun). We can assume that the photo was taken just after Versailles Treaty in the British zone. Because the form of huts, the photo was probablhy taken in the south. In southern Cameroun and in neighboring Gabon there are rectangular-plan huts. In northern Cameroon there are round-plan huts.

Cameroon is a political entity created by the colonial powers (England, France, and Germany) with no regard for tribal/ethnic boundaries or topographic features. European contact with Cameroon began when Portuguese explorers sailed up the Wouri River (1472). They named the river the Rio dos Camarões (River of Prawns). At about the same time, Fulani pastoral nomads began moving from from what is now Nigeria began to migrate in Cameroon (anout 1500). This forced the indigenous forest peoples southwards. The Fulani migration accelerated slave traders supplying Dutch, Portuguese and British slavers (early-17th century). Germany signed a treaty with the chiefdoms of Douala and central Bamiléké Plateau (1884). This essentially blocked expanding Britih influence. The British occupied Cameroon during World War I. After World War I, as part of the Versailles Peace Treaty (1919), the German protectorate of Kamerun was parfitioned between France and Britain. Revolts against French control were supressed by French authorities (1950s). By this time, the independence movement throughout Africa was too strong for France and the other European powers to resist. The French granted self-government (1958) and then independence (1960). The boundaries of Cameroon changed during the colonial period and did not assume the modern configuration until independence (1961). As a result of the boundary and territorial shifts, Camerron achieved independence as a mixed Anglophone, Francophone nation. This dichotomy has affected post-indepemdence development.


There is evidence of human habitation dating back to the emergence of Homo sapiens (50,000 BP). The original inhabitants of what is now Cameroon were the small-statured Pygmie people. They would be driven into the lesser valuable land, often deep jungle by the Bantu opeople in modern times.

Ancient History

The explorer Hanno from Carthage in North Africa (modern Tunisia) appears to have been the first individual from north of the Sahara to report seeing Mount Cameroon (500 BC). Trade developed across the Sahara between the clasical world and West Africa. Products included ivory, gold, slaves and other items. Some of this trade originated in northern Cameroon. As far as we know, there was no seaborn trde as far as Cameroon, at least there is no record of it. The first Bantu-tribes migrated from what is now northern Nigeria to Cameroon (200-100 BC). Bantu speaking people were primarily agriculturalists. They required large areas of land which is probably why they were migrating. The Bantu forced the more primitive Pigmy people into marginal land, primarily the forrests. The Sao culture developed to the south of Lake Chad.

African Empires

Important kingdoms and states have been noted after the ancient era in Europe. The most widely known Cameronian kingom is Sao, which appeared around Lake Chad (5th century AD). This kingdom was important (9th-15th century AD). The rising Kotoko state conquered SAO and extended its rule over large areas of northern Cameroon and neighboring Nigeria. The Bornu Empire under Rabi? al-Zubayr (Rabah) overran Kotoko (late-19th century). It is at this time that much of Cameroon became Islamicized. The Aro Cionfderacy in Nigeria and western Cameroon (17th-19th century)

European Maritime Expanion

The Portugues in an effort to open trade with the East began sailing down the Atlantic coast of Africa. Sucessive navigators moved fyrther abd further down the coast. A Portuguese expedition lead by Fernão do Pó (Fernando Po) reached the coast of Cameroon (1472). They reached Douala and then sailed up the Wouri River. They name it Rio dos Camarões (Prawn/Shrimp River). To this date the shrimp fishery is important to the local economy. This would be the origins of the name of the future colonies and ultumately the country. A major development was that the centuries old slave trade was no longer only a trans-Saharan caravan trade, but now a maritime trade as well which shifted the trade from the north to the south. Chiefs on the coast increased their wealth and power by participating in the slave trade. They made agreements with the Portuguese. Similar arrangements were also made with other Europeans when they arrived, including the English, Dutch, French, and Spanish. The Cameroon chiefs served as middlemen between the Europeans and up-country tribes with provided the trade goods, largely slaves and ivory. The Europeans exchanged them from cloth and metal-products.

