After some turbulent years, the Federal Republic of Cameroon was formed in 1961 through
a merger between the southern part of British Cameroon
and the Republic of Cameroon. The country's first
president was Ahmadou Ahidjo. In 1982, Paul Biya took
over as president. He has managed to retain power since
then despite political unrest, mutual conflicts and
suspicions of electoral fraud.
On October 1, 1961, the Federal Republic of Cameroon
was created when part of the British colony of Cameroon
joined the Republic of Cameroon which gained its
independence the year before (see Older History). The
federation consisted of two units: the old French
Cameroon became Eastern Cameroon and the former British
part became Western Cameroon. Both French and English
became official languages.
List of most commonly used acronyms containing Cameroon. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.
President Ahmadou Ahidjo began the work of uniting
the two regions. In 1966, a single party was formed, the
Cameroonian National Union (UNC). In 1972, nearly 100
percent of voters voted in favor of a new constitution
that gave the president great powers and replaced
federal state formation with a strongly centralized
administration. UNC became the only allowed party.
In foreign policy, President Ahidjo ran an
alliance-free line and sought to reduce dependence on
France and other Western countries. In domestic
politics, Ahidjo and UNC had full political control. The
regime was favored by strong economic growth during the
1960s and 1970s. It was initially based on the export of
coffee and cocoa as well as increased self-cultivation
and accelerated when oil from the late 1970s became an
important export product. Oil revenues were used, among
other things, for a strong expansion of the public
Paul Biya takes over power
The tough political control created discontent under
the surface. Underground opposition groups began to
protest against Ahidjo's authoritarian rule in the late
1970s. In the English-speaking part of the country, the
irritation over the French-speaking dominance of the
In 1982, Ahidjo volunteered to hand over the
presidential post to the then Prime Minister Paul Biya.
Ahidjo regretted afterwards but was forced into exile,
where he died in 1989. Under Biya's rule, the country
was characterized by ever stronger internal unrest.
While Ahidjo had tried to gather representatives of all
regions and peoples of the UNC government, Biya built
his power base on a network of the French-speakers in
central and southern Cameroon. People's groups in the
north and the English-speaking residents felt neglected.
President Biya was re-elected in 1984 and 1988, but
he lacked counter-candidates and there was electoral
fraud. After the first election, loyal army forces
defeated a coup attempt by supporters of Ahidjo. The
failed coup became the beginning of a period of
systematic repression of all political opposition. Biya
tried to give UNC a facelift by renaming the party to
the Cameroonian People's Democratic Assembly (RDPC) in
In the second half of the 1980s, Cameroon was plagued
by a growing economic crisis caused by falling world
market prices of oil, coffee and cocoa. Initially, the
government used saved oil money to hide the loss of
income, but after a few years the reserves were
depleted. Gradually, Cameroon was forced to take out
large loans abroad and the foreign debt rushed. In
cooperation with the IMF, a four-year austerity program
was initiated in 1989 that included privatization of
state-owned enterprises and redundancies of public
Demands on democracy
The economic tightening coincided with ever stronger
demands for democracy. A series of protest campaigns
began in 1990. Faced with the threat of civil war, the
government felt compelled to introduce multi-party
systems. But the opposition also called for a national
conference to set an election date. When the government
refused, the unrest escalated and over 100 people were
killed in clashes between protesters and police. In the
spring of 1991, eleven leading opposition parties formed
an alliance and pressure against the government
Cameroon's first multi-party was held in March 1992.
It was boycotted by 16 opposition parties, including the
Social Democratic Front (SDF), which represented the
English speakers and who were on the strong rise under
the leadership of the charismatic John Fru Ndi from
western Cameroon. On the other hand, another important
opposition party, the National Union for Democracy and
Progress (UNDP), participated, which had strong support
among Muslims in the north. President Biya's power party
RDPC received almost half of the mandate, while UNDP won
just over a third. The RDPC formed a government with one
of the smaller parties in Parliament.
