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Origins Of The National Youth Day In Cameroon 

Aimed at deciding its fate – gain independence by integrating with the Federal Republic of Nigeria or the already independent French Cameroon – despite strong support for a third option.

On February 11, 1961, the Southern British Cameroons opted to join French Cameroon while their counterparts in the North cast their votes in favour of joining the Nigerian Federation. Many contemporary Anglophone activists regret this decision. Few Anglophone Cameroonians contest the validity of the claim that the former British Southern Cameroons (known after 1961 as the State of West Cameroon) has suffered a raw deal from its unification with French Cameroon since 1961.

However, resentment against Francophone domination has led to false charges among certain quarters about the origins of the National Youth Day in Cameroon. An issue, some of them have argued, is the claim that the replacement of the Plebiscite Day with the Youth Day was masterminded by Francophone leaders with the specific intention of eroding Anglophone Cameroon’s historical legacy.

This charge is ill-founded and belied by archival evidence as will be seen shortly. The fact that many Anglophone youths acknowledge their ignorance of the origins of the Youth Day is often pointed as evidence of Francophone-engineered erosion or distortion of history – the product of which is collective amnesia for present and future generations of Anglophone Cameroonians.
Drawing on archival research conducted at the Bamenda Archives in 2006, this article provides a brief but lucid account of the specific origins of the Youth Day, which I argue, constitutes one of West Cameroon’s contributions to national political ritual.

From "National Day" To Youth Day

The Youth Day was an initiative of the West Cameroon government, introduced initially to replace its "national day" which prior to reunification was celebrated every 26 October. It is not evident from archival sources why 26 October was considered a national day, but it is probable that it was the local date on which Empire Day was celebrated in the British trust-territory.

In 1962, less than a year after gaining its independence by joining French Cameroon, John Ngu Foncha, West Cameroon’s Prime Minister at the time, recommended that it was befitting to dedicate West Cameroon’s national day to its youth on whom the future State depended. It is not clear if this recommendation was debated in the assembly but it was enforced that same year.

On 26 October 1962, the first "Youth and Sport" day was organised in West Cameroon. There is no doubt that at its inception, enormous importance was attributed to the Youth Day by West Cameroonian politicians, traditional leaders, civil servants and the public.

In a letter addressed to all the Senior District Officers (SDO) of the administrative divisions (counties) in West Cameroon, the Ministry of Education reaffirmed the government’s transformation of the national day to the Youth and Sport Day to be celebrated on October 26. Government authorities stipulated that the manner in which the event would be celebrated would differ slightly from the usual National Day. This is evident from the Bamenda SDO’s missive to the organisers of the event in Santa:

"The 26th of October will no longer be known as National Day but Youths’ Day. Since it is no longer a National Day, there would therefore be no Guard of Honour. The march-past will be done by the school children only. There would be only one speech to be read and this would be the Prime Minister’s speech."

Signed, George Kisob
Senior District Officer, Bamenda Division.

The letter further provided an itemised outline in which it recommended that for the sake of uniformity, the youth day should run from 8:30 am to 6 pm. However, activities consisted of the following; hoisting of the flag and reading of the Prime Minister’s speech, a march-past by school children, athletic competitions such as football matches, folklore dances, etc; a similar schedule that had been employed during previous celebrations of the National Day.

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