The Fulani

Fulani pastoral nomads, at about the same time the Portuguese reached West Africa, began moving from from what is now Nigeria began to migrate in Cameroon (anout 1500). This forced the indigenous forest peoples southwards. The Fulani migration accelerated slave traders supplying Dutch, Portuguese and British slavers (early-17th century).


Slavery existed in Cameroon and other countries before. the arrival of the Euroopeans. here were domestic conflicts beteen states and between pastoral nomads and indigenous tribes resulted in captives. Arab slave raders were also active. There is not a lot known about slavery before the Europeansarruved. These were not literate sicities sob there is no written record. There is no doubt thec arrival ofv the Eurooeans and the profits assiciated with the skave trade greaky added tithis pernicious trade. After Portuguese explorer Fernão do Pó reached what is modern Cameroonn (1472), he was followed by merchants/traders and slaves became a major commodity. As a resultv of the Dutch Portuguese War, the Dutch for a while dominated the slave trade (17th century) and were eventually replaced by the British (18th century). Cameroon became an important part of the Atlantic slave trade. The Bamileke, Bamoum, and other interior kingdoms were the principal providers of captive Africans. The captives were taken in the Limbe area as well as the grass lands northern and western Cameroon. The captives were driven over tortuous routes to the ports. They were sold at markets in Bimbia, Douala, and other ports. Bimbia was especially important. Along with the island of Gorée off Senegal and Cape Coast Castle in Ghana, Bimbia was of huge imortace, but less well known. Something like 10 percent of the enslaved Africans transported to the Americas went through Bimbia, primarily in the 18th century. The British outlawed the slave trade (1807). This significantly reduced the flow of captive Africa frim Cameroonia ports. The United States abolished the slave trade in thesame year, but it had little imopact because the United States was the destination for such a small portion of the transported Africans. Britain began using the Royal Navy and diplomacy to stop other countries from participating in the slave trade. As the slave trade declined. , rubber, palm oil, and other commoditues replaved slavery ineconomic importance. While the Atlantic slave trade was stamped out, slavery coninued in domestic life. Christian missionaries began entering the country and played a role in reducing slavery domestucally. Englishman Alfred Saker and West Indians such as Joseph Merrick, a Baptist station was established at Akwa Town (now Douala) (1845). Saker established a larger post at Victoria (now Limbe) (1858). The American Presbyterian mission opened a station (1871) and other missionaries followed. Domestic slavery, however, cintinued in the Muslim areas of northern Cameroon into the 20th century. Germany as part of the Scrable for Africa claimed Cameroon as a colony (1884). Germans established plantations to suppy tropical priducts. There were many plantations in southwestern Kamarun. Working conditions were very harsh, approaching slavery. 【DeLorme, et. al.】 The Germans did not make a major issue out of slavery in Kamarun, it was much more of a problem in German East Africa. 【Eckert】 During the colonia era there was a substantial slave trade from German northern Cameroon to British northern Nigeria. This is not something the Germans were involved with, it wa conducted by Muslim tribesmen in Kamarun, but the German authorities made little effort to stop it. In fact, German colonial policy was to form an alliance with Muslim tribes in the north, the very people involved in the domestic slave trade. 【Weiss, p.143.】 The British and French seized German Kamarun during World War I (1916). While slavery was outlawed, it continued in traditional society well into the 20th century.