In the subsequent presidential election in the autumn
of that year, Biya won 40 percent of the vote, against
36 percent for Mrs. Ndi. Both attributed the victory.
Biya was accused of cheating by independent observers.
After several years of economic decline, a turning
point came in 1994 when the country's currency was
devalued sharply, which accelerated exports and growth.
In 1997, parts of Cameroon's foreign debt were written
off. The same year, the IMF approved a new economic
adjustment program that would improve the country's
competitiveness through, among other things, trade
The constitution is changed
Under pressure from the outside world, President Biya
had, in the spring of 1993, initiated a process to
review the constitution. In December 1995 Parliament
adopted several constitutional amendments which came
into force in January of the following year. The term of
office of the President was extended from five to seven
years, while the number of periods that a person was
allowed to hold the office is limited to a maximum of
two. The House would also be provided with an upper
house, a Senate, with 100 members. A constitutional
council would also be set up.
In the May 1997 parliamentary elections, the RDPC won
by a large majority. The choice was characterized by
widespread cheating. As a result, both the SDF and UNDP
boycotted the presidential election in October of that
year, won by Biya.
Biya tried to disarm the opposition parties by
offering them seats in the government. UNDP agreed to a
collaboration, while SDF declined. In December 1997,
Biya formed a coalition government consisting of RDPC,
UNDP and a few small parties.
A few years earlier, the English speakers'
dissatisfaction with the government and demands for
self-government had led to the founding of the Separate
Movement of the Southern Cameroon National Council (SCNC).
In 1999, three members of the SCNC were sentenced to
death for blast attacks carried out before the 1997
parliamentary elections. Another 35 people were
sentenced to prison for up to 20 years. In the fall of
2001, the army sent hundreds of soldiers to stop two
manifestations demanding autonomy in one of the
English-speaking areas. Three people were shot dead by
the police and around 140 were arrested, among them
leaders of SCNC.
In 1999, Biya declared war on the widespread
corruption in the country. In September, a minister was
forced to resign because of allegations of
misappropriation of public funds.
Split within the opposition
In October 2000, Cameroon qualified for the so-called
HIPC initiative, which targets heavily indebted poor
countries and is administered by the IMF and the World
Bank. This meant large debt write-offs in the long run
(see Financial overview).
Ahead of the June 2002 parliamentary and local
elections, unrest in the English-speaking areas
increased. The SDF claimed that its candidates had been
banned from running in more than 100 constituencies. At
least ten people were injured in political clashes, and
the elections were postponed for a week. The official
results showed, as expected, that the RDPC significantly
increased its dominance and took home 149 of the
Parliament's 180 seats, while the SDF received 22 and
the UNDP only 1 mandate. The opposition accused the
government of electoral fraud and was upheld by the
Supreme Court, which ordered the re-election of 17
The election loss gave rise to increased
fragmentation within SDF. Four senior members, including
the vice-chairman, resigned and accused the leader John
Fru Ndi of leading the party with dictatorial methods.
At the same time, UNDP leader Bello Bouba Maigari was
pressured by his supporters to stop cooperating with the
government, which he did not. In the fall of 2002, a
group of ministers from the UNDP's strongest stronghold
in the Northern Cameroon government accused the
government of neglecting the region.
Biya broadens its power base
The ruling party also began to show signs of internal
fragmentation. A group of lower-level party officials,
who said they had indirect support in the leadership
layer, went out and demanded that the party renew itself
and become more open.
In the 2004 presidential election, Biya clearly won
with 71 percent of the vote, while Mrs. Ndi came second
with 17 percent. The turnout was only about 20 percent
and there were allegations of electoral fraud. However,
the opposition's attempt to have the election annulled
was rejected by the Supreme Court.
In 2004, Biya reformed the government in an attempt
to broaden its power base. New Prime Minister became the
English-speaking Ephraim Inoni and three ministerial
posts were occupied by Muslims from the north.
