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Public Documents On Southern Cameroons Unification 1959-1961 

By Verkijika FANSO — Declassified Colonial Office (CO) documents at the PRO (Public Records Office),  now British Archives at Kew Gardens, London in the UK give much information about the various behind the scene (secret/confidential) discussions and decisions that were taken on account of the Southern Cameroons concerning the termination of the British trusteeship and the granting of self-government and/or independence.

Some of these discussions took place in Buea in the Southern Cameroons, Yaounde in French/Cameroun Republic, Lagos in Nigeria, New York at the UN, London in the UK and even in Paris.

Some these were centered on why the territory must not be granted independence in its own right and the requirement that it must gain independence by either integrating with Nigeria or unifying with the Cameroun Republic. We will be making public so that the reader be informed about how independence by integrating or unifying was explained as a way of not contravening the UN Charter on the independence ot colonial and/or trusteeship territories.

One of the documents (CO554/2412 XC3343) concerns the economic viability of the Southern Cameroons if it was to be left on its own. This ridiculous discussion took place in October 1959 at the UN where the UK representative, Sir Andrew Cohen, made it clear that it was difficult for the Southern Cameroons to become a viable economic entity if it gained independence in its own right. He told the Fourth Committee of the General Assembly that the territory would face serious financial difficulties particularly at the outset.

Participating from the Southern Cameroons was the Premier J.N. Foncha who argued for the territories right to independence, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition N.N. Mbile, and integrationist who was against Southern Cameroons going on its own, and Ndeh Ntumazah of the One Kamerun, a unificationist who was also out-rightly against independence for the Southern Cameroons.

Another document concerns the debate in the British House of Commons in August 1961 about the distinct and independent existence of the Southern Cameroons at unification. We take up this extremely important discussion from when a Member of the British Parliament (MP), Mr. G.M. Thomson was anxious to know about the situation in the Southern Cameroons that was about to join the Cameroun Republic to where arrangements were being made that would enable expatriate civil servants officers in the Southern Cameroons (British and Nigerians) to stay on after 1st October 1961.

The document is revealing about the understanding behind the complicated question of independence by joining and what was to become of the Southern Cameroons when the British trusteeship ended at midnight on 1st October, 1961.

The Under Secretary of State for the Colonies, Mr. Hugh Fraser made it clear that at that moment “it would both be a question of granting independence and of creating a new unit from the Cameroun Republic and the Southern Cameroons”. He said agreement had been reached about it between the parties concerned.

Fourth Committee of the General Assembly – October 1959
In the Fourth Committee, the following remarks were made on the above subject.
Mr. Foncha  (Premiere of the Southern Cameroons) “recognized that separation would entail economic hardship for some time to come”. (885th meeting).

Mr. Mbile (Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Southern Cameroons) said “the Southern Cameroons could not achieve independence as a separate country because it was not economically viable”. (Same meeting).

Sir Andrew Cohen said (to the representative of Czechoslovakia who had asked for his personal opinion on the possibility of the Southern Cameroons becoming a viable economic entity, he replied) that the Southern Cameroons had a potential for considerable agricultural development; the realization of that potential however called for capital which was not available in the territory itself.

Moreover, if it became independent, the Southern Cameroons would have to face serious financial difficulties particularly at the outset. That was one of the important considerations which leaders and people of the Southern Cameroons – and the administering authority so long as it retained responsibility – must take into account in considering a permanent solution”. (888th meeting).

At a later meeting “in reply to the second part of the Indian representative’s question, he said that the territory would undoubtedly be faced with a formidable problem; he did not see how it could solve that problem from its own resources particularly in the early years. At present, nearly all professional and technical posts and a large proportion of the more senior subordinate posts were filled by non-Cameroonians…”

“A few days previously in reply to a question by the representative of Czechoslovakia, he had given his personal views regarding the viability of the Southern Cameroons as a separate economic unit and he would not repeat them. He would merely recall that he had said then that in his opinion an independent Southern Cameroons would have serious financial and economic problems; added difficulties concerning staff would make those problems even harder to solve”. (892nd meeting)

Others spoke on the same point. Mr. Ntumazah (One Kamerun party) said “the Southern Cameroons could not of itself constitute a viable economic unit”. (889th meeting”)

Krishna Menon (India) said “he would also like the administering authority to indicate whether the present financial resources of the Southern Cameroons were such as to enable it to govern itself. An independent territory which is not economically self sufficient might in a very short time, find itself under foreign economic domination”. (890th meeting)

Espinosa (Mexico) said “no satisfactory definition had ever been given of the necessary prerequisite of an independent state but it was all too evident to what perils a country was exposed when it attained independence without possessing the requirements necessary to make it viable. The southern Cameroons clearly formed a unit but after listening to the various statements that had been made his delegation had serious doubts whether it was capable of existing as an independent state”. (892nd meeting)

Edmond (New Zealand) said “the independence of the Southern Cameroons as a separate entity was ruled out by the economic considerations”. (896th meeting)

Miss Brooks (Liberia) said “Paragraph 2 [of a draft resolution] would serve to allay any apprehension that the Southern Cameroons might become independent as a separate entity, and eventually which all were agreed should be ruled out in view of the territory’s limited economic potential”. (898th meeting)

One or two others such as Afghanistan and Guinea said that economic viability did not matter.

First published in The Post print edition no 01399