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(en) France, Alternative Libertaire AL #282 - Thomas Deltombe (journalist): Cameroon 1948: the independence of the UPC crushed by Françafrique (fr, it, pt) [machine translation]

Date Sun, 13 May 2018 09:18:58 +0300

On April 10, 1948, in a bar in Douala, the largest city in Cameroon, twelve activists found the Union of People of Cameroon (UPC), which quickly became the main opposition force to French colonial rule. The repression turns into a secret war and brings out a neocolonial model analyzed by Thomas Deltombe, Manuel Domergue and Jacob Tatsitsa in The War of Cameroon. The invention of Françafrique (La Découverte, 2016). ---- Libertarian alternative: What is the Union des populations du Cameroun ? ---- The UPC is a political movement founded in 1948 that called for the independence of Cameroon, the unification of French and British Cameroons, the " raising of standards of life ". These three slogans were nothing more than the reformulation of the promises made at the end of the Second World War by the powers that administered the former German " Kamerun ": France and Great Britain.

Indeed, since 1919, Cameroon was no longer a German colony but an international territory, under the supervision of the SDN then the UN (as Togo or Rwanda for example). Territory removed from the Germans after the First World War, the former Kamerun was cut in half and entrusted to the French administration (4/5 e territory) and British (1/5 e ). This legal peculiarity is fundamental to understand the following.

The UPCists - who almost all come from trade unionism - finally demanded what had been promised to Cameroonians in the " trusteeship agreements " signed in 1946 by Paris and London in exchange for the extension of their tutelary " mission " to the country. These agreements included the notion of " self-government or independence " to which the tutelary powers promised to bring their Cameroonian citizens. The notion of " rising standards of living " came from a promise made by De Gaulle at the Brazzaville conference (1944). In short, the UPC was simply asking for promises.

In 1948, the UPC is modest in size. But his slogans, his organization, the charisma of his leaders allow him to quickly become very popular. In a few years, the UPC becomes the first political movement on the territory of French Cameroon. It is established in most regions, unlike other movements that are often regional, not to say ethnic. More and more crowds are coming to listen to UPCistes leaders.

The archives show that the French administration is quickly worried about the rise of the UPC. And especially since this movement has international connections: it is initially the Cameroonian branch of the Rassemblement démocratique africaine (RDA), the party " interterritorial " Félix Houphouët-Boigny, and maintains relations with different anticolonialist movements in the world.

Does the UPC have links with the Soviet bloc or the communist parties ?

There has been a lot of debate on this point. Since its birth, the UPC, created by trade unionists, has relations with the French CGT, which has actively sought to establish itself in the colonized territories. If this genesis served as a pretext for the administration to accuse the UPC of " communism ", the UPC leadership very clearly asserted that the movement was " nationalist " and nothing else - therefore " neither communist nor anti-communist" ". And this is true, at first, the UPC welcoming people from very varied socio-political horizons: Christians, Muslims, Stalinists, peasants, veterans, traditional leaders, etc.

The ideological affiliations will evolve thereafter, the French repression provoking internal splits within the UPC and inciting some of its leaders to seek external support: in the communist bloc (Soviet, Chinese) sometimes, but especially in the countries independent African countries (Egypt, Ghana, Guinea, Algeria, etc.). In the midst of the cold war, the French will proclaim everywhere that the UPC is a " communist " organization led by Moscow or Beijing to try to discredit it in the eyes of its Western allies and to justify its repressive action.

France reacts by setting up a strategy of intense secret war rather unprecedented.

The intensity of the repression goes up in stages in the 1950s. Initially, it is rather devious: the French mutate the small officials of the UPC to disperse the militant forces, forbid leaders to hold meetings, confiscates their leaflets , drag them to justice on fake motives ... It is in other words the usual administrative repression of a colonial dictatorship.

Between 1955 and 1957, things rock: we enter a real war, partly unprecedented, but not totally. The techniques are those of the " counterrevolutionary war " applied at the same time in Algeria and using different stratagems: targeted assassination of nationalist leaders, systematic torture of " suspects ", territorial grid, regrouping of populations, intensive psychological action, etc.

Like Gabriel Périès, Matthieu Rigouste and a few others, we have immersed ourselves in these very special warfare techniques that directly attack the people and aim at the total control of individuals (territorial, corporal, psychological, etc.). In doing so, we discovered that they had not only been used against UPCists who had gone through armed resistance but had transferred to government techniques by the time Cameroon officially became " independent " in 1960 ...

What is the nature of this " independence " granted to Cameroon on 1 st January 1960 ?

For the French, the war against the UPC and its supporters must allow to remain sovereign " in any hypothesis of sovereignty ". The idea, stated in the mid-1950s, is as follows: since we promised " independence " in 1946, we will honor this promise ... but by emptying this term of its content !

To take short the UPC, which consolidates its guerrilla, which weaves international links, which is invited to the tribune of the UN, the French promise so the " independence " in Cameroon and entrusts it authoritatively to Cameroonians who do not have never asked for it. The sentence that Pierre Messmer, High Commissioner of France in Cameroon between 1956 and 1958, uses in his memoirs is quite clear: " France will grant independence to those who claimed the least, after having eliminated politically and militarily those who asked with the most intransigence. " Cameroon's War is the story of the" liquidation ".

And it is in this war that the arms and the wheels of neocolonial mechanics are forged. The whole process, from 1955 to 1964, consists in creating a facade of independence: a president, Ahmadou Ahidjo, is installed who has on paper instruments of national sovereignty. But the latter is mined behind the scenes by France, which, thanks to a series of bilateral agreements, for certain secrets, retains the upper hand over diplomacy, trade, monetary policy and, of course, all the instruments of repression. (police, army, secret services, etc.) that were created during the " counter-subversive " war against the UPC and its " potential supporters " (that is, a large part of the population!). The war, which has become permanent and generalized, is gradually becoming a dictatorship: France has made the Cameroonian state a counter-subversive war machine whose aim was - and still is - to crush all the potential opponents of the neocolonial order .

And the maintenance of this dictatorship currently explains the silence on this period ?

The power installed in Cameroon in the early 1960s, and whose current regime is the heir, knows that it is illegitimate. Since the 1960s, and with the active support of France, the Cameroonian leaders have banned all that could remind the people of this illegitimacy. This explains why the war has had a very strong " psychological " character . As the UPCists lost ground in the 1960s because of the repression, the concept of " subversion " expanded: anyone who did not claim with sufficient conviction his total allegiance to the Ahidjo regime , erected as " father of the nation " and supported from 1966 on a single party, became " subversive ". In twenty years, the country to which one promised in 1946 the " independence " thus became a relentless pro-French dictatorship.

But there is more. Because of its particular legal status and the " success " of the repression, Cameroon becomes at the same period, from the point of view of the Parisian leaders, a " model to follow " that the French will duplicate in the other colonies become " independent " . Cameroon, the first country whose " independence " allowed to extend the stranglehold of France, is then a laboratory of what will later be called Françafrique.

Things have certainly evolved since the 1960s. But the regime of Paul Biya, president of Cameroon since 1982 and direct heir to Ahidjo, is still there. If the single-party regime was abolished in the 1990s, the same party still remains in power and a multifaceted repression comes down daily on the Cameroonian people. Under the falsely embarrassed but really complacent look of the French authorities.

Interviewed by Renaud (AL Strasbourg)

Thomas Deltombe, The Cameroon War. The invention of Françafrique, La Découverte, 2016.

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