Aborted Statehood and the Cameroons Reunification

7 May

By Nwanatifu Nwaco


Neither Yaounde nor Buea can claim to be the sole legitimate heir to the successor state that represents former German Kamerun. As a matter of international law, German Kamerun had ceased to exist as the many city states it had annexed before it. The First World War had created new subjects under international law, these were the successor states to this defunct Kamerun, split between British Nigeria and French Equatorial Africa. To begin to claim true reunification will mean a reconsitution of Kamerun as it was in 1911. This will mean 5 neighbouring countries of today’s Cameroon will have to cede back territories belonging to the anterior state of Kamerun.

The February 1961 Plebiscites were just a sampling tool  as to whether  British Southern and Northern Cameroonians liked to one day enter a union with “the Republic of Cameroun” or Nigeria; reason why the Plebiscite question was simply:

(I) Do you wish to achieve independence by joining the independent Federation of Nigeria?
(II) Do you wish to achieve independence by joining the independent Republic of Cameroun?

Contrary to their wishes, there was no third option for complete independence.

If they truly wanted to reunite as two federal republics, the Foumban conference should have been where the ‘birth certificate’ of the Union was established; more appropriately, independence by reunification or integration. Further down the lane, the Feb 11 1961 plebiscite questions ( “Do you wish to achieve independence by joining…?’’ ) were inconsistent (even without the third option of total independence)  How can one ‘achieve independence’ by ‘joining’ ?

Moreover, there was never a unification treaty between the independent and dependent territories. If legality is to be followed, a constituent assembly should have concieved a constitution for both but what happened was that the 1960 Constitution of former French Cameroon was simply amended on 1st September 1961 meanwhile the Southern Cameroonians only joined the union on 1st October 1961. This goes to say nothing was ever done to ratify the 11 February plebiscite. So technically, The French speaking Republic of Cameroon only granted defacto not dejure citizenship to the stateless Southern Cameroonians who had refused Nigerian citizenship. Hence one cannot secede from an entity they  formally never joined-‘formally’ in this context means legally. In our case, we are dealing with geopolitical entities, and there were legal procedures that had to be undertaken and validated before French Cameroun and Southern Cameroons could be considered a nation. Those legal procedures were not exhausted. So logically, there can be no secession.

So up until 20 May 1972, the union was temporary, worse still the 20 May referendum was a fraud because East Cameroonians were asked to vote to cancel the plebiscite of 1961 in which only west Cameroonians had voted. As such in the absence of a union treaty, East Cameroonians shouldn’t have voted. The woes of Southern Cameroonians got worse when the name of the country was reverted to the pre-plescite name on 4th February1984, it’s the name we currently use today. So by act of state, former French Cameroon had opted out of the defacto union or had by implication annexed or erased the dual nature of its national identity.

When you go to England you are not considered an English person, you go to France the same. We are here killing ourselves about Anglophone Vs Francophone problems, and this denial to acknowledge that there is a problem with the nature of our national unity makes it more problematic. The tendency for the folks of French expression has been to narrow it down to an ‘ethnic’ issue as though it were a ‘Bamilike’ or ‘Nordists’ minority issue or have either missed context-represented it as though it were a national problem just as corruption and economic crisis. Even if they did succeed to restore their nation-statehood, there are a lot of ethno-perception differences among the Anglophone such that If there were to be secession today, by tomorrow, South West will want to secede from North West.

The Anglophone question is unique and stands out alone from the other minority and governance problems. it’s about identity and the republican nature of this country. In Canada as in Scottland, the ethnic and linguistic minority have a kind of social, political and cultural space, autonomy and equality that they enjoy today. They even have the option to quit and have put it to referendum before. One of the benefits is that the federated state gets its due respect, however Cameroon is dabbling with a form of regionalism and decentralization as per its 1996 constitution.

“I’m Speaking to the Anglophone Community of Cameroon” is an unusually candid 54 page pamphlet published by “Les Editions Du Kamerun”, authored by Enoh Meyomesse, who has become the first French-speaking Cameroonian to admit that the gross injustice meted out by the Francophone authorities against their anglophone counterparts is the root cause of the simmering civil war that will erupt in the country. However, may be we could try being Pan-African instead, then there could we see the oneness that motivated the reunificationists like the UPC and KNDP. The point is that what happened in 1961 was that Cameroun was under a state of emergency, and extended that state of emergency into the Southern Cameroons and proceeded to strangle the life out of the Southern Cameroons successor state of West Cameroon.

