Cameroon, country: Early History to Independence

Early History to Independence

Throughout history the region witnessed numerous invasions and migrations by various ethnic groups, especially by the Fulani, Hausa, Fang, and Kanuri. Contact with Europeans began in 1472, when the Portuguese reached the Wuori River estuary, and a large-scale slave trade ensued, carried on by the Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, French, and English. In the 19th cent., palm oil and ivory became the main items of commerce. The British established commercial hegemony over the coast in the early 19th cent., and British trading and missionary outposts appeared in the 1850s; but the English were supplanted by the Germans, who in 1884 signed a treaty with the Douala people along the Wuori estuary and proclaimed the area a protectorate.

The Germans began constructing the port of Douala and then advanced into the interior, where they developed plantations and built roads and bridges. An additional area was acquired from France in 1911 as compensation for the surrender of German rights in Morocco. Two years later, German control over the Muslim north was consolidated. French and British troops occupied the region during World War I.

After the war the area ceded in 1911 was rejoined to French Equatorial Africa, and in 1919 the remainder of Cameroon was divided into French and British zones, which became League of Nations mandates. Little social or political progress was made in either area, and French labor practices were severely criticized. Both mandates, however, remained loyal to the Allies in World War II. In 1946 they became UN trust territories. In the 1950s, guerrilla warfare raged in the French Cameroons, instigated by the nationalist Union of the Peoples of the Cameroons, which demanded immediate independence and union with the British Cameroons. France granted self-government to the French Cameroons in 1957 and internal autonomy in 1959.

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