Why Cameroon was partitioned Anglo French Negotiations Concerning Cameroon during World War I, 1914 1916: Occupation, "Condominium" and Partition
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Anglo-French disagreements over Cameroon during World War I and the efforts to resolve them both during the Allied campaigns in the territory and at the end of the war suggest that negotiation can occur even in wartime successfully. At the outbreak of the war, Cameroon was a German territory like Tanganyika, South West Africa, and Togoland. The Anglo-French grand strategy and war aims were to seize these territories and oust the Germans from them. Consequently, Cameroon became the theater of an intense military struggle and a pawn of Anglo-French imperial rivalry fuelled by the conflicting territorial ambitions and claims of France and Britain. The outcome was that both countries, after protracted and often acrimonious negotiations over pieces of territory that were typical of 19th-century imperialism, eventually abandoned a proposed condominium for the joint administration of Cameroon in favor of outright partition of the territory although Cameroonians were absent from the negotiations. This paper highlights the issues and traces the main stages in the evolving disagreement that led to this outcome. It is based on research conducted at the Public Record Office (PRO), now the National Archives, London. I am grateful to the British Council for its generous bursary, which made it possible. 

When Britain and France embarked upon the joint conquest of the German colonies of Togoland and Cameroon at the outbreak of World War I, they seemed to have shelved, at least for the time being, the colonial rivalries that had often troubled their relations before the war. If nothing else, their relatively rapid joint conquest of Togo in August 1914 seemed to encourage this view. Had this wartime cooperation continued it might have enabled them not only to conquer but also to rule those territories jointly during and after the war.

Unfortunately, no sooner had the Allied operations in Cameroon begun than the rivalries resurfaced. The reasons for this are not hard to find. France entered the campaign intent on recovering the territories of Equatorial Africa, now part Cameroon, which she had been forced to cede to Germany in 1911. Moreover, she had not abandoned the old dream of a French Empire comprising unbroken territory between Algiers and Brazzaville (Osuntokun, 1975, p. 650).

Britain, on the other hand, was anxious to capture the port town of Duala and its powerful transmission station which the Germans used to monitor shipping and other movements in the South Atlantic. As the campaign progressed, Britain gradually developed territorial interests and ambitions in Cameroon. In general, she wished to retrieve the lost territories of the Lamido of Yola and the Shehu of Borno whose lands had been divided by the arbitrary map drawing of the partition era (Osuntokun, 1975, pp. 649-650). These ambitions eventually gave birth to the strained Anglo-French relations during much of the 18-month campaign. Essentially, then, the war merely provided Britain and France a pretext for further colonial conquest and annexation. They tried to disguise this fact when, early in the campaign, they agreed to establish a condominium over the territories of Cameroon, which they had jointly conquered and occupied. This study will show that the projected Condominium never materialized because of the clashing territorial ambitions and claims of the two Allies.

On September 27, 1914, a party of British Marines occupied the port town of Duala, shortly after British battleship H.M.S. Challenger briefly bombarded it and secured its surrender. The Marines were the first contingent of an Anglo-French force, variously named the African Expeditionary Force, West African Expeditionary Force, and Cameroon Expeditionary Force. After surrendering Duala, the Germans retreated into the interior of Cameroon and established the provisional capital of their administration in Yaounde, where it remained until the end of the Cameroon campaigns.

Henceforth, until the Germans were defeated and ousted from the territory in January 1916, Duala served a dual purpose as the headquarters of the Expeditionary Force, commanded by British officer Brigadier-General Charles M. Dobell, and the seat of the Anglo-French administration of the occupied territories, also headed by Dobell. It was from Duala, then, that Dobell administered, in principle on behalf of the Allies, the regions of Cameroon conquered by the Allied troops.  But the adoption and proclamation of the principle of joint administration of the conquered territories by the two Allies were one thing, its application another. Not surprisingly, differences soon arose between the Allies concerning its application. This study attempts to reconstruct the negotiations leading first to the agreement for joint invasion and occupation of Cameroon and next to the eventual partition of Cameroon into British and French territories at the Versailles peace settlement at the end of the war. More specifically, it tries to show that the administrative “arrangement,” which has been rather grandiosely christened the Anglo-French Condominium by Ndam Njoya (n.d.) and others, was so heavily weighted in favor of the British that it was virtually a British administration. 

