Africa

French president’s Cameroon visit revives memories of his country’s colonial past

Macron announces that archives of French colonial rule in Cameroon will be opened

Peter Kum   | 28.07.2022
French president’s Cameroon visit revives memories of his country’s colonial past French President Emmanuel Macron is welcomed by the President of Cameroon Paul Biya at the presidential palace in Yaounde, Cameroon on July 26, 2022. Photo: Saabi jeakespier - Anadolu Agency


YAOUNDE, Cameroon

French President Emmanuel Macron’s arrival in Cameroon on Monday as part of a three-country West African tour revived a painful colonial past that has not yet been reconciled.

Like Algeria, Cameroon is one of the African countries that have long suffered from the devastating hegemony of French colonization with a major difference -- that of the destruction of most traces of the crimes and abuses committed by the French generals and their henchmen against a population deprived of defense and subsistence.

Macron announced that the archives of French colonial rule in Cameroon would be opened and called on historians to shed light on the colonial period, recognizing that the colonial past brought “painful and tragic” moments in Cameroon.

France remained in Cameroon from 1916 until 1960. Its troops razed villages and massacred entire populations, especially after the advent of the resistance of the Union of the Peoples of Cameroon (UPC) party in the 1940s.

If the UPC is present throughout Cameroon, its influence is very strong among the Bamileke people. What is very striking is their cohesion in their refusal to bend to the grid, to the discipline of the colonial machinery, to forced labor.

These occupied people showed a tremendous ingenuity that is even reflected in the language of resistance, where the signifier thus serves a second meaning of political order.

It is a broad anti-imperialist front that organizes, for example, the boycott of elections. They are veritable human clusters, unarmed but hostile, that block the passage of army trucks and cling to cars. Rarely has an insurrection been so popular. Their rage is all the greater as the guerrillas -- operating almost with their bare hands but on several fronts -- achieve occasional successes.

The French colonizer made every effort to subdue these "rebels" and banned the UPC in 1955. French High Commissioner Pierre Messmer, President Charles De Gaulle's future minister of armies, organized bloody punitive expeditions as well as the assassination of many UPC leaders such as its secretary general and founder, Ruben Um Nyobe, in his native village on Sept. 13, 1958.

At independence on Jan. 1, 1960, De Gaulle's adviser, Jacques Foccart, installed a puppet government in Cameroon under his friend Ahmadou Ahidjo, a man who was in favor of colonial power.

On the very day of this independence, the young state signed a military assistance agreement with France. Two military advisers were sent to supervise Cameroon’s first post-independence leader, Ahidjo.

They were Colonel Noiret and Captain Leroy. Former Minister of the Armed Forces Pierre Guillaumat confirmed that "Foccart played a decisive role in this case. He put down the revolt of the Bamileke with Ahidjo and the special services.”

In passing, note the ethnic presentation of a political revolt.

De Gaulle then dispatched five infantry battalions commanded by General Max Briand, a veteran of the wars in Indochina and Algeria, nicknamed "the Viking," to which were added a regiment of armored vehicles as well as a troop of helicopters and T26 fighter bombers.

In the ensuing massacres, corpses were scattered in villages, including of prisoners who had been beheaded. Between February and March 1960, at least 156 Bamileke villages were burned and razed. A meticulous assessment of the destruction of public property was carried out. It indicated that 116 classrooms, three hospitals, 46 dispensaries, 12 agricultural stations and 40 bridges were destroyed. No one has recorded the private homes destroyed or the crops burned. No one has been able to count the tens of thousands of civilians who were massacred. We will never know.

Just talking about this bloody period to a Bamileke causes fear. Of this terrible repression, the French press -- completely muzzled and blinded by the Algerian crisis -- will not say a word. It is impossible to find documents on these massacres in Cameroon.

And this premeditated, heinous crime of France, which it has managed to stifle until today, continued for several years. Around 400,000 Bamileke were massacred, or perhaps more.

“In fact, the Bamileke experienced genocide between 1955 and 1965. The figures are between 800,000 and 1 million deaths in the Hauts-Plateaux region and in other cities such as Douala, Yaounde, Sangmelima, Ebolowa and Nkongsamba,” said Cameroonian writer and historian Jacques Kago Lele.

At the dawn of independence, thousands of Cameroonians were also massacred under the auspices of De Gaulle and Foccart's France-Afrique, among the Bamilikes in the west of the country but also in other regions of Cameroon.

On March 2, 1960, under the leadership of the French army, Cameroonian troops razed the village of Yogandima, massacring nearly 8,000 unarmed civilians, according to Cameroonian historians.

A real tragedy.

*Translated by James Tasamba in Kigali

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