THE UNITED NATIONS INTERNATIONAL TRUSTEESHIP OVER
CAMEROON UNDER FRENCH ADMINISTRATION (1946 – 1960)
Samuel EFOUA MBOZO’O
Department of History
Faculty of Arts, Letters and Social Sciences
University of Yaounde I
The purpose of this essay 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 essay studies the nature and chain of events, factors and processes that occurred within the United Nations from 1946 and that culminated in the UN general Assembly resolution 1349 (XIII) of 13 March 1959 by which the United Nations acknowledged Cameroon’s independence and lifted its trusteeship over Cameroon under French administration on 1st 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.
On 1st January 1960, the former French-administered Cameroon became the first trust territory to accede to national and international sovereignty. One would have thought that this event would be unanimously hailed with warmth and enthusiasm; but, surprisingly, the abundant literature that more or less deals with this subject testifies to the existence of two opposing reactions (schools of thought).
For some, the independence of former French Cameroon was without doubt, a successful testing of the international trusteeship system since the political, economic and social objectives enunciated in the Charter and trusteeship agreement of 13 December 1946 had been achieved. (1) For others, very little development had been achieved and laid-down principles had often been flouted by the administering authority who, they maintained, did not always give priority to the interests of the inhabitants of the trust territory by enabling them to grow towards self-government. The administering authority instead sought to establish a new but more subtly type of political, economic and cultural domination over Cameroon. (2) As a result, Cameroon gained independence with its children disunited, afraid, uncertain; nay; independence came with blood and tears.(3)
On our part, we have found no difficulty in establishing the fact that there was a fairly clear contradiction in the situation. On the one hand, there were the principles enunciated in the Charter and the trusteeship agreement – principles whereby, the people of the trust territory, would, when the moment came, be allowed not only to freely evolve their own national policy, but also to choose the people to implement it. On the other hand, there was General Assembly resolution 1349 (XIII) of 13 March 1959 adopted by 56 yes, 0 against and 23 abstentions (4).By this resolution, UN general Assembly:
1- achnowledged Cameroon’s option for independence on 1st January 1960;
2- decided to simultaneously lift French trusteeship on Cameroon;
3- expressed confidence that elections would hold as early as possible after January
1st 1960, in order to create a new Assembly responsible to take decisions on the setting up of Institutions;
4- recommended lasthy that, Cameroon be admitted as UNO member upon gaining independence (5).
The purpose of this essay is to determine whether or not this contradiction was founded. If yes, how did it all come about. This exercise entails examining and evaluating the procedure followed by the United Nations, the trusteeship authority, to resolve the Cameroon national problem in the light of principles laid down in the Charter and trusteeship agreement as well as of the vested political economic and social interests of the administering power after such a long mandate. In short, this article mainly seeks to study the nature and sequence of forces, factors and processes that led to General Assembly resolution 1349 (XIII) of 13 March 1959 (6).
The United Nations International Trusteeship over Cameroon under French Administration (1946 – 1960) was a scenario rich in events and in suspense, presenting before the United Nations three actors: on the one hand, Cameroon Nationalists; on the other hand, France, tutelage authority and between the two, the United Nations, the supposedly impartial arbitrator.
The setting of the scene is the international political world shaken by the storm of post-war freedom, starting with the fall of colonial empires. How did it happen?
The United Nations
There was the budding United Nations, full of ideas and illusions but fraught with intrigues, tensions and supremacy rivalries by superpowers. At that time the United Nations was the “main institutional expression of the requirement for greater equality”. The fifties saw the beginning of change in the institution: many new states became members and expressed their needs. The United Nations thereby gave to the weak nations of the world, unexpected and sudden importance (7).
The strength of this movement was portrayed by the fact that states which still had colonies were more and more on the defensive in a body which the newly independent states used regularly and efficiently to challenge colonialism. The World Organization was then going to be used by the new states to accuse the colonial powers, seek judgment to be passed on them by international opinion and justify the measures – including the use of force, in putting and end to colonialism (8).
