History & Politics

Forming of 'two' Cameroons

For many centuries, European interest in Cameroon was tied to the coast. It wasn’t until the late 19th century, when quinine became available as a treatment for malaria, that Europeans moved inland.

Reunification of two Cameroons


In this video... Louis-Marie and Elodie visit the monument of reunification.

By the 1880s, the country (and parts of its neighbours) had become a German colony called Kamerun.

After Germany was defeated in World War I, Britain and France divided the area between them. France took the larger geographical share of the land,  administering most regions from Yaoundé.

Britain’s territory was the western strip of land along the Nigeria border, from the sea up to Lake Chad. This area was governed from Lagos (the capital of Nigeria).

Struggle for independence

A group called the Union of the Peoples of Cameroon (based largely among groups in the west, such as the Bamiléké – see People & Culture) began an armed struggle for independence from the French in 1955.

A long-serving president

In 1982, Ahmadou Ahidjo handed over to his Prime Minister, Paul Biya, who won single-candidate elections in 1984 and 1988. Multi-party elections have been held since, but with limits to freedom of expression. Paul Biya remains President.

After five years of fighting, France granted independence to the Republic of Cameroon in 1960.

In 1961, the largely Muslim two-thirds of British Cameroon joined Nigeria. The southern third voted to become part of the Federal Republic of Cameroon.

A unified state was created in 1972, when a rebellion in the former British-run region was suppressed by the French-speaking government. English has nevertheless remained the official language of the northwest region and education is based on the British system.

In 1986, Cameroon came to the attention of the world’s media when poisonous gases escaped from one of its volcanic crater lakes (Lake Nyos) and killed nearly 2,000 people within a 25km radius.

Early ancestry of Cameroon's peoples

The slave trade

The coast was used by European slave traders. In the north of Cameroon, Muslim Arabs set up their own slave trade network, taking slaves by caravan to North Africa.

The Bakas and other so-called ‘pygmy’ groups  were most likely the first humans to inhabit the forests of Cameroon’s southern and eastern regions. And they are still there today.

Bantu-speakers and other groups spread into the region from around the 1500s. The Europeans also arrived from around this time, with Portuguese sailors landing on Cameroon’s coast. But the threat of malaria kept settlers from moving inland.

In the 1800s, the pastoral Fulani moved into the region from the western Sahel. The Islamic Fulani people conquered much of northern Cameroon, displacing non-Muslim peoples, such as the Kirdi – see People & Culture – to the more inhospitable desert and rocky regions.