At 183,569 square miles (475,442 square kilometers), The United Republic of Cameroon (République Unie du Cameroun) is the world’s 53rd-largest country. It is slightly larger than the nation of Sweden and comparable in size to Papua New Guinea. The country is located in Central and West Africa on the Bight of Bonny, part of the Gulf of Guinea and the Atlantic Ocean. The country’s neighbors are Nigeria and the Atlantic Ocean 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. Tourist literature describes Cameroon as “Africa in miniature” because it exhibits all major climates and vegetation of the continent: coast, desert, mountains, rainforest, and savanna. Cameroon’s pre-colonial history and period as a French mandate are recounted in yesterday’s article on A Stamp A Day. Periods of German and British occupation will be covered in separate articles. Today, we will learn about the nation’s years as an independent republic.
On January 1, 1960, French Cameroun gained independence from France as La République du Cameroun. Ahmadou Ahidjo became president on May 5, 1960. A pair of stamps were issued in 1960 to commemorate the declaration of independence — the 20 franc denomination portrays a map and flag (Scott #336) while the 25 franc value identifies Ahidjo as “prime minister” (Scott #337). These were inscribed simply CAMEROUN. Sometime later, a single 30 franc stamp was issued to mark World Refugee Year (July 1, 1959-June 30, 1960) which was inscribed ETAT DU CAMEROUN (Scott #338). On September 20, 1960, Cameroon was admitted to the United Nations. A three-stamp issue to commemorate this event was released on May 20, 1961, and were inscribed REPUBLIQUE DU CAMEROUN (Scott #340-342).
On February 11, 1961, a plebiscite organized by the United Nations was held in Cameroon. The pleibiscite was to choose between free association with an independent state or integration. The following day, the British Northern Cameroons attached itself to Nigeria, while the southern part voted for reunification as the Federal Republic Of Cameroon. To negotiate the terms of this union, the Foumban Conference was held in mid-July. Foncha, the leader of the Kamerun National Democratic Party (KNDP) — a pro-independence political party active in Southern Cameroons during the period of British Mandate rule — accepted the federation while thinking of a confederation. Buea was to become the capital. Ahidjo accepted the federation, thinking it was a step towards a unitary state. The federal constitution was adopted on August 14, 1961, with Ahidjo as president. John Ngu Foncha became the prime minister.
On September 1, 1961 the Cameroon National Union (CNU) was created by the union of political parties of East and West Cameroon. Most decisions about West Cameroon were taken without consultation, “which led to widespread feelings amongst the (West Cameroon) Public that although they voted for reunification, what they are getting is absorption or domination”.
On October 1, 1961, the largely Muslim northern two-thirds of British Cameroons voted to join Nigeria; the largely Christian southern third, Southern Cameroons, voted, in a referendum, to join with the Republic of Cameroon to form the Federal Republic of Cameroon (République Fédérale du Cameroun). The formerly French and British regions each maintained substantial autonomy. Ahmadou Ahidjo, a French-educated Fulani, was chosen president of the federation.Postage stamps of French Cameroun surcharged on October 1, overprinted with the inscription REPUBLIQUE FEDERALE (Scott #343-351), for use in the Southern Cameroons with pence/shilling values on franc denominations.
In 1962, the franc CFA became the official currency in Cameroon. On January 1, 1962, the first stamps to be inscribed REPUBLIQUE FEDERALE DU CAMEROUN, were issued — three denominations in francs and three surcharged in pence/shillings for use in Southern Cameroons (Scott #352-357). These commemorated the reunification of the former French and British sections of Cameroon and are reported to have been withdrawn after just a few days on sale and destroyed. A complete set, mint, is valued in my 2009 Scott catalogue at USD $500.
Ahidjo used the ongoing war with the the most radical political party, Union des Populations du Cameroun (UPC), to concentrate power in the presidency. Relying on a pervasive internal security apparatus, he outlawed all political parties except his own, the Cameroon National Union (CNU), which became the sole legal political party on September 1, 1966. He successfully suppressed the continuing UPC rebellion, capturing the last important rebel leader in 1970. On March 28, 1970, Ahidjo renewed his mandate as the supreme magistracy; Solomon Tandeng Muna became Vice President.
