BaretaNews continues its daily dissection of the Bishops letter to the President of the Republic. In this edition, the Bishops briefly and clearly situated the history of Southern Cameroons to the President Paul Biya. The Bishops indicated that though the call for complete Independence was the loudest in Southern Cameroons following the Mamfe 1959 conference, the United Nations manipulated its way and paradoxically refused the third option during the 11th February Plebiscite. An option which the people of Southern Cameroons clearly wanted. This is what the Bishops had to say in their brief historical write-up.
“…Most of the territory known today as the Republic of Cameroon was a German protectorate from 1884. However, German Kamerun also included British Northern Cameroons, which elected to become part of Nigeria in the plebiscite of 1961. This protectorate was divided into British and French Cameroons in 1916 and confirmed, with some slight modifications, by the Milner-Simon Agreement of 10 July 1919. British Cameroons, which was comprised of Northern and Southern Cameroons, was one fifth and French Cameroun was four-fifths of the entire territory. They were Class B Mandated Territories of the League of Nations until 1946 when they became United Nations Trust Territories.
British Cameroons and French Cameroun were separate legal and political entities and historians have postulated that although this partition was said to be temporary Britain and France instituted two different administrative styles and systems which were to impact on any subsequent movement towards eradicating the provisional nature of the partition and facilitating reunification.(3) After the Second World War, the United Nations (Article 76, b) explicitly called on the British and French to administer their respective spheres of Cameroon towards self-government. It called on the Administering Authorities to “promote the political, economic, social and educational advancement of the inhabitants of the Trust Territories, and their progressive development towards self-government or independence as may be appropriate to the particular circumstances of each territory and its peoples…”
Before the London Constitutional Conferences of 1957 and 1958, three political options had emerged in British Southern Cameroons, namely independence as a separate political entity, independence in association with Nigeria, and independence by reuniting with French Cameroun. The Mamfe Conference of August 1959, which was called to hammer out consensus among Southern Cameroonians on one of the options, did not succeed to arrive at a consensus. The three political options persisted, with the most popular being independence as a separate political entity, the next being association with Nigeria and the least popular being reunification with French Cameroun.
Paradoxically, the UN General Assembly Resolution 1352 (xiv) on the British Cameroons’ Plebiscite of 1961, clearly ruled out the separate independence of Southern Cameroons(4), the most popular of the three options. This was thanks to the British who tactfully blocked every chance of the Southern Cameroonians voting for independence as a separate entity, convincing the United Nations that Southern Cameroon was not economically viable and could only survive by leaning on Nigeria or the Republic of Cameroon, and recklessly steering the Mamfe All Party Conference of August 1959 to ensure that the parties did not achieve consensus(5). In fact, the British wanted Southern Cameroons to gain independence in association with Nigeria. Consequently, the two questions adopted for the plebiscite were:
1. Do you wish to achieve independence by joining the independent Federation of Nigeria?
2. Do you wish to achieve independence by joining the independent Republic of Cameroun?
Southern Cameroonians were apprehensive of this move and put pressure on John Ngu Foncha to lead a delegation to London in November 1960 to include the option of independence as a separate political entity. The request was rejected. Nevertheless, according to United Nations Resolution 1541(XV) Principles VII and VIII, Southern Cameroons was qualified to achieve independence either through association or integration which “should be on the basis of complete equality between the peoples of the erstwhile Non-Self-Governing Territory and those of the independent country with which it is integrated. The peoples of both territories should have equal status and rights”. It was with this understanding that on the 11th of February 1961 British Southern Cameroons voted to join French Cameroun while British Northern Cameroons voted to join the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
The Foumban Conference of 17th- 21st July 1961 agreed broadly what the “marriage” between the two Cameroons was going to look like. The Yaoundé Tripartite Conference of 2nd-7th August 1961 put this agreement in legal form. Worthy of note here is the fact that the draft 1961 Constitution was never presented to the Southern Cameroons House of Chiefs (SCHC) and the Southern Cameroons House of Assembly(SCHA) for deliberation and approval as should have been the case. Further, it was signed by President Ahidjo on the 1stof September 1961 as President of the Republic of Cameroon when the Federal Republic of Cameroon had not yet come into existence. Be it as it may, the two territories came together in this union as a Federation of East Cameroon and West Cameroon (1961 Constitution, Article 1-1).(6)….” Bishops of Mamfe, Kumba, Kumbo, Buea and Bamenda write
To be continued…..