San José State University
Department of Economics
Thayer Watkins
Silicon Valley
& Tornado Alley

The Economy and Political
Economic History of Cameroon

The region of Cameroon has had human occupation since about 8,000 BCE. There have been small tribal groups in the area since time immemorial. They lived by hunting, gathering and later subsistence agriculture. They had no notable treasures so the imperial powers of Britain, France and Portugal did not bother to lay claim to Cameroon. When the German Empire decided to acquire territory in African it had to take the remnants like Cameroon. These remnants did not generally have any coherence. This made little difference when units were being governed by an imperial power, but it did make a difference when these remnants became independent.

Cameroon's experience during the imperial era was unique. In 1918 France occupied part of German Cameroon and Britain occupied the other part. The battles of the French and British against the German forces are depicted in the movie Black and White in Color. In that movie the native African troops identify with their imperial masters and hurl insults at each other that would make sense only if the troops were European.

Later the French and British sections of Cameroon were united. The re-united Cameroon achieved independence in 1960 under the leadership of Ahmadou Ahidjo.

The Political Succession Crisis of the Early 1980's

Ahmadou Ahidjo became the president of Cameroon two years before Cameroon became independent in 1960 and continued in that position with seemingly no intentions of ever relinquishing it. Unexpectedly in November of 1982 he did resign and allowed Prime Minister Paul Biya to succeed him. Ahidjo cited ill health as the reason for his resignation. Ahidjo retired to France.

In June of 1983 President Paul Biya dismissed from government four men who had been influential during the regime of Ahmadou Ahidjo. Then in late August President Biya announced that a plot to overthrow the government. In France Ahidjo, whose health had recovered after a short rest, started making radio speeches condemning Biya. Ahidjo, when he resigned the presidency, retained his position as head of the single political party of the country, the Union Nationale Camerounaise (UNC). Once Ahidjo began his political attacks against Biya there was a movement to replace Ahidjo as head of the UNC and to avoid being dismissed Ahidjo resigned. Biya became head of the UNC.

In January of 1984 there was a presidential election which Biya won. Shortly thereafter Ahidjo and two of his associates were indicted and tried in absentia for plotting the overthrow of the government. They were found guilty and sentenced to death but Biya pardoned them making a reconciliation possible. However no reconciliation materialized. In early April of 1984 there was an attempted coup d'état by the palace guard that was thwarted only by violent battle.

Biya was from the south of Cameroon whereas Ahidjo was a Muslim from the north. When Biya took over the presidency he made a point of not dismissing members of the palace guard who were from the north. He was attempting to avoid the regionalization of the administration, but that proved to be unavoidable. Later when he dismissed northerners from the government he provoked the crisis. The northerners wanted to re-secure the share of power in the administration that had existed under Ahidjo. Despite the crisis Paul Biya survived the succession crisis and has ruled Cameroon ever since. He was elected at age 71 in 2004 to another seven year term as president.

(To be continued.)

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