Among these nations, the United states of America constituted the major power of the new international system. The United States of America therefore played a determinant role in this vast decolonization movement because the colonial superpowers depended on it at various levels (9).
But this role should not be over-estimated. For, the Americans, in spite of their support for self-determination, were often cautious of decolonization. The American post-war plan gave no room to the outright demolition of colonies to independence. On the contrary, according to popular opinion, most of the colonies were not yet ready for independence and would not be for quite sometime. The initial American plan was rejected by the British. The plan which consisted in placing all colonies under the United Nations Trusteeship, did not at all have the secret intention of hastening decolonization, but rather strove to avoid post-war colonial rivalries. (10)
In fact, but for the previous effects of the cold war which required the adoption of special “measures”, it won’t be wrong to compare the American post-second world war anticolonialism to the Wilson anticolonailism, a generation earlier. (11)
The United States indirectly encouraged decololnization although it was by mere expression of sympathy. It did not want to jeopardize its relationship with those who had become major stakeholders in the cold war by questioning the rigour with which the new states were being created in Africa.(12)
Such is the image the United Nations portrayed at the time when the Cameroon question was being examined by this World Organization. In the latter, two organs were constituted: The Trusteeship Concil, real authority over the destiny countries under the UNO trusteeship, whose inexperience was something to be decried. The other organ was the Ivth Commission of the General Assembly, it served as a forum, open to the entire world. It was before it that the Cameroonian Petitioners, the Nationalists and France went to express their grievances and their claims.
The other actor was France, tutelary power. She seemed to dominate the scene. She did not only govern in the face of the World glaring prove of its political succes in the ilplementation of the Charter and the Trusteeship Agreement but she was looking also, and most of all at the future. She had to, at all cost, perpetuate her presence in Cameroon and even strengthen it after independence when she would no longer be accountable neither to the United Nations General Assenbly nor to the Trusteeship Council. (13)
Mo matter the agitation of Cameroonian petitioners to the UNO, France took her stance from the outset-in Cameroon independence would be grented only by her and power handed only to those Cameroonians who would subscribe to France’s policy. (14)
The third group of actors were Cameroonian petitioners.They were from various backgrounds, most of them were sycophants of France. As regards the independence and reunification of Cameroon, they were uncertain, sometimes skeptical, on other issues, they had nothing original to purpose: they echoed or blew France’s trumpet.
A great number of these petitioners was made up of adversaries of a certain Um Nyobe (15).
They opposed his mandate on behalf of the Territorial Assembly, and their arguments were, from the standpoint of legality, very vehement.
With regard to the other petitioners (traditional associations, village communities, political parties, etc…), they were inconsistent. Most of them repeated themselves or repeated, some UPC and others France. All of them claimed to speak on behalf of the Cameroonian people.
One petitioner, Um Nyobe, although opposed to France, Atcam and by a large number of petitioners, overrode all of them from above. His first speech in the United Nations of 17 December 1952 (16), portrayed his political maturity, competence, mastery of the internal problems of his country, a rigorous analysis of problems concerning independence and reunification and some familiarity with current events in international politics. His first speech drew some attention to him in the UNO, he won fame as the years and sessions went by. He was called upon again two times to address the Ivth Commission of the General Assembly (17).
But, what were Um Nyobe and all the hard-liner nationalists up to?
The were clamouring for the implementation of the provisions of the charter, in their country, which provided for an alternative that would lead to a lasting solution to the trusteeship rule: autonomy or independence. The Cameroonian Nationalists opted for the latter. They immediately asked for accession and also for the reunification of their country as it were before 1916. Lastly, they objected to the integration of Cameroon into the French Union (18).
In short, the programme of the Cameroonian Nationalist clashed with that of France and vice-versa. But at the end, it was as though France, after brushing aside the nationalist forces while taking over their programme, ended up imposing her own solution to the problem of Cameroon. And it was exactly what happened.
