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Brief History of Bamenda 

By Chris Mbunwe

Bamenda is located along latitude 05o 58N and longitude 10o 11E and covers an area of about 290 square kms at an altitude of 11,600 metres above sea level.

View of Bamenda from Up-Station

Bamenda is peculiarly partitioned into two sections by the east-west aligned Bamenda escarpment. The northern sector of the town comprises parts of the highland villages of Njah and Mendankwe, popularly known as the Station. It overlooks the low-lying and dominant sector which occupies the undulating plain stretching southwards from the original hamlet of Abakwa to incorporate parts of the Mankon, Nkwen, Chomba, Mbatu and Nsongwa.

The climate of Bamenda, like that of most parts of the Northwest Region, is generally cool and pleasant. There are two main seasons: the rainy season that lasts for about six months with an annual rainfall of about 200 mm. The other half of the year is the dry season.

The vegetation is mainly savannah with patches of deciduous forest. Grooves of raffia palms dominate the riverine slopes and afforestation with eucalyptus trees has greatly modified the dominance of the savannah. The area is drained by River Mezam and its tributaries which flow through the sub-urban villages of Mbatu and Nsongwa.

The Ayaba and Libakan streams also run through the town. The Bamenda population today stands at over 500,000 inhabitants. About 1890, the Germans who built their station in Bali later moved to Mendankwe village. Using Bali interpreters, the Germans changed the name of Mendankwe village to Bamendankwe, meaning "People of Mendankwe", and gave the name "Bamenda" to the area in which their fort was built.

The British colonial administration, which succeeded the Germans after the First World War, made the area the capital of Bamenda Province, an administrative unit in the then Southern Cameroons. It became the capital of Bamenda Division in the former West Cameroon, then Mezam (formerly Bamenda) Division and of the Bamenda Central Subdivision and finally of the Northwest Province and now Region following the restructuring of the administrative areas of the Republic.

ABAKWA

The main settlers in Bamenda Up-Station were administrators, first colonial and then Cameroonians. Below the "Station" at the foot of the escarpment, a settlement developed made up mostly of self-employed people. The first distinct group of settlers were Hausa men from Northern Nigeria who in 1916 were offered a piece of land by the late Fon of Mankon, Angwafor II. Their new home, Ntambeng, became widely known as Abakwa in Hausa language, meaning "Land of Strangers " and formed the nucleus of Bamenda town as we know it today.

Other immigrant groups soon moved in from Bali, Banso, Bafut, Mamfe, Metta and Ibo land from Nigeria. The late 1950s came with another wave of settlers from Mbouda and Bafoussam, most of them refugees fleeing from the political upheavals in the former East Cameroon. Abakwa grew in size and population, with pockets of ethnic settlements spreading into the chiefdoms of Nkwen, Mendankwe, Mbatu, Chomba and Nsongwa.

Bamenda town prior to June 1977 was the administrative centre of the Mankon Rural Council, though the municipality was jointly administered by the Mankon and Tubah Rural Councils. The situation changed with the promulgation of Decree No 77/203 of June 29, 1977, creating the Bamenda Urban Council, known today as City Council.
 

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