The 1961 reunification between the Southern Cameroons  which was not yet a sovereign state and the independent Republic of Cameroon was a union founded on uneven bargaining terms because the still colonial status of Southern Cameroons effectively disqualified it to enter an international treaty with an already a sovereign state. As such it came into the union by incorporation (absorption and annexation) and not by treaty.  The Southern Cameroons acquired autonomy not independence, by becoming the appendix of an independent country. If the de facto state of SC was independent just for one day from the UN or from Nigeria and Cameroun which were already de jure states and exhibiting by it self all the attributes of a sovereign state as defined by Article 3 to 6 of the Montevideo Convention of 1933, then one could lay claim to an independence day. At the time of “joining” the Westphalian styled Cameroun Republic, Southern Cameroons did not have an anthem, a seal of state, coat of arms, a flag or ability to formulate and execute foreign policy, mint currency or wage war. Those in use belonged to the British foreign and commonwealth office. So October 1st 1961, would count as a day of “Emancipation” to the sovereign statehood within the now Federal Republic of former independent French speaking Republic of Cameroun.
Worthy of note is the fact that Nigeria gained independence on 1st October 1960 while former French Cameroon gained independence on 1st January 1960, So within this window period from October 1960 to October 1961, the Southern Cameroons was never an independent state but was an internal self governing trust territory of the UN under British administration.  It should be retained at heart that they joined on October 1st 1961, that is exactly one month after Cameroun revised it’s constitution to accommodate the ‘newcomers’.  Reunification would have meant both entities ceased to exist in order for a successor state to be formed, by holding a constituent constitutional assembly where a new constitution as to the republican character of the new state they wanted to form was to be debated and adopted, as was done for example between Tanganyika and Zanzibar to become the Tanzania of today, the short lived Guinea-Bissau and Cape Verde union, the unsuccessful Central African Federation, the failed Senegambia Federation, even Chad and Libya negotiated a merger during their border war in 1980. In the case of Cameroon, the SC accepted adopted the artifacts and attributes of sovereignty entirely from its usurping benefactor state. 
Also worthy of note is the joint communique issued on 14 October 1960 by the pro-reunification champions Ahidjo and Foncha firmly declaring their intentions to unite their respective entities into one federal state cannot be held as a valid reunification birth certificate because it was a mere expression of intentions that led up to the 11 February 1961 plebiscite to sample the choice of statehood for the Southern Cameroonians. Sarcastically and metaphorically put, the plebiscite question to determine the Southern Cameroons future independence, statehood and nationhood was like a drowning man’s only option of choosing to vote either for “YES” or “OUI”. 


The sadness of African state building or formation is that their ethnic groups run horizontally while their state boundaries run vertically! While the English language bond and the shared hate of the British southern Cameroons colonial history and experience in Nigeria might have given them and still does provide a common choice to reject integration with Nigeria in preference for reunification with former French Cameroun, the people of Bamenda and Victoria divisions did chose to reunite more due to their ethnic sameness they had with the adjacent West and and Littoral provinces of the Republic of Cameroon respectively. Equaling here to the coastal Sawa Bantu tribes in the south and the Tikari semi-Bantu tribes of the western grasslands respectively and not otherwise.

However, Dr. Endeley’s points in favour of integration with Nigeria when re-read today given the outcome of reunification seem visionary. the sheer numerical strength of Bamenda division over Victoria division did however decide the fate of the abortive state of Southern Cameroon. Since then the election results that are pro and anti government are a testimony of this sub-national ethnic affiliations and suspicion between the two regions.

To talk of an Anglophone problem is a reductionist account that is meant to mis-define a crisis of nationhood within an out of the Southern Cameroon entity. This entity must never be equated to an ethnic group as obtains in East Mumgo. As a matter of straight fact,the Cameroon state is made up of nations that are desperately trying to become a nation-state.I call the North West-South West dice rolling not an ethnic issue,but rather an elitist power wrestle relationship between sub-national artificial geographies. Even though ministerial, precisely prime ministerial appointments,CDC blame games, Kumba chieftaincy politics and the University of Buea staffing preferences still keep those skeletons in their cupboards, the ‘Oben Peter’ years and their overt xenophobia are in the past, observing the lingering fracture margins between these two communities that we all hope time and new perspectives or change of views about our identity can succeed to bridge.

The North West political elites might have lobbied the presidency to visit Bamenda, but the protocol of attendance and representation was decided not by them. If the South West elites are vowing pay back, then it’s their storm in a cup of tea! When the president visited the North, Littoral or the south regions did elites of the other regions yell at their peers? Of course representatives of these other regions resident there were invited to the tribunes. For intelligence’s sake, he was visiting his arm forces as commander in chief, who happened to be stationed in the North West. Whatever promises that emerged from the visit should be seen as political carrots and sticks- he created a university there and then as a carrot, the stick today is an overwhelming win by his party in this opposition party homeland.