How did France come about this when the Cameroon Nationalists seemed to have won support? Each of the three actors contributed to a certain extent to the answer to this question – as will be seen in this dissertation (19).
Firstly, the United Nations, through its organs: ( Trusteeship Council, IVth Commission, General Assembly), failed in its duty. Manipulated by the colonialist powers, weakened by the bipolar power structure and the concomitant conflict for supremacy between the United States of America and the Soviet Union, the United Nations became a hindrance to those it had to liberate. And thy wanted to release the ballast, as was the case with the vote of Resolution 1349 (XIII), it was that Cameroon served as a success model for the international trusteeship rule. (20)
One could therefore condemn the fact that the UNO was not very committed, neither to the quality of the independence promised nor to the future of Cameroon. Of course, on certain issues, the ideological support derived from the principles of the charter helped to some extent in the growth of the freedom movement of Cameroon. It however happened that the activities of the trusteeship Council and especially the IVth Commission spurred France’s good faith to undertake some reforms. (21)
It also happened that these same UNO activities strengthened France’s determination not to concede to reforms under international pressure. The UNO’s most significant contribution to Cameroon during the period under study, was the provision of an enlightened and mostly hostile assembly to check prolonged French rule over Cameroon. (22)
There was France. She stage-managed everything from start to finish. She manipulated the UNO, field missions and Cameroonians who were more or less immature. She therefore imposed her own resolution: Cameroon’s independence was her, as she prepared wanted it. Those in power were her choice, take from nowhere by her and unconditionally dedicated to her Policy. (23)
Lastly, there was the Cameroon Nationalists. The failure to obtain Cameroon National demands at the UNO, was first and foremost the fault of the nationalists themselves and especially of the man who was the very embodiment of that nationalism: Um Nyobe.
This failure was the root cause of all Um Nyobe’s failures in his political career. How can one be surprised that Um Nyobe chose to have his headquarters in his home at Boum-Nyebel? It was a political choice. That, death overtook him, alone, almost abandoned, probably betrayed by his people, was not just accident. The choice could be qualified as utopic from what the great Arab historian Ibn Khaldoun considered as the key of history, that is, tribalism.
How could he, Um Nyobe, Vice President of the African Democratic Movement (RDA), have walked out on his comrades of yesterday, who were in the persons of Houphonet-Boigny, Lamine Gueye or d’Arboussier? (24)
How come he did not understand that after being heard at the UNO and in France, it was agreed that only his arguments, Um Nyobe’s, held the key to the future of Cameroon? At that point, the issue was that of knowing the person to whom the reins of power could be given in the independent and unified Cameroon.
Um Nyobe failed to realize that the only real stake henceforth was power. But two conditions were sufficient to obtain this power, namely: reassure both the UNO and France by accepting to negotiate and make concessions. Because he was convinced of and blinded by the soundness of his ideas, Um Nyobe rejected the mediation of Mgr MONGO (25) and thus failed to show proof of political realism.
He also failed to realize that what was happening at the UNO was, first and foremost, a political game. How could he imagine that France would give in? It was quite clear that since Cameroon independence and reunification were inevitable, France had to do all she could to ensure that such independence and reunification should best pursue her interests in Cameroon.
France did what in “realpolitik” she believed she had to do: manipulate the factions at the UN; manipulate Cameroonians and their political parties; brush aside all those who, either directly or indirectly, could be impediments: UPC and its leader, Um Nyobe, of course, and also moderate but less accommodating nationalists like Soppo Priso, Bebey-Eyidi, or wet blankets like Andre Marie Mbida. (26) France, therefore, followed this plan ruthlessly.
It should however be regretted that in this set up, France gave room neither for the least moral consideration, the respect of Human Rights nor, less still, the respect for international law.
Um Nyobe was despicably assassinated unarmed, bare-bodied, alone at night, while he was sleeping under the watchful eye of an old woman whose clairvoyance could be said, till then – ensured his safety. There was no reason for shooting down a defenseless man. It would have sufficed to arrest him. By this act, France profaned the “sacred mission” conferred on her by United Nations. How could she have thought that, to safeguard her interests in Cameroon, she had to carry out such an assassination?