In 1972, a new constitution replaced the federation with a unitary state called the United Republic of Cameroon (République Unie du Cameroun), headed from Yaoundé. The first stamps reflecting this name change were a pair portraying flowers released on July 20, 1972 (Scott #546-547). Ahidjo pursued an economic policy of planned liberalism, prioritizing cash crops and petroleum development. The government used oil money to create a national cash reserve, pay farmers, and finance major development projects; however, many initiatives failed when Ahidjo appointed unqualified allies to direct them.
Although Ahidjo’s rule was characterized as authoritarian, he was seen as noticeably lacking in charisma in comparison to many post-colonial African leaders. He didn’t follow the anti-western policies pursued by many of these leaders, which helped Cameroon achieve a degree of comparative political stability and economic growth.
On June 30, 1975, Paul Biya was appointed vice president. Ahidjo resigned as president in 1982 and was constitutionally succeeded by his Prime Minister, Paul Biya, a career official from the Beti-Pahuin ethnic group. Ahidjo later regretted his choice of successors, but his supporters failed to overthrow Biya in a 1984 coup. Biya won single-candidate elections in 1983 and 1984 when the country was again named the Republic of Cameroon (Republique du Cameroun with such-inscribed stamps from July 24, 1984). Biya has remained in power, winning flawed multiparty elections in 1992, 1997, 2004 and 2011. His Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) party holds a sizeable majority in the legislature.
By April 6, 1984, the country witnessed its first coup d’état headed by Colonel Issa Adoum. Rebel forces mostly of the Republican guard under the orders of Colonel Ibrahim Saleh, attempted to unseat Biya’s government, taking charge of the Yaoundé airport, national radio station and announcing the takeover of government. Issa Adoum was expected to become the new interim president. Many factors led to its failure. The principal coup plotters had been arrested by April 10, 1984 and President Biya addressed the nation that calm had been restored.
On August 15, 1984, Lake Monoun exploded in a limnic eruption that released carbon dioxide, suffocating 37 people to death. On August 21, 1986, another limnic eruption at Lake Nyos killed as many as 1,800 people and 3,500 livestock. The two disasters are the only recorded instances of limnic eruptions, also referred to as a lake overturn. This is a rare type of natural disaster in which dissolved carbon dioxide (CO2) suddenly erupts from deep lake waters, forming a gas cloud that can suffocate wildlife, livestock and humans. Such an eruption may also cause tsunamis in the lake as the rising CO2 displaces water. Scientists believe earthquakes, volcanic activity, or explosions can be a trigger for such phenomenon.
An economic crisis took effect in the mid-1980s to late 1990s as a result of international economic conditions, drought, falling petroleum prices, and years of corruption, mismanagement, and cronyism. Cameroon turned to foreign aid, cut government spending, and privatized industries. With the reintroduction of multi-party politics in December 1990, the former British Southern Cameroons pressure groups called for greater autonomy, and the Southern Cameroons National Council advocated complete secession as the Republic of Ambazonia. In February 2008, Cameroon experienced its worst violence in 15 years when a transport union strike in Douala escalated into violent protests in 31 municipal areas.
Today, Cameroon is divided into five major geographic zones distinguished by dominant physical, climatic, and vegetative features. The coastal plain extends nine to 93 miles (15 to 150 kilometers) inland from the Gulf of Guinea and has an average elevation of 295 feet (90 meters). Exceedingly hot and humid with a short dry season, this belt is densely forested and includes some of the wettest places on earth, part of the Cross-Sanaga-Bioko coastal forests. The South Cameroon Plateau rises from the coastal plain to an average elevation of 2,133 feet (650 meters). Equatorial rainforest dominates this region, although its alternation between wet and dry seasons makes it is less humid than the coast. This area is part of the Atlantic Equatorial coastal forests ecoregion.
An irregular chain of mountains, hills, and plateaus known as the Cameroon range extends from Mount Cameroon on the coast — Cameroon’s highest point at 13,435 feet (4,095 meters) — almost to Lake Chad at Cameroon’s northern border at 13°05’N. This region has a mild climate, particularly on the Western High Plateau, although rainfall is high. Its soils are among Cameroon’s most fertile, especially around volcanic Mount Cameroon. Volcanism here has created crater lakes. This area has been delineated by the World Wildlife Fund as the Cameroonian Highlands forests ecoregion.
