The earliest inhabitants in the territory of the present-day Republic of Cameroon (République du Cameroun) were probably the Baka (Pygmies). This West African country is bordered by Nigeria to the west; Chad to the northeast; the Central African Republic to the east; and Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and the Republic of the Congo to the south. Cameroon’s coastline lies on the Bight of Bonny, part of the Gulf of Guinea and the Atlantic Ocean. Future articles on A Stamp A Day will deal with the German, British and independent periods of Cameroon.
Bantu speakers originating in the Cameroonian highlands were among the first groups to move out before other invaders. The Mandara kingdom in the Mandara Mountains was founded around 1500 and erected fortified structures, the purpose and exact history of which are still unresolved. The Aro Confederacy of Nigeria had presence in western (later called British) Cameroon due to trade and migration in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. During the late 1770s and the early 19th century, the Fulani, a pastoral Islamic people of the western Sahel, conquered most of what is now northern Cameroon, subjugating or displacing its largely non-Muslim inhabitants.
Although the Portuguese arrived on Cameroon’s doorstep in the sixteenth century, malaria prevented significant European settlement and conquest of the interior until the late 1870s, when large supplies of the malaria suppressant, quinine, became available. The early European presence in Cameroon was primarily devoted to coastal trade and the acquisition of slaves. The northern part of Cameroon was an important part of the Muslim slave trade network. The slave trade was largely suppressed by the mid-nineteenth century. Christian missions established a presence in the late 19th century and continue to play a role in Cameroonian life.
The area of present-day Cameroon came under German suzerainty during the “Scramble for Africa” at the end of the 19th century. Beginning on July 5, 1884, all of present-day Cameroon and parts of several of its neighbors became a German colony, Kamerun, with a capital first at Buea and later at Yaoundé. The Imperial German government made substantial investments in the infrastructure of Cameroon, including the extensive railways, such as the 160-meter single-span railway bridge on the South Sanaga River branch. Hospitals were opened all over the colony, including two major hospitals at Douala, one of which specialized in tropical diseases. However, the indigenous peoples proved reluctant to work on these projects, so the Germans instigated a harsh and unpopular system of forced labor.
In 1911 at the Treaty of Fez after the Agadir Crisis, France ceded a nearly 300,000 square kilometer portion of the territory of French Equatorial Africa to Kamerun which became Neukamerun, while Germany ceded a smaller area in the north in present-day Chad to France.
In World War I the British invaded Cameroon from Nigeria in 1914 in the Kamerun campaign, with the last German fort in the country surrendering in February 1916. With the defeat of Germany in World War I, Kamerun became a League of Nations mandate territory and was split into French Cameroon and British Cameroons under a June 28, 1919 League of Nations mandates (Class B).. France gained the larger geographical share, transferred Neukamerun back to neighboring French colonies, and ruled the rest from Yaoundé as Cameroon (French Cameroons). Britain’s territory, a strip bordering Nigeria from the sea to Lake Chad, with an equal population was ruled from Lagos as Cameroons (British Cameroons). German administrators were allowed to once again run the plantations of the southwestern coastal area. France integrated the economy of Cameroon with that of France and improved the infrastructure with capital investments and skilled workers, modifying the system of forced labor.
After World War I, Cameroon was not integrated to French Equatorial Africa (AEF) but made a “Comissariat de la République autonome” under French mandate. France enacted an assimilationist policy with the aim of having German presence forgotten, by teaching French on all of the territory and imposing French law, while pursuing the “indigenous politics”, which consisted of keeping control of the judiciary system and of the police, while tolerating traditional law issues. The colonial administration also followed public health policies as well as encouraging Francophony. France took care to make disappear all remains of German presence, and aimed at eradicating any trace of Germanophilia. French racism became prevalent throughout the colony rather quickly, and anti-French sentiment followed and would be strengthened in the late 1940s.
In 1940 French Cameroon rallied to the Free French when General Philippe Le Clerc landed at Douala, capturing it on August 27th and then moved to Yaounde, where the pro-Vichy governor Richard Brunot was forced to hand over the civil administration of French Cameroon.
After World War II, Cameroon was made a United Nations Trust Territory and unified into the French Union. From the beginning of the 1940s, colonial authorities encouraged a policy of agricultural diversification into monocultural crops: coffee in the west and cotton in the south. Construction of roads allowed for greater exploitation of wood. Of a total of three million inhabitants, the Cameroon territory counted 10% settlers, many who had been resident for decades, and approximately 15,000 people linked to the colonial administration.
In 1946, a Representative Assembly of Cameroon (ARCAM) was constituted. Paul Ajoulat and Alexandre Douala Manga Bell were elected deputies of the French National Assembly. Some private and public schools were opened, while the best students were sent to Dakar (Senegal) or France to study in college. The colonial administration also built electricity and water infrastructures in large cities. In 1952, the Representative Assembly became the Territorial Assembly of Cameroon (ATCAM).