At this level, it was Um Nyobe, though dead, who won the battle: Cameroon became independent, Cameroon was reunified, Cameroon was not integrated into the Union Française (French Union). It was literally Um Nyobe’s plan that France implemented. (27)
Cameroon nationalists also felt the same isolation in Africa. UPC which originated from the African Democratic Movement ( RDA ) broke off violently. The quest for another support based on more radicalism with Sekou Toure’s Guinea and Nkrumah’s Ghana show, once more, the incredible immaturity of the UPC policy and its well-wishers.
On the other hand, the death of Um Nyobe was also a failure of Cameroon nationalism portrayed its own immaturity. While the nationalists felt the emptiness that was around them at UNO, at the time when France, through a complex network of intrigues, was alienating the sympathy of member countries from them; they failed to make new alliances and true friendships. On the contrary, their sympaties for the communist countries of the East and the French Communist Party in particular, seemed to be a mere reckless and naïve adventure with the unknown. (28) To succeed at the UNO, Cameroon nationalists had to “ play” with those who really exercised power there.
Back in Cameroon, the same isolation was also experienced. The decision to endorse violence deprived the UPC and its leader of the support of many Cameroonians. Loathsome crimes such as the assassination of Dr Delangue, and his fellow candidate, Samuel Mpouma in 1956 or that of member of parliament, Wanko in 1957, unleashed a process which ended on 13 September 1957 in the tragic death of Ruben Um Nyobe. (30)
France had lost the first battle i.e that of independence, reunification and non-integration in the French Union. Here, Um Nyobe’s ideas had the upper hand
Um Nyobe, on his part, just lost the second battle, namely, that of power. In 1960, during Cameroon independence, France had a free hand and all powers and thus chose only those who, in her opinion, could safeguard and promote her interests to govern independent Cameroon. More than forty years later, can it be said that the umbilical cord linking Cameroon to France has been cut? It is up to future generations of historians, with hindsight, to answer this question.
For our part, we remain convinced that, at least right up the eve of Cameroon independence, France wanted to maintain its influence on Cameroon so as to preserve her economic, political and social interests which a forty- year administration had inevitably created.
1- This trend of thought was mainly shared by the western camp, the capitalist camp of which the United States of America was the leader.
2- This trend was mainly defended by the communist block of which USSR was the main provider of means.
3- G. Chaffard, les Carnets de la Décolonisation, T2, Paris, Calmann-Levy, 1967, p 411.
4- Documents Officiels des Nations Unies, Assemblée Générale, 13e session , 794e séance plénière du 13 mars 1959, p 680.
5- Ibid, Annexe, point 13 de l’ordre du jour, p 33.
7- J.P, Cot et A.Pellet (eds), la Charte des Nations Unies, Paris, Economica, 1985, pp 1109-1110.
8- Ali Maalem, Colonialisme, Trusteeship, Independance, Paris, ed.defense, 1946, p 36.
9 - R.W. Trücker,. De l’inégalité des Nations, Paris, Economica, 1980, p 36.
10- Ibid, p 38
11- Cf The Wilson’s speech at the Senate on 22 January 1918 and at the Representative Chamber on 11 February on the conditions for peace. In Wilson’s opinion, self-determination in Africa and Asia was an abstract ideal. The guiding force behind Wilson’s thought, reiterated in the league of Nations Pact, was more the methodic sharing of colonies of defeated States between Victorious States, than encouraging self-determination.
12- R.W. Trücker, 1980
13- A. Eyinga,. Introduction à la politique camerounaise, Paris, Anthropos, 1978.
15- Documents Officiels des Nations Unies, Assemblée Générale, IVe Commission, 7e session, dec. 1952, pp 445 et suivantes.
16- Ibid, 301e seance,
17- 7e, 8e et 9e Session de l’ONU ( des. 1953 et 1954 ).
