SPEECH THESIS BY THE AUTHOR
Distinguished Chairman of jury,
Eminent professors and members of jury,
The thesis I have the honour to present and defend today is the fruit of about twenty years of active and sustained research. Its title may read as follows: “A critical study of the United Nations international trusteeship over Cameroon under French administration: 1946 – 1960”.
The purpose of this work is to analyse and evaluate the procedure adopted by the United Nations, the tutelary body, to address the Cameroon question in accordance with the principles stipulated in the United Nations Charter and the trusteeship agreement signed with France on 13 December 1946. It also examines the political, economic and social challenges to which France was confronted as a result of her mandate over Cameroon. In short, the thesis studies the nature and chain of events, factors and processes that occurred within the UN from 1946 and that culminated in the UN General Assembly Resolution 1349 (XIII) of 13 March 1959 by which the UN acknowledged Cameroon’s independence and lifted its trusteeship over Cameroon under French administration on 1 January 1960, while postponing to a later date, general elections for the formation of an Assembly that would decide on the definite institutions to be set up in Cameroon.
In order to do this, I have used all conventional and historical investigation sources: records, UN official documents, official gazettes of Assembly discussions, monographs, specialised articles, reports of mission visits, theses, petitions, interviews, etc.
The thesis is divided into three parts:
Part one discusses the forces that were at play within the UN to study the Cameroon question: nationalist, colonialist and international forces.
Part two examines the evolution of the Cameroon question at the UN up to the 12th session of the General Assembly (December 1957). It reveals how difficult it was during this period to have a balance between the forces at play.
Part three analyses the resolution of the Cameroon question at the UN during the 13th session (Sept 1958 – March 1959) up to the adoption of Resolution 1349(XIII) of 13 March 1959 by which the UN gave its final ruling on the Cameroon question.
CONTENT AND CONCLUSIONS OF THE THESIS
The thesis is replete with events and suspense. It discusses three players within the framework of the United Nations:
On the one hand, Cameroonian nationalists demanded the application to their country of the provisions of the UN Charter that provides for two alternatives at the end of trusteeship: autonomy and independence. Cameroonian nationalists opted for the latter alternative. They demanded immediate independence and at the same time desired the reunification of their country as it was before 1916. Lastly, they opposed the incorporation of their country into the French Union.
On the other hand, there was France that had the mandate over the territory and dominated the scene. France did not only seek to demonstrate to the world the success of its policy in implementing the provisions of the Charter and the trusteeship agreement, but also and especially looked to the future. Also, right from the start, France clearly stated its position about the Cameroon question: independence shall only be granted to Cameroon by France and power shall be entrusted only to those Cameroonians who accepted French policy.
Between the nationalists and France was the United Nations, the presumed impartial arbitrator that was unfortunately still nascent, obsessed with ideals and illusions, crippled by intrigues, tension and hegemonic struggles among the major powers. The United States of America was the main power of the new international system, but had no intention of jeopardizing her relations with colonial powers in their power struggle with the Soviet Union. The new states that became members of the UN blamed their woes on colonialism.
The following two UN organs are of interest here:
- The Trusteeship Council, which was in charge of countries placed under UN trusteeship, but whose amateurism should be deplored.
- The other was IVth Commission of the General Assembly that was a forum open to all, organ before which the Cameroonian nationalists and France brought their grievances and voiced their claims.
In short, the programme of the nationalists was opposed to that of France and vice versa. However, when it came to resolving the Cameroon question, things happened as though after outmanoeuvring the nationalists and appropriating their programme, France had finally imposed its solution to the Cameroon question. And that is what actually happened.
How did France succeed to do this whereas everybody seemed to side with the nationalists? Through investigation, we came to the conclusion that to a certain extent, all the forces at play contributed to such outcome.
First of all, the UN failed to do its duty because not only was it manipulated by colonial powers, but was also weakened by the bi-polar structure of power. The UN showed little concern about both the quality of independence promised Cameroon and the future of the country. At some points, it even became an obstacle to those it was supposed to liberate.
The most obvious contribution of the UN to the Cameroon question during the period under study was the putting in place of a learned assembly, most of whose members were hostile to prolonged French colonial rule in Cameroon.
Secondly, France had full control of the entire process. France manipulated the UN, the missions sent to the field and more or less immature Cameroonians. In doing so, she succeeded in imposing its solution to the Cameroon question: Cameroon will only accede to such independence as prepared and desired by France, and power will be entrusted to France’s products, drawn almost from the blue and unconditional supporters of French policy.
Lastly, the failure of Cameroonian nationalists to secure their demands at the UN was above all caused by the nationalists themselves and especially by Ruben UM NYOBE, the man who was an embodiment of pure nationalism.
UM NYOBE did not understand that after his pronouncements at the UN and in France, it was more or less accepted that his ideas alone were the key to Cameroon’s future. Thereafter, power was the real issue at stake. Now, to get that power, two conditions were necessary: reassure the UN and France by accepting the principle of negotiation and by granting concessions.
Indeed, after UM NYOBE’s declarations, France was quick to understand that the independence and reunification of Cameroon were inevitable. Accordingly, France left no stone unturned to ensure that such independence and reunification safeguarded French interests in Cameroon as mush as possible. In addition, France manipulated the UN, Cameroonians and their political parties and outmanoeuvred those who, directly or indirectly, appeared to be obstacles to French interests (SOPPO PRISO, BEBEY-EYIDI, A..M. MBIDA). France followed up this plan with implacable determination, leaving no room for morality or the respect of human rights.
UM NYOBE was despicably assassinated, alone and without any weapon. There was no reason to kill a defenceless man. Arresting him would have sufficed, but they chose to assassinate him. In perpetrating that act, France had thus profaned the sacred duty entrusted to her by the UN.
Here, it is UM NYOBE who, though dead, emerged victor. Cameroon gained independence, became reunified and was never incorporated into the French Union. It is literally UM NYOBE’s plan that was implemented by France and her henchmen.
However, Cameroonian nationalism proved to be immature. In order to win the struggle at the UN, the nationalists needed to establish new alliances and strong friendships within the UN instead of engaging in both naïve and daring adventures with communist countries of the East. To win at the UN, they needed to ally with those who actually wielded power therein.
Besides, the outbreak of violence in Cameroon also deprived the nationalists of the sympathy and support of a substantial segment of the population.
Heinous crimes, looting and settlement of scores paved the way for the final tragedy, the death of Ruben UM NYOBE on 13 September 1958.
Thus, UM NYOBE lost the second battle namely, the struggle for power.
At independence in 1960, France therefore had a free hand and wielded all power over the territory. Consequently, she handpicked Cameroon’s leaders from among those persons who, in her view, were ready to protect and promote French interests.
Thank you for your kind attention.