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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]
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
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
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
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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