Prof. Alpaslan Ozerdem | 01 June 2010
As is the case for 16 other African countries, this year is the 50th anniversary of independence for Cameroon. The year of 1960 was a remarkable turning point in the history of those countries, as it was the end of colonisation with many hopes and expectations invested for a future in which they could be their own rulers. To celebrate the occasion, H.E. President Paul Biya of Cameroon organized an international conference entitled Africa 21 in Yaoundé, the capital city of the country, on 17-19 May in order to explore contemporary challenges faced by the continent. Attended by a number of head of states of Central and West African countries; Jean Ping, Chairperson of the Commission of the African Union; Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations; Mohamed El Baradei, former Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency; many academics; and representatives of multinational banks and companies, and civil society organisations, it was a great and colourful occasion; though was slightly chaotic at times, as many of such events which involve head of states and their entourages! However, watching the Independence Day parade of military forces and civilians on 20th May, the question I had in mind was what there is for Cameroon to celebrate in terms of its achievements over the last 50 years.
In his inaugural ceremony speech of the conference, President Biya asked the same question for all of these 17 African countries, stating that for them building their states had to start ‘from the bottom’ as they lacked the necessary human resources, they were ‘confined to subsistence and the informal economy’, and they ‘inherited vast territories, without geographical harmony, without linguistic ethnic homogeneity, without cultural cohesion…And each one of us,…’ he continued ‘…with disparate puzzle pieces, has done what took old nations centuries to accomplish.’ Therefore, it is also important to remember that Cameroon started its journey as an independent state on 1 January 1960 against such a socio-economic background.
With a population less than 20 million and a territory twice bigger than the United Kingdom, Cameroon is bordered by six countries (in clock wise direction, Nigeria, Chad, Central African Republic, the Republic of the Congo, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea) and the Atlantic Ocean. The Portuguese explorers were the first to set foot on Cameroon (the name Cameroon derives from Rio dos Camarőes – the river of prawns) in the 15thCentury. The Germans arrived in 1884 and eventually were the first to colonise Cameroon. The present territory was divided into two parts by France and Britain as League of Nations mandates after the World War I, bringing the Francophone and Anglophone dimensions to its present day culture, governance and international relations. Moreover, due to its cultural (250 ethnic and linguistic groups and several religions) and geographic diversity, Cameroon is also known as ‘Africa in miniature’. Moreover, with many rivers and lakes, thick forest, large agricultural land, and deposits of cobalt, iron, gold, diamond and oil, the country is rich with natural resources. In other words, the nature has been generous enough to make this country a success story as an independent state but has it really been so far?