European Era

Gradually the Eropeans expanded their activities along the coast beyond mere trading. A small numbers of Portuguese settlers start plantations (1520). The Trans-Atlantic slave trade begins to develop as Amer-Indian in the Caribbean begin to die in large numbers and workers were needed to replace them. Pastoral Nomads continue immigrating from Nigeria. The continuing conflict between the migrating and indigenous tribes produces captives as well as refugees vulnerable for the mostly Arab slave traders. Cameroon becanme a major of the sklave trade. The Dutch come to dominate the slave trade in Cameroon (17th century). British Christians begin protesting the slave trade (18th century). The London Baptist Missionary Society (LBMS) was particulary active in the British Abolition Movement. The LBMS estanlished a Christian colony in Victoria (modrn Limbe). Freed sleaves from Jamaica, Ghana, and Liberiawere sttled there. Also local people who converted to Christianity settled there. The British Royal Navy plays a centrl role in ending the Atlantic slave tade. Christian missionaries played an important role in the colonial era. Cameroon is a political entity created by the colonial powers (England, France, and Germany) with no regard for tribal/ethnic boundaries or topographic features. Germany signed a treaty with the chiefdoms of Douala and central Bamiléké Plateau (1884). This essentially blocked expanding British influence. Britain ast the time had its had full pacifying Nigeria. Thus they did not resist the German creation of the Kamarun colony.

World War I

Germany as part of the Scramble for Africa established a protectorate over the Douala region (1884). Britain did not dispute the claim located southeast of Nigeria. Germany began building roads, begun the construction of a railroad and cultivated large plantations of cacao, palm and rubber in the region. They built a city, Douala, on the Atlantic coast, which by 1914 served as the principal port and wireless station in the Cameroons. The British launched a campaign immediately after Germany launched World War I by invading neutral Belgium. The Allies failed to anticipate the German strategy or the strength of the German hold on the colony. The Germans, fully understanding the power of the Royal Navy decided not to defending the coast, but withdraw inland and utilize rough teraine inland to mount a defense, hoping for a quick German victory in Europe. This might have worked had it not been for the unexpected Belgian-British resiistance leading to the Miracle on the Marne. A mixed forcde of British, French, and Belgian troops seized the German Kamerun colony. They quickly seized Doula (September 27, 1914), but were not able to fully take control of the German colony for more than a year. The Germans finally surrendered (February 1916). The British West African Frontier Force was one of two sets of colonial troops that the British turned to in Africa. The other was the South African Defense Force, which was primarily deployed in German Southwest Africa (Namibia).

Inter-War Era

The British and French as part of the Versailles Peace Treaty (1919) split the German protectorate of Kamerun, but not equally. It became a Leagyue of Nations Mandate. The border was drawn roughly following the line of mountains. The British acquired a narrow mountaneous strip which was administered as part of Nigeria. British officials stopped the use of forced labour, a hmanitarian step that as aesult advrsely affected the the development of the area. The British focus and efforts was on the development of Nigeria. British Cameroon as a result was largely neglected. The French acquired the larger proportion which they administred as a separate colony. French officials continued the German system of forced labor until after World War II (1945). The French expanded the infrastructure. The port of Douala was expanded and export shipments increased. French administration was brutal and becme increasingly unpopular. The administrative and linguistic division of German Kamerun resulted in tensions and problems which continue to this day. Neither Britain or France confiscated the possessions of the German settlers who were allowed to retirn. Many stayed on after the War. These settlers operating plantations and business. There were also missionaries. The British did not want to commit resources to build a colonial infrastructure. They decided to rely on the German infrastructure. "German influence and not British transcended many facets of Cameroon colonial life. Much of the commercial economy, particularly the cocoa, banana and rubber plantations and the import and export business remained in German hands. On the spiritual plane, all foreign nationals of the Basel Mission were either German or Swiss-Germans, as were all the German Baptist missionaries. A significant number of the Catholic missionaries were also German or Italian. German influence therefore was widespread. The British hold on Cameroon was light. Between the wars she played a minimum caretaker role and totally failed to create any serious economic, social, cultural or political impact on the territory or on its inhabitants. It is understandable therefore why the Administration became so nervous in 1939." [Ndi] This was not a problem until the rise of the NAZIs. The Germany community became supportive of the new NAZI Government in Germany (1930s). Many hoped that the new militarized Germany might eventually reclaim the colony. As is often the case in history, nationalism trumps all else.