18- Documents Officiels des Nations Unies, Assemblée Générale, IVe Commission, 7e session, 301e seance du 17 décembre 1952, pp.447.
19- Efoua Mbozo’o, S. « Approche critique de la tutelle internationale des Nations Unies sur le Cameroun sous administration française », Thèse de Doctorat d’Etat ès Lettres, Université de Yaoundé I, 2004 p.571.
21- L. Di Qual, les Effets des résolutions des Nations Unies, Paris, LGDJ, 1967, p.201.
22- M. Virally, L’ONU, d’hier à demain, Paris, Sevil, 1961,
23- Interwiew of late Professor Engelbert Mveng, 10th January 1988, Yaounde
24- G. Chaffard, les Carnets de la Décolinisation, T2, Paris, Calmann-Levy, 1967.
26- A. Eyinga, L’UPC: une révolution manquée, Paris, L’harmattan.
27- R. Joseph, Le mouvement nationaliste Camerounais.
28- Ibid. Paris, Kartala, 1986.
29- R.Joseph, Radical Nationalism. The case of the Union des Populations du Cameroun, D. Phil.Thesis Oxford University, 1973
30- A. Eyinga, L’UPC: une révolution manquée, 1996.
1- Abwa, D. Commissaires et Haut commissaires de la France au Cameroun ( 1916-1960 ) : ces hommes qui ont façonné politiquement le Cameroun, Yaoundé, Puy, Pucac, 1999.
2- Barros, James, Les Nations Unies, hier, aujourd’hui, demain,Paris, Montchretien, 1975 p, 500 p.
3 - Bayart, J.F, L’Etat au Cameroun, Paris, PFNSP, 1979, 298 p.
4- Borella, F. l’Evolution politique et juridique de l’Union Française depuis 1946, Paris, LGDj, 1958, 499 p.
5- Chaffard, G, les Carnets secrets de la décolonisation, 2 tomes, Paris Calmann-Levy, 1967.
6- Colliard, C.A, (ed), Droit international et Histoire diplomatique, 2t, Paris, Mont-chrétien, 1971.
7- Cot, J.P. et Pollet, A, La Charte des Nations Unies: commentaire article par article, Paris, Economica, Bruxelles, Bruylant, 1985, 1553 p.
8- Di Qual, Lino, les Effets des résolutions des Nations Unies, Paris, LGDJ,1967,285 p.
9- Efoua Mbozo’o, S. « Approche critique de la tutelle internationale des Nations Unies sur le Cameroun sous administration française (1946-1960) », Thèse de Doctorat d’Etat ès Lettres, Université de Yaoundé I, Octobre 2004.
10- Eyinga, A. Introduction à la politique camerounaise, Paris, Anthropos, 1978, 356 p.
11- Eyinga, A. L’UPC: une révolution manquée, Paris, L’harmattan, 1995.
12- Gardinier, D.E., Cameroun : United Nations Challenge to French Policy, London, Oxford University Press for Institute of Race Relations, 1963
13- Joseph, R, Le mouvement nationaliste au Cameroun, Paris, Karthala, 1986, 413 p.
14- Levine, V.T., Le Cameroun, du mandat à l’indépendance, Paris, ed. défense, 1946, 419 p.
15- Maalem, A. Colonialisme, trusteeship, independance, Paris, ed.défense, 1946
16- Mbembe, A (ed), Ruben Um Nyobe : le problème National Camerounais, paris, l’Harmattan, 1984, 443 p.
17- Mveng, E., Histoire du Cameroun, Paris, Présence Africaine, 1963, 533 p.
18- Trücker, R.W., De l’inégalité des Nations, Paris, Economica, 1980, 159 p.
19- Virally, M., L’ONU, d’hier à demain, Paris, Sevil, 1961, 189 p.
20- UNO archives – Official gazettes of Général Assembly , Trusteeship Council, and Commission of Pétitions, (from the 1st to 14th Session : 1946-1960) .