coast of present-day Cameroon was explored late in the 15th century by
the Portuguese, who named the estuary to the south of Cameroon Mountain
Rio dos Camerões (“river of prawns”). Merchants established trading
stations along the coast in the 17th century, buying slaves, ivory, and
rubber. British traders and missionaries were especially active in the
area after 1845. The Germans and British began to explore inland after
1860, and in 1884 the former established a protectorate over the Douala
area; the British, taken by surprise, offered no resistance to their claim.
difficulties and local resistance slowed German development of the area,
but they managed to cultivate large cacao, palm, and rubber plantations.
They also built roads and began the construction of a railroad and the
port of Douala on the Atlantic coast.
forces invaded the German colony in 1916. In 1919 one-fifth of the territory,
which was contiguous with eastern Nigeria, was assigned to Britain, and
the remaining four-fifths were assigned to France as mandates under the
League of Nations.
British Cameroons consisted of the Northern and Southern Cameroons, which
were separated by a 72-km (45-mi) strip along the Benue River. The northern
territory, peopled by tribes of Sudanese origin, was always administered
as a part of Northern Nigeria. The Southern Cameroons, peopled by a variety
of tribes, was administered as part of the Nigerian federation but had
a locally elected legislature. The French Cameroons was administered as
a separate territory. Neither area, however, experienced much social or
World War II ended in 1945, the mandates were made trust territories of
the United Nations (UN). In the following years political ferment grew
enormously in the French territory, where more than 100 parties were formed
between 1948 and 1960. The campaign for independence, intermittently violent,
gained steady momentum during the 1950s, until the French granted self-government
in December 1958; full independence was achieved on January 1, 1960. Ahmadou
Ahidjo, prime minister since 1958, became the first president. The new
republic was admitted to the UN in September 1960.
following year the UN sponsored a plebiscite in the British Cameroons.
As a result, the Southern Cameroons joined the Republic of Cameroon to
form the Federal Republic of Cameroon in October 1961, while the Northern
Cameroons joined Nigeria.
Rebellion and Unity
Cameroon became independent, President Ahidjo's government was faced with
a rebellion incited by the Cameroonian People's Union, a pro-Communist
party. By 1963, however, the revolt had been suppressed, and Ahidjo soon
established the authority of his regime. In 1966 the six major parties
merged into the National Cameroonian Union, which was declared the only
legal party in the country. In 1972 Ahidjo sponsored a national referendum
that changed Cameroon from a federal to a unitary state, called the United
Republic of Cameroon.
in office in 1975 and again in 1980, President Ahidjo resigned unexpectedly
in November 1982. He was succeeded in office by Paul Biya, the former prime
minister. Relations between Biya and Ahidjo deteriorated, and in July 1983
Ahidjo (who had retained the leadership of the National Cameroonian Union)
went into exile in France and gave up his party post, which Biya assumed.
Biya won election to his first full term as president in January 1984.
During the same month, the constitution was amended to abolish the office
of prime minister and to change the country's name to the Republic of Cameroon.
Biya suppressed a coup attempt that April.
late August 1986 an explosive discharge of carbon dioxide and hydrogen
sulfide from Lake Nyos, a volcanic lake near the Nigerian border, killed
more than 1,700 people in the valleys below. International medical and
economic aid was sent to the area.
ran unopposed in the presidential election of April 1988, held a year ahead
of schedule to coincide with legislative balloting. Facing rising popular
discontent in the early 1990s, he began to implement political reforms.
Biya won a 40 percent plurality in the nation's first multiparty presidential
election, held in October 1992. In November 1995 Cameroon became a member
of the Commonwealth of Nations.
in 1994 a border dispute arose between Nigeria and Cameroon after Nigerian
troops invaded the petroleum-rich Bakassi Peninsula of Cameroon. The Nigerian
government claims a 19th-century treaty makes Nigeria the rightful owner
of the peninsula. The Cameroonian government filed a complaint with the
International Court of Justice, and the two nations started negotiations
in March. Short skirmishes sporadically broke out between January and May
1996 while each nation accused the other of being the aggressor. In late
May both nations agreed to allow a UN fact-finding mission access to Bakassi
to help settle the dispute.
faced increasing opposition leading up to 1997 legislative and presidential
elections. Legislative elections held that May were accompanied by violent
confrontations between rival political groups. Biya's party, the Cameroon
People's Democratic Movement (formerly the National Cameroonian Union),
won 60 percent of the seats, but the vote was marred by allegations of
electoral fraud. October presidential elections were boycotted by Cameroon's
three main opposition parties, and Biya was reelected in a landslide. Election
observers estimated that voter participation was less than 30 percent in
the presidential elections.