World War II

The British and French when they occupied German Kamerun durung Workd war I did not confiscate the possessiuoins of the German settlers, many of who stayed on after the War. These settlers operating plantations and business become supportive of the new NAZI Government in Germany (1930s). Many hoped that the new militarized Germany might eventually reclaim the colony. When Hitler launched World War II by invading Poland, British and French officials seize the remaining German-owned plantations (1939-40). After the fall of France (June 1940), the country's colonial dependencies proclaimed loyalty to Marshal Petain' new Vichy regime. Central Africa was an exception. As soon as it was clear that the British would and could continue to resist the Germans, the French Central African colonies began going over to the Free French. Chad was the first to declare loyalty to the Free French (August 26, 1940). The other colonies quickly followed suit: Cameroon (August 27). French Congo (August 29), and Ubangi-Shari (August 30). Only Gabon retained its ties to Vichy. The allies occupied it (October 27 - November 12). After the War, the British and French League of Nations mandates to the Cameroon are olonies are renewed by the new United Nations. The British continues to rule Cameroon from Nigeria. The confiscated German plantations are turned over to a new Cameroon Development Corporation (CDC) (1947). The CDC is today one of the largest companies in Cameroon.


Througout Africa after World War II interest in political activity and the idea of inpendence grew among the colonial peoples. Allied leaders spoke of democracy and freedom throughout the War. This could not but affect the colonial peoples ruled by the Europeans. And some Africans now had European educations. With the outbreak of the Cold war, Communist thought also entered political ferment. The French and British were not at first receptive. Political parties begin to emerge in both the French and British sectors of Cameroon. Most of the parties demand independence. Some wants the British and Frence colonies to be united. Some in British Cameroon want to join (English-speaking) Nigeria which was also moving toward ndeoendence. Pne of the most imporant new parties was the Union des Populations Camerounaises (UPC). The UPC organizes a revolt in the major towns of French Cameroon (1955). French authorities supress the revolt. everal hundred lives are lost and considerable destruction occurs in the towns where the revolt broke out. The French ban the UPC (1956). The party continues to operate underground as a covert freedom movement. Demand for independence grows. By this time, the independence movement throughout Africa was too strong for Britain and France to resist. The French granted self-government (1958). Ahmadou Ahidjo forms the l'Union Camerounaise (1958). He becomes prime minister of the new Assemblée Legislative du Cameroun. He works closely within self-rule French system, but advocates independence and reunification of the two colonies. France grants independence. Ahidjo proclaimed independence of the Republic of Cameroon in the former French Cameroon (January 1960). He is inaugurated president and as his priority effort begins working on the unification of the British and French colonies. The British oversee a referendum in their Cameroon colony with the support of the United Nations (October 1961). The Northern part of British Cameroon votes to join Nigeria with its Muslim majority. The Chritian south votes to join the largely Christian French speaking Cameroun. The British respect the will of people expressed in the the referendum although there was some disagreement over the results. It is at this time that the modern configuration of the county appear. As a result of the boundary and territorial shifts, Camerron achieved independence as a mixed Anglophone, Francophone nation, a rare development in Africa. This dichotomy has affected post-indepemdence development. Frequent disorders occur in the new united country, They are supressed with assistance of the French military (1961-63).

United Republic of Cameroun


DeLorme, Charles D. Jr., David Kamerschen, and John Mukum Mbaku. "Land and labor problems in the German colony of Kamerun, 1884-1916," Journal of Third World Studies: Roles of Third World Militaries Vol. 5, No. 1 (Spring1988), pp. 146-59.

Eckert, Andreas. "Slavery in Colonial Cameroon, 1880s to 1930s", Slavery & Abolition Vol. 19, No. 2, (1998), pp. 133-48.

Weiss, Holger. "The illegal trade in slaves from German northern Cameroon to British northern Nigeria," African Economic History No. 28 (2000), pp. 141-97.


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Created: 10:26 AM 11/22/2009
Last updated: 1:04 PM 3/6/2024