The UPC maquis started in 1956, just a few months after Nasser nationalized the Suez Canal, and barely two years after France’s defeat in Indochina and the start of the Algerian war of independence. The French were therefore determined to prevent a repeat of either an Algerian-type escalation in Cameroon, or an African version of the Indochina debacle. The French believed that either of these scenarios would push Cameroon out of the French orbit, and also threaten French economic and political interests in both French Equatorial Africa, and French West Africa.
The support given the UPC by Eastern bloc countries ensured that its nationalist war came to be viewed primarily, if not solely, through Cold War lenses by the West. In fact, French authorities and their Cameroonian surrogates became very adept at playing the "Red Card", and at harping on the frightful "communist threat" posed by the UPC at every opportunity.
Unfortunately for the UPC, the United States and other Western countries who could influence French actions in Cameroun shared this narrow ideological interpretation of the UPC struggle. America’s position infuriated UPC President Felix Moumie to no end, and he publicly spoke out about it on numerous occasions. According to an article in the Oakland Tribune of Wednesday, August 05, 1959:
Asked about the charges that the UPC is communist-infested, [Moumie] answered with a bitter smile: "This is the usual label which France and other colonialists attach to nationalists. You in the United States fall an easy prey to such accusations. I am not a communist and have never been one.
"Do you remember that France tried the same tactic, labeling President Bourguiba of Tunisia as 'communist dominated' and so on? The same method was attempted against the Algerian front of national liberation. It is an old cliche. It convinces only those who want to be convinced.”
Dr. MOUMIE said that whereas communism has not yet penetrated black Africa, western political blunders might very well open the continent to communism, as they have done in other parts of the world. "We are no more communist than is President Eisenhower. We are nationalists who believe in the freedom and unity of Africa. Give us freedom and we shall seek friendship with all nations of the world."
But these declarations by Moumie and other UPC leaders did not change American perceptions of the UPC, as subsequent events would show. For example, in a now declassified 1959 assessment of the communist threat posted by the UPC, John K. Emmerson, the American Consul General to Nigeria wrote:
No part of Nigeria is in such a vulnerable position as the Southern Cameroons. No region is subject to the variety of tensions and outside influence, particularly communist, as is the Southern Cameroons. Moumie’s recent association with Sekou Toure and N’KRUMAH in Guinea presage activities in the two Cameroons. Surely the communist forces awakened to the importance of Africa must eye the area of the Cameroons with the same intense interest they have displayed in Guinea.
In August 1959, Felix Moumie and the now disgraced and exiled Andre Marie Mbida (yes, that Andre Marie Mbida!!) met with the US ambassador to Guinea to hand him a joint communiqué which contained a series of complaints against the United States.
According George White, Moumie and Mbida "criticized the French model of decolonization as merely a violent neo-colonialism engendered through the use of American arms, and also "condemned the White House for trying to bind 'the Cameroun people, hand and foot, to French expansionist policy' and highlighted the fact that both parties agreed to the need for a peaceful and democratic resolution to the current crisis".
The response from the Americans was a very cold shoulder. According John Calhoun, a State Department official cited by White: "[a]s in the past the Department recommends against a Presidential reply to this exiled Communist-influenced Politician.”
The United States eventually teamed up with other Western countries to torpedo the UPC proposal that United Nations-supervised elections be organized in the French Cameroons before, and not after, it obtained its independence on January 1, 1960 to avoid vote-rigging by the French and the Ahidjo Government.
Britain's fears were similar to America’s. The British were particularly concerned by the close relationship between Moumie and Nigerian trade union leaders whom the British considered a destabilizing force in Nigeria. According to Tijani,
The World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU) was able to send funds to Nigeria through Dr. Felix Roland Moumie... Communist literature was also channeled through him... An intelligence report by the Central Intelligence Department (CID)... indicates that Moumie often sent funds through an unnamed French African physician in Dahomey, where they were brought by agents aboard vessels or by land and picked up in Nigeria by two Lagos attorneys - V. Okafor or O. Ekineh.
Thanks to the widespread view in Western government circles and media that the UPC struggle was simply a "communist insurgency", France was literally given carte blanche to deal with the rebellion as it saw fit. And as far as the West was concerned, the UPC leader, Dr. Felix Moumie, was as much a threat to Western interests in Africa as Congo’s Patrice Lumumba. Both men would meet the same fate...