Under pressure from international lenders, the
government began the decentralization of power enshrined
in the 1996 constitutional amendments (see Political
system). In 2004 Parliament adopted the laws required to
initiate decentralization, but nothing happened after
In 2005, the government initiated a series of
measures to, as it was said, make the government of the
country more democratic and effective. A new authority
was created to increase control over the state's
finances, and a law was passed requiring all civil
servants to account for their personal assets.
In 1999 and 2004 Cameroon was ranked as the most
corrupt country in the world by Transparency
International. In 2005, the government launched a
campaign against corruption. Some 70 top officials were
dismissed for embezzling public funds. Over 500
employees at the Ministry of Finance were spotted and a
study found that the state paid monthly salaries to
45,000 employees who did not exist. The campaign was
stepped up in 2006 when the president created a national
anti-corruption commission directly under his command.
More than 100 people have been arrested for corruption,
including two MPs and a high party official.
In the June 2007 elections, the RDPC won 153 of the
180 seats in Parliament and also won big in the local
elections. The turnout was very low. According to the
opposition, massive electoral fraud occurred and the SDF
vainly demanded that the elections be annulled.
Price increases on fuel and food triggered violent
riots in February 2008, which spread from Douala to
several other cities. Eventually, the protests went over
President Biya's plans to change the constitution so
that he could be re-elected when his term expired in
2011. When the police failed to quell the unrest,
military was also deployed against the protesters.
According to official figures, 40 people were killed and
over 1,500 were arrested during the violent protests.
Biya accused political rivals of being behind the
violence. Amnesty International said over 100 civilians
were killed by security forces, many shot and others
drowned as they jumped in a river in Daoula to escape
In March 2008, the government promised a number of
measures to reduce people's dissatisfaction, including a
wage increase for civil servants and military, reduced
electricity fees and the abolition of tariffs on some
imported basic commodities. Thereafter, a tense calm was
reported again in the country.
The same month, three former ministers and other
former government members were arrested as part of the
anti-corruption campaign launched in 2005. The Minister
of Finance, the Minister of Health and the Minister of
Public Administration had all been dismissed from their
posts in September 2007. They were charged with
embezzlement of state funds. In August 2008, another
corruption-suspected ex-minister was arrested.
In April 2008, Parliament passed a series of
constitutional amendments that partly allowed Biya to be
re-elected as many times as possible and partly
protected him from prosecution even if he resigned as
president. The ruling party argued that the changes were
necessary to maintain stability in the country. SDF MPs
boycotted the vote, which they termed a "constitutional
In June of that year, Parliament approved that the
establishment of a new electoral authority be postponed
for six months. The decision was criticized by both the
opposition and civil society. When Biya presented
members of the electoral authority in December, it
turned out that most came from his own party RDPC. This
raised doubts, including within the RDPC, about the
independence of the electoral authority.
In January 2009, Amnesty International harshly
criticized the Cameroonian government for serious human
rights violations, including repression against
political dissidents and difficult living conditions in
the country's prisons.
Yet another disputed presidential election
In June 2009, Biya furnished a lot about the
government. He replaced Prime Minister Ephraim Inoni
with another English speaker, Philémon Yang, who had
previously worked closely with the President. Eight
other ministers were also replaced.
The government's anti-corruption campaign continued
and in August 2009, seven government officials accused
of embezzling public funds were arrested. Despite the
campaign, corruption continued to be the biggest
obstacle to investment in Cameroon, according to a
report released by the World Bank in September that
year. In January 2010, another former Minister of
Corruption was arrested.
In October 2011, Biya won the presidential election
with 78 percent of the vote against 11 percent for John
Fru Ndi of the SDF. The SDF repeatedly complained about
gross irregularities during the election process, among
other things many names must have been missing in the
voting lists, while others appeared twice.