Here's for those who have gently - and not-so-gently - requested that I complete the series on France's bloody decolonization of French Cameroons.
In the first two parts of this series, we focused on the assassination of Cameroonian nationalist leader Felix Moumie by the French secret service. In the remaining parts, focus will be on the Union des Populations du Cameroun's armed rebellion against the French.
We have to go back some five years before Moumie’s death to understand the internal and international context of the UPC armed rebellion in Cameroon, and France’s brutal repression of that rebellion.
Founded in 1948 in Douala by Felix Moumie, Ruben Um Nyobe, Ernest Ouandie and Abel Kingue, the UPC political platform was for immediate independence from France, unification of the French and British Cameroons, and non-adherence to the French Union– a platform that put it at loggerheads with French colonial administrators who were determined to establish in Cameroon “a conservative regime that would preserve the economic interests of the metropolis”. In 1954 the crackdown on the UPC increased dramatically with the arrival of a new French High Commissioner, Roland Pré.
In May 1955, the port city of Douala was rocked by a series of pro-independence riots that were savagely crushed by the French colonial administration. A few days later, Moumie, who was serving as a medical doctor in Douala, fled to the British Southern Cameroons. He was followed shortly thereafter by Abel Kingue, Ernest Ouandie and a host of other UPC militants. UPC leader, UM Nyobe, remained in the French Cameroons.
On July 13, 1955, Roland Pré banned the UPC and the party went underground.
In December 1956, elections for seats in the Assemblée Législative du Cameroun (ALCAM) were held without the banned UPC. UPC sabotage efforts to derail the elections marked the beginning of its armed rebellion. Within a year, Cameroun was embroiled in a full-fledged civil war that pitted the constantly-reinfroced French army against what Time Magazine of December 2, 1957 described [in typical Cold War-speak] as “5,000 hard-core Communist guerrillas”.
UPC leaders who had fled to Southern Cameroons eventually became the nucleus of the party’s external wing or the “UPC in exile”, while Um Nyobè, Yem Mbak, Mayi Matip and others who remained inside French Cameroun became the leaders of the internal wing or the “UPC in the Maquis”.
On May 30, 1957, the British also banned the UPC in the British Cameroons. According to Awasum,
Thirteen of its leaders were arrested and detained before being deported on grounds that the party had a knack for violence, and would likely transform the Southern Cameroons into a battleground. Felix Moumié, its President, Abel Kingué, its first Vice President and Ernest Ouandié, its second Vice President, were sent to jail in Lagos where they were detained for eight days before being deported to Egypt. Many more were deported to Sudan with their families.
On September 13, 1958 UPC leader, Um Nyobe was ambushed and killed in his native Sanaga Maritime region. Within days of his death, leaders from the UPC internal wing, such as Mayi Matip, began to rally the Ahidjo regime under the banner of what became known as the “legal UPC”. That year, the UPC transferred its headquarters from the Bassa region - which was effectively “pacified” with the death of Um Nyobe - to the Bamileke region in the western part of the country. The UPC militia was renamed the Armée de Liberation Nationale du Kamerun (ALNK) and placed under the command of Martin Singap. [Click here for pictures three former ALNK fighters]
Earlier in 1956, France passed the loi-cadre which gave French Cameroun partial autonomy. This “Framework Law” created a legislative assembly and a quasi-autonomous executive branch headed by a Cameroonian Prime Minister. In May 1957, the rabid anti-communist and Francophile Andre Marie Mbida became the first Prime Minister of Cameroun. Mbida immediately teamed up with the French in a bloody and merciless military campaign against the “communist” UPC. As Mbida stated in a letter to Time Magazine of January 6, 1958:
So far as the legal government of the Cameroons is concerned, the UPC is a Communist-front party that aims to establish by force a Marxist "popular republic" in the Cameroons. Most of its leaders, including Um Nyobe and Félix Moumié, have been indoctrinated in Communist countries. I have a copy of a letter written some years ago by Moumié to Molotov (when he was Foreign Minister), in which Moumié admits that he is a Communist. Like all Communist-front parties, the UPC poses as a truly democratic party fighting "colonial suppression," but in fact its methods are totalitarian.
However, due to his erratic behavior and outlandish pronouncements, he was forced to resign barely nine months later on February 18, 1958. The French replaced him with a protégé of Foccart’s, the “more malleable” Ahmadou Ahidjo.
Although Ahidjo eventually appropriated the UPC political platform of immediate independence and unification, the UPC rebellion continued unabated because the party considered Ahidjo a usurper and puppet of French and imperialists interests.
Therefore, when French Cameroun obtained its independence from France on January 1, 1960, the UPC rebellion was still raging on, this time under the leadership of Felix Moumie, who was now on exile in the Republic of Guinea, and operating from an office in the national assembly building in Conakry.