Africa, Europe

In Yaounde, Macron recalls ‘massacres’ and ‘abuses’ of De Gaulle and Foccart

President Macron's visit to Cameroon has revived a painful colonial past, which is not yet reconciled

Peter Kum   | 28.07.2022
In Yaounde, Macron recalls ‘massacres’ and ‘abuses’ of De Gaulle and Foccart French President Emmanuel Macron in Cameroon

YAOUNDE, Cameroon 

French President Emmanuel Macron's visit to Cameroon's capital Yaounde, as part of an African tour, July 25-28, has revived a painful colonial past and, until now, not yet reconciled.

Like Algeria, Cameroon is one of the African countries that have long suffered from the devastating hegemony of French colonization, with a significant 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 nevertheless 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. It 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 grip is solid among the Bamileke people. Their cohesion is striking in their refusal to bend to the grid, to the discipline of colonial machinery, and to forced labor. These occupied people showed a tremendous ingenuity that is even reflected in the language of resistance, where the signifier thus serves the second meaning of political order.

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

The French colonizer tried to subdue these "rebels" and banned the UPC in 1955. French High Commissioner Pierre Messmer, De Gaulle's future minister, 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 September 13, 1958.
At independence, on January 1, 1960, Jacques Foccart installed a puppet government in Cameroon under his friend Ahmadou Ahidjo, a man who favored 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 Cameroons' first post-independence leader Ahidjo.
These were Colonel Noiret and Captain Leroy. Former Minister of the Armed Forces Pierre Guillaumat confirms 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, we will note the ethnic presentation of a political revolt.
Charles de Gaulle then sent five infantry battalions, commanded by General Max Briand, a veteran of the Indochina and Algerian wars, nicknamed "the Viking," to which were added a regiment of armored vehicles, as well as helicopter troops and T26 fighter-bombers.

In the ensuing massacres, corpses were scattered in villages, including of the prisoners who had been beheaded. Between February and March 1960, at least 156 Bamileke villages were burned and razed down. A detailed 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 could count the tens of thousands of civilians who were massacred. We will never know.

Just talking about this bloody period to 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 France has managed to stifle until today has 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 Highlands region and in other cities such as Douala, Yaounde, Sangmelima, Ebolowa, Nkongsamba," said Jacques Kago Lele, Cameroonian writer and historian.
At the dawn of independence, too, thousands of Cameroonians were massacred under the auspices of the France-Africa of De Gaulle and Foccart, 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 and massacred nearly 8,000 unarmed civilians, according to Cameroonian historians.

* Translated by James Tasamba in Kigali

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