Anglo-French Partition

It was not Dobell or the British for that matter that first raised this delicate matter. Rather, it was the French who first explicitly raised it in a Memorandum dated March 19, 1915, which the French Military Attaché in London addressed to the War Office (WO).

The Memorandum was prompted by a despatch which the French Ministry for the Colonies addressed to the French embassy in London. That despatch was in turn based on a report by General Pineu, Commander of French West African forces, whose headquarters were at Dakar. What this suggests, therefore, is that the matter had been widely discussed in both French colonial and metropolitan official circles.

Essentially, the memorandum made two points. First, it claimed that the French had been assigned the greater share of the fighting necessary to achieve victory in Cameroon. This was so, the memorandum claimed, because two-thirds of the German forces in Cameroon were “opposed to our forces operating in the south, east and north of Cameroon.” Against these forces, the French claimed to have deployed 7,500 men whilst the British had so far fielded only 4,800. In addition, the front allotted to the French was said to be “by far the more difficult one” on account of the great swamps in its river valleys, and the almost impenetrable forest in the West (See Memorandum, 649/4). This being so, the memorandum concluded, that the initial agreement which provided for the deployment of equal forces in the joint effort “is not fulfilled, and France is left to conduct the more arduous operations.

Secondly, in what was a veiled criticism of Dobell’s strategy, the memorandum claimed that French Columns were in the very heart of Cameroon, 500 kilometers from their starting points, whilst the Expeditionary Force led by Dobell “is only some hundred kilometers from the base . . . in Duala” (citation here). The French government therefore felt that it would be dangerous to allow its Columns to advance further, while Dobell confined himself to occupying Duala and the districts bordering Nigeria.

Concluding, the memorandum insisted that Harcourt agreed that the French Memorandum was “not at all pleasant.” He was not alone in holding this view. Harding for his part described it as a “very offensive memorandum” and speculated that it may have been written by the French Colonial Office “behind the back of the French F.O.” in order “to edge their men in and get effective hold of the country” (Minute by Harding, September 16, 1915 CO 649/5). As for the Admiralty, its position about the Memorandum and the issues it raised was the subject of a letter dated May 14, 1915, addressed to the CO (Nicholson to CO, May 14, 1915, CO 649/1).

While deploring the raising of this question because of the acrimony it could provoke, the Admiralty nevertheless conceded two points. First, it admitted that the French contention was justified, especially since the advance of the French forces had been through marshy lands and was attended by “great difficulties.” Second, it conceded the numerical superiority of French native troops, although it argued that this superiority was perhaps somewhat offset by the superiority of British white troops. But the core of the Admiralty’s response was again the naval factor argument. In this connection, it agreed with the CO and Dobell that an important aspect of the question had been ignored, namely, the capture of the coastline and especially Duala and the adjacent districts of Buea, Edea, and Bare (Nicholson to CO, May 14, 1915, CO 649/1). Lugard’s position did not differ much from that of the CO, the Admiralty, and Dobell.

In general, he argued that the British had played a decisive and less self-seeking role in the campaign. In his opinion, the French conquests in the east and their operations in the north had been largely made possible by the fact that the British had devoted themselves to the “main object” of engaging the German forces. In sum, the arguments that each government adduced in support of its case indicate that they both felt that their respective contributions to the conquest of Cameroon had been underestimated or ignored by the other Ally.