The Union of the Peoples of Cameroon (UPC), an anti-colonialist party created in 1948 and which struggled for unification of both Cameroons and for independence was outlawed in 1955. A colonial war then started and lasted for at least seven years, with the French Fourth Republic leading a harsh repression of the anti-colonialist movement. The conflict found its roots in the opposition between the settlers and the Cameroonese trade-unionists in the cities. After the Brazzaville Conference of January 1944, during which the Provisional Government of the French Republic (GPRF) issued several promises concerning progressive self-rule, the settlers organized themselves in 1945 in “General estates of colonization” (Etats généraux de la colonisation).
A Cercle d’études marxistes (Marxist Study Circle) was created by Cameroonese in 1945, soon followed by the creation of the Union of Confederate Trade Unions of Cameroon (Union des syndicats confédérés du Cameroun, USCC) at the initiative of the CGT trade-union. Conflicts erupted in September 1945, with the settlers violently debating with the French governor. Members of the USCC were arrested. In 1948, Ruben Um Nyobé became the head of the resistance movement, with a nationalist and revolutionary program. Nyobé’s UPC was at first only the local section of the African Democratic Rally created in 1946. However, it refused to split, as did the African Democratic Rally, with the French Communist Party (PCF) in 1950. After some revolts and increasing tensions with the colonial administration, the UPC was outlawed on July 13, 1955 by the governor Roland Pré, forcing Nyobé into hiding, from where he led a guerrilla war against the French administration.
In 1957-58, Pierre Messmer, a Gaullist and head of the haut-commissaire of Cameroon (executive branch of the French government) started a decolonization process which went further than the 1956 Defferre Act. At the same time, the Fourth Republic was stranded in the Algerian War (1954-1962). It managed to obtain support of Britain in Cameroon.
France granted internal autonomy in 1956, and the ATCAM became the Legislative Assembly of Cameroon (ALCM). André Marie Bbida became Prime minister in 1957, and Ahmadou Ahidjo vice-Premier. Despite the requests by Rubem Um Nyobe, head of the UPC, the new government refused to legalize the UPC. André Bdida renounced in 1958, replaced by Ahidjo, while Um Nyobé was killed by a French commando in the “maquis” on September 13, 1958. Following his death, the UPC divided itself, while competing leaders, verbally in favor of Marxism revolution, radicalized the movement. Starting in 1959, the colonial war juxtaposed itself with a civil war, Ahmadou Ahidjo taking the place of France in fighting the UPC. The successor of Nyobé, Félix-Roland Moumié, was assassinated in 1960 in Geneva by the SDECE, French secret services.
Cameroon became independent as the Republic of Cameroon on January 1, 1960. Nigeria was scheduled for independence later that same year, which raised question of what to do with the British territory. After some discussion (which had been going on since 1959), a plebiscite (British Cameroons referendum) was agreed to, and held on February 11, 1961. The Muslim-majority Northern area opted for union with Nigeria, and the Southern area voted to join Cameroon. Northern Cameroons became a region of Nigeria on May 31, 1961, while Southern Cameroons joined to form the Federal Republic of Cameroon on October 1. In the meantime, the area was administered as a French Colony, in French West Africa. The conflict with the UPC lasted until the 1970s. The country’s name was altered in June 1972 to the United Republic of Cameroon.
The Scott Standard Postage Stamp Catalogue lists the stamp issues of the German Protectorate (“Kamerun”), British Occupation, French Occupation, French Mandate, the independent state, and the Federal (United) Republic under the heading of “Cameroun”. The Southern Cameroons stamps, valid between October 1, 1960, and September 30, 1961, are listed under “Cameroons”. In my collection, I have each of these separated as they were each issued by a different administrative issuing entity. Scott additionally has a heading designating the “Provisional French Mandate”. I don’t treat these as a separate issuer in my collection.
The first French stamps for Cameroun were issues of Equatorial Gabon in 1915 overprinted with Corps Expeditionnaire / Franco-Anglais / CAMEROUN and in 1916 used the stamps of Middle Congo or French Congo overprinted with Occupation Francaise de Cameroun. In 1917, overprints reading CAMEROUN / Occupation Française were applied to Middle Congo stamps. The “Provisional French Mandate” stamps were released starting in 1921 with the overprint CAMEROUN on Middle Congo stamps once again. In 1922, Britain and France were granted separate United Nations mandates. The first French stamps with the name CAMEROUN inscribed rather than overprinted appeared in 1925, accompanied by RF denoting its status as a French mandate. The “RF” was removed following the start of autonomous government in 1956.
Scott #148 was released in 1921 during the “Provisional” period prior to the “permanent” French mandate of Cameroun. It was created by overprinting the Middle Congo (Moyen Congo) 2 centime value originally released in 1907, a bicolor in brown and rose. I find most early twentieth century French colonial stamps to be quite striking and this one evokes the very meaning of what an “African stamp” should look like with its leopard stalking through the tall grasses of the the savanna. Beautiful!
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