Must the visit of a president to a part of his country become an issue over which rancor and political division flourishes? hell to the No! A leader should at regular intervals tour his country as a matter of duty and service to his citizens to avoid them wooing him to visit his own backyard. personally i find it utterly stupid for anyone to use what is supposed to be a right as an excuse or sought after favour to exact political vengeance. just shows us how this vague regionalism in Cameroon’s case can be a disuniting factor for a fragile state or serve as a platform for obnoxious ethnic inspired agendas of exclusion of other ethnic groups.

Well it’s a good thing the central government has changed nomenclature from ‘National Day’ to ‘Reunification day’ but as it stands, more needs to be done so as to give the celebration the legitimacy it deserves. I believe Reunification occurred on October 1st 1961 when a federal state succeeded the dependent and independent states of Cameroon. there are many potential days to match that title such as the 11 February plebiscite or the constitutional revision of 1st September 1961. Celebrating 20th May as reunification day seems out of historical accuracy to me, since both states were already reunited by incorporation, unless they mean to tell me that from 1961 to 1972, the union had been just a “civil cohabitation” now being issued a marriage certificate as per the referendum of May 20. Also, nothing can stop Yaounde from declaring February 4th 1984 as a national day too! remember the now celebrated May 20th national or reunification day constitutionally died following this 1984 revision.

So I ask you again what you mean by Anglophone equality? is it in political rewards for leap services and sycophancy? So unless the former Southern Cameroonians more appropriately, not Anglophones, as a people with a common colonial legacy and ideology about nationhood resolve their baseless internal differences, black-legging will remain their best bargaining asset, checks and balance as they relate with the powers in Etoudi. By the way Anglophone denotes an English speaker who isn’t from England, in the case of Cameroon many former East Cameroonians will qualify as Anglophones by mere fact that they can read, write, hear or speak the English language.


 it should be noted that at her independence in 1960, the French speaking Republic of Cameroon’s flag was green, red and yellow with no star on either stripes. By a constitutional revision on 1st September 1961, Article 1(5) read thus ”The flag shall be of three equal vertical stripes of green, red and yellow, charged with two gold stars on the green stripe.” 
The Southern Cameroonians only became ‘Cameroonians’ by acquisition on 1st October 1961, that is 1 month after this constitutional revision. So it goes to say the Southern Cameroonians as per Article 1(1) of the said constitution were to be henceforth after inheriting the independence of the Republic of Cameroon, become a federated state of that country, under the name West Cameroon. After the unconstitutional referendum of 20 May 1972, the federal state gave way to the Unitary state, hence the federated states of east and west Cameroon ceased to exist – just one Cameroon, as such the 2 stars on the federal flag merged into a single star now at the centre of the unitary flag. Cameroon was thus in its 2nd republic. 
Contemporary squabbles over the republican nature of the unitary state began on 4th February 1984 when Biya in another amendment reverted the country’s name from ‘United’ back to simply the ‘Republic of Cameroon’. This was the name under which French Cameroun acquired independence on 1st January 1960, that is 1 year and 9 months before it incorporated the Southern Cameroons into itself. The legal activist Fon Gorji Dinka considered this name change an act of secession from the 1961 reunion by Biya, hence firing the first short in what will culminate after the All Anglophone Conferences 1 & 2 between 1993-95, by pressure groups and regional leaders, leading to calls for a return to the federal state system or an outright restoration of sovereign statehood for former Southern Cameroon. 
In response, there was the revised constitution of 1996 which shied away from calling itself a federal constitution by masking itself in decentralization and regionalism… the rest is politics and history in the making!



Up coming article:


 For several years now, there’s been an ongoing debate on the etymological and lyrical contrast of the French and English versions of the Cameroon national anthem, between Cameroon historians and constitutional thinkers. It is absolutely impossible to talk about the two anthems without having to make recourse to how both came about nor the tabooed side of the coin which ends in a question about Anglophone identity and dissatisfaction with the state of the reunion of the Cameroons militant opinions. The controversy generated by this debate has largely been confined to academia and elite circles, it is hugely unknown to the general public. Before one dives into the debacle of righting this mire, one should first take a look at the decoloniazation and state formation history between the two polities.

One Response to “Aborted Statehood and the Cameroons Reunification”

  1. uprising12 May 7, 2013 at 20:09 #

    The founding fathers had a vision that was hijacked once they went into bed with the leaders of La Republique. Even after that event which has turned out to be a miscalculated,misguided and unholy for many English speaking Cameroonians,the current leadership has worsened the situation.It is unlikely that its gonna get better any time soon.The question of “who should be celebrating the 20th of May every years and for what reasons” will never be settled through intellectual debate,since a party believes it has the God given right to lord over the other. Paria States in Africa for me are not a colonial creation but the failure of Africans to channel their creative faculties towards bettering the lives of their kindred.

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