This was how matters stood on the diplomatic front when the Allies resumed their long-delayed offensive following the long, prohibitive rainy season in Cameroon. On January 1, 1916, British troops commanded by Colonel Gorges entered Yaounde, the Germans having been forced to flee to Spanish territory, 120 miles to the south, by the Allied advance. On January 4, Gorges was joined in Yaounde by Colonel Cunliffe, another British Officer, and General Aymerich. For all practical purposes, the war in Cameroon was over. True, German resistance in Cameroon continued in far-off Mora until February 18 when the town capitulated, but the main issue of the war in Cameroon had by then been largely settled by the fall of Yaounde.

The capture of Yaounde by the Allies opened a new, decisive phase in the Anglo-French negotiations concerning the administration and partition of Cameroon. On January 11, 10 days after Gorges and his Column entered Yaounde, the FO wrote to the CO suggesting that given the capture of the capital and the probability that the whole of Cameroon would soon be in Allied hands, it would serve no useful purpose to continue the discussions with the French government concerning the administration of Duala and the form of administration which was presumably soon to be replaced by a new system (de Bunsen to CO, February 11, 1916, CO 649/9).

This was so, the FO added, “given the discussions which were soon to commence on the form which administration of the whole territory was to take until the end of the war” (The Bunsen to CO, February 11, 1916, CO 649/9). In a minute dated January 13, Strachey sounded the first note of diplomatic caution about the impending discussions. He suggested that the British make no further proposals but let the French “show their hand” by making a counterproposal.

The second comment by a CO official in this connection was even more trenchant: it suggested that the British at once ask the French for a counterproposal and that in doing so the CO should indicate that no condominium would work. He further suggested that Strachey be sent to Paris to discuss the matter with Bertie and the French government if the anticipated French counterproposal was inadmissible.

Finally, he urged that the CO press the WO to suggest to Dobell that in evacuating Yaounde and concentrating his troops, “he might so arrange that Duala and neighborhood are effectively occupied by British troops” (de Bunsen to CO, February 11, 1916, CO 649/9). Given the deep and widespread French suspicion of British motives which MadibaEssiben has so well documented (Madiba, Essiben, 1981, pp. 41-42), it is more than likely that the French understood the implications of Dobell’s attempt to concentrate his troops at Duala and that they wanted to forestall it. In February 1916, the French added another element of acrimony to the negotiations. In a letter to Bertie, they informed him that given the Allied offensive and the impending termination of Dobell’s powers, they were proposing to instruct Aymerich to “cooperate with the competent British authority on an equal footing” in administering the zone of Cameroon jointly conquered by the Expeditionary Force commanded by Dobell (citation). To this end, Aymerich would be instructed to proceed to Duala on March 1 accompanied by some civilian officials (Bertie to FO, February 13, 1916, CO 649/9). At the CO, Harding’s reaction to this latest French move was characteristically forthright. He proposed to reply to the French that, With this parting shot, the CO and its administrators faded into the background and the FO and its diplomats formally took over.

Why Cameroon was partitioned

1. The attempt by Britain and France to form a joint administration or condominium failed and so partition was the only option.

2. The absence of Cameroonians in the Anglo-French meetings on the future of Cameroon removed any opposition to partition.

3. Both countries were anxious to share Cameroon to benefit from the investments put in place by the Germans.

4. The British and French forces jointly defeated the Germans in Cameroon and wanted compensation for their war efforts.

5. Britain and France had colonial ambitions in Cameroon. Britain wanted part of Cameroon to tidy the eastern boundaries of Nigeria while France wanted to expand her territories in Equatorial Africa.

6. Both powers had trading interests in Cameroon. Traders from both countries wanted protection from their respective home government’s interests. That is both wanted to acquire strategic naval bases.

7. Britain wanted France to have the lion’s share to boost French morale in the ongoing war in Europe.

8. Britain and France had differences in culture and colonial policies.

Stages of how Cameroon was partitioned

1. In February 1916 the Germans were defeated and ousted from Cameroon by Anglo-French forces.

2. On March 4, 1916 Lancelot Olyphant an official of the British Foreign Office met with George Picot a French diplomat in London, Olyphant presented a map of Cameroon to Picot and he drew a line running from North to South. This became known as the Picot Line picot chose the area to the east of the line and the British to the West.


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