A TRUST BETRAYED: THE TRANSFER OF BRITISH SOUTHERN CAMEROONS TO A SUCCESSOR COLONIALIST
By Professor C Anyangwe, PhD
University of Zambia School of Law
[Paper presented at the 21st Annual Conference of the Wisconsin Institute for Peace & Conflict Studies on the theme ‘Re-examining Human Rights’, Marian College of Fond du Lac, University of Wisconsin, 3-5 November, 2005.]
In 1858 the British Baptist Missionary Society claimed for Britain a coastal enclave at the Bight of Biafra and named it Victoria after Queen Victoria. The area together with its hinterland became British and, after years of historical vicissitudes, was named in 1922 as the British Southern Cameroons. One hundred and fifty years on, that territory is still under colonial rule. The territory was British from 1858 to 1888 when Britain transferred it to Germany. From 1889 until the outbreak of World War I in 1914, Germany administered it as part of its contiguous Kamerun colonial protectorate acquired in 1884. The territory became British again from 1914 until October 1961 when it tragically came under the colonial rule of the neighbouring French-speaking state of Cameroun Republic and has remained so since then.
During the second period of British rule the territory was constituted into an administrative union with Nigeria, and administered from 1922 to 1945 as part of the League of Nations Mandated Territory of British Cameroons and from 1946 to 1961 as part of the United Nations Trust Territory of the same name. The British Southern Cameroons achieved internal autonomy in 1954, became fully self-governing in 1958, and, in 1960 was endowed with a Westminster-type Constitution meant to pave the way for the territory’s emergence as a sovereign independent state. This development was consistent with Article 76 b of the Charter of the United Nations, which imposed on Administering Authorities the obligation to lead Trust Territories to ‘self-government or independence’. It was also consistent with undertakings given in 1958 by the British Government before the UN General Assembly and also with guarantees in the same year by the UN itself, to the effect that the British Southern Cameroons would achieve independence in 1960. Having already achieved full self-government status, the next and ultimate status the British Southern Cameroons was expected to emerge into could only have been that of independent sovereign statehood as contemplated by Article 76 b of the Charter of the UN and by the binding UN 1960 Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples.
But, in a melancholic twist of fate and for reasons difficult to comprehend, the UN imposed on the people of the territory a plebiscite “to achieve independence by joining” either Nigeria or Cameroun Republic. The political authorities of the British Southern Cameroons and those of Cameroun Republic held a series of pre-plebiscite talks which resulted in signed undertakings given by Cameroun Republic that if the vote went in favour of ‘joining Cameroun Republic’ the ‘joining’ would take the form of a two-state federal association. The plebiscite result went in favour of ‘joining Cameroun Republic’. United Nations Resolution 1608 of 21 April 1961 endorsed that result and, in its operative paragraph 5, invited Britain, the Government of the British Southern Cameroons and the Government of Cameroun Republic “to finalize before 1 October 1961, the arrangements by which the agreed” two-state federal association was to be implemented. The mandated finalization never took place.
Instead, on 1 September 1961 the National Assembly of Cameroun Republic boldly enacted a piece of legislation that was in effect an annexation law but passed off as a so-called ‘federal constitution’. By that piece of legislation Cameroun Republic claimed entitlement to the British Southern Cameroons as part of its territory returned to it by the UK and the UN. The long title of that document so proclaimed. At the time this annexation law was promulgated the British Southern Cameroons was still a UN Trust Territory under UK Administration. But both the UK and the UN maintained a studied silence in the face of such a baseless and clearly expansionist claim by Cameroun Republic. What is more, on 30 September 1961 the UK proceeded to transfer sovereignty over the British Southern Cameroons to Cameroun Republic, a foreign country that had nothing with the Trust over the British Cameroons, and then hurriedly withdrew from the territory, leaving it defenceless. Opportunistically, Cameroun Republic occupied the land. It has remained in armed occupation ever since, exercising a colonial sovereignty over the territory. In 1972 the political leadership of Cameroun Republic staged a pretended ‘referendum’, the pre-arranged results of which they claimed authorized them to abolish peremptorily the 10-year old informal ‘Cameroon federation’. In reality the ploy was a farcical quest to legitimize its Germano-Austrian Anschloss-type annexation of British Southern Cameroons. The resultant controversial conflated entity was first denominated ‘united republic of Cameroun’ and then, twelve years later, as ‘Cameroun Republic’, the very name and style by which French Cameroun achieved independence from France on 1 January 1960.