The southern plateau rises northward to the grassy, rugged Adamawa Plateau. This feature stretches from the western mountain area and forms a barrier between the country’s north and south. Its average elevation is 3,609 feet (1,100 meters) and its average temperature ranges from 71.6°F (22°C) to 77°F (25°C) with high rainfall between April and October peaking in July and August. The northern lowland region extends from the edge of the Adamawa to Lake Chad with an average elevation of 984 to 1,148 feet (300 to 350 meters). Its characteristic vegetation is savanna scrub and grass. This is an arid region with sparse rainfall and high median temperatures.
Scott #C291 is 500 franc airmail stamp, lithographed and perforated 12½, which was released by the United Republic of Cameroon on September 15, 1981, to mark the 20th anniversary of manned space flight. On May 5, 1961, Astronaut Alan B. Shepard Jr., in a spacecraft numbered Mercury-Redstone 3 and nicknamed Freedom 7, made the United States’ first human spaceflight. It was the first manned flight of Project Mercury, the objective of which was to put an astronaut into orbit around the Earth and return him safely. Shepard’s mission was a 15-minute suborbital flight with the primary objective of demonstrating his ability to withstand the high g forces of launch and atmospheric re-entry. He became the second person, and the first American, to travel into space, and the first person to manually control the orientation of his spacecraft.
During the flight, Shepard observed the Earth and tested the capsule’s attitude control system, turning the capsule around to face its blunt heat shield forward for atmospheric re-entry. He also tested the retrorockets which would return later missions from orbit, though the capsule did not have enough energy to remain in orbit. After re-entry, the capsule landed by parachute on the Atlantic ocean off the Bahamas. Shepard and the capsule were picked up by helicopter and brought to an aircraft carrier.
The mission was a technical success, though American pride in the accomplishment was dampened by the fact that just three weeks before, the Soviet Union had launched the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, who completed one orbit on Vostok 1 (pictured by Cameroon on Scott #C292).
Ten years after the Freedom 7 flight, at age 47 and the oldest astronaut in the program, Alan Shepard commanded the Apollo 14 mission from January 31 to February 9, 1971, piloting the lander Antares to the most accurate landing of the Apollo missions. He became the fifth and oldest person to walk on the Moon, and the only one of the Mercury Seven to do so. During the mission, he hit two golf balls on the lunar surface.
These were his only two space flights, as his flight status was interrupted for five years during the Mercury and Gemini programs by Ménière’s disease, an inner-ear disease that was surgically corrected before his Moon flight. Shepard served as Chief of the Astronaut Office from November 1963 to July 1969 (the approximate period of his grounding), and from June 1971 to August 1, 1974 (from his last flight to his retirement). He was promoted to rear admiral on August 25, 1971, the first astronaut to reach that rank. He retired from the United States Navy and NASA in 1974.
In 1984, Shepard and the other surviving Mercury astronauts, along with Betty Grissom, the widow of astronaut Gus Grissom, founded the Mercury Seven Foundation to raise money for scholarships for science and engineering students in college. In 1995, the organization was renamed the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation. Shepard was elected president and chairman of the foundation, posts he held until October 1997, when he turned over both positions to former astronaut Jim Lovell.
In 1994, he published a book with two journalists, Jay Barbree and Howard Benedict, called Moon Shot: The Inside Story of America’s Race to the Moon. Fellow Mercury astronaut Deke Slayton is also named as an author. The book was also turned into a TV miniseries in 1994.
Shepard was diagnosed with leukemia in 1996, and died from it in Pebble Beach, California, on July 21, 1998. He was the second astronaut who had walked on the Moon to die, Jim Irwin being the first in 1991. His widow Louise resolved to cremate his remains and scatter the ashes, but she died from a heart attack five weeks later on August 25, 1998, at 17:00, the time at which Shepard had always called her. They had been married for 53 years. The family decided to cremate them both, and their ashes scattered together by a Navy helicopter over Stillwater Cove, in front of their Pebble Beach home.