A Review in Images: Cameroon’s Independence and Reunification in 1961, a guest post by Jürg Schneider and Rosario Mazuela
Finally, though slightly belated, in February 2014, Cameroon celebrated the 50th anniversary of Anglophone Cameroon’s independence from Britain in 1961 and its reunification with the Francophone part of Cameroon in the same year (1). For more than two years, Buea, the former capital of German Kamerun and today the South West Region’s administrative center, had prepared for president Paul Biya’s visit and the celebration of the nation’s unity and independence. Roads were tarred, street lights renewed and a huge monument commemorating the events erected. Administrative buildings in the old center were given a complete new paint finish whereas many older houses along the main road had to be removed. Indeed, as some argued, the long announced presidential visit had turned out to be a key factor for the city’s development. Others, however, complained about the useless and little sustainable squandering of many billions of CFA in a context in which people’s basic needs, such as water and energy, are still only being partially met.
On February 20, a Thursday, the long awaited finally arrived. President Paul Biya, the First Lady Chantal, and a great number of ministers, parliamentarians, traditional chiefs and ambassadors, attended the parade on the main road and the place commonly known as “Bongo Square”. Countless groups representing administrative bodies, schools, universities and political parties marched past the huge tribune on which the President and the First Lady sat, from where the Mayor of Buea welcomed the couple and the President – the architect of modern Cameroon, as he was honored – addressed the nation.
Historians, and historical photographs, were in high demand these days and accordingly countless publications appeared which commemorated, explained, and analyzed the events that had happened 50 years ago. In agreement with the event, African Photography Initiatives which had had the opportunity to work over the last year with the archive of the Ministry of Communication’s photographic section celebrated the inauguration of the exhibition “The path towards Unity” in Buea’s new Town Hall. In a sequence of more than 80 photographs, the exhibition tells the story of Cameroon’s path to national and political unity. A selection of the photographic section’s images can be found here.
Since February 2013, African Photography Initiatives, a non-profit organization dedicated to Africa’s rich photographic heritage, has been working in the government’s Press Photo Archives Buea, Cameroon. The two-year project which is funded by the British Endangered Archives Programme, the Swiss Federal Office of Culture, the Centre for African Studies Basel, University of Basel, Switzerland, and African Photography Initiatives consists in the digitization of a part of the holdings of the Press Photo Archives, conservation and protection measures, collaborative research projects of Cameroonian and Swiss students, and the capitalization of the results of the project through exhibitions, publications and conferences.
Until today, more than 14 000 groundsheets (a groundsheet is a printed form on which up to 16 contact prints are mounted) and some 27 000 negatives have been digitized as well as all volumes in which the Photographic Section’s activities were recorded. All groundsheets were put in a new envelope and acid free paper placed between the pages in order to prevent the direct contact of the contact prints with the paper of the form. All available information concerning the digitized groundsheets and negatives has been entered into a data base, which will be accessible in the future as hard copy and on the Internet.
The photo exhibition, which is to a large degree using material prepared and provided by African Photography Initiatives’ project. is curated by Rosario Mazuela and Jürg Schneider with the help of Fidelis Ebong, Hubert Wandum, Njie Litombe, Glory Luma. We are highly indebted to Pa Emmanuel Mbwaye for sharing his enthusiasm and knowledge with us.
ALL IMAGES : © ROSARIO MAZUELA
(1) When Germany lost all its colonies after WWI Cameroon was divided and subsequently administered as Mandate and later Trusteeship by Britain and France respectively. In 1960 French Cameroons achieved independence followed by British Cameroons in 1961. On October 1 of the same year the two parts reunited to form the Federal Republic of Cameroon. The federal system was abandoned in the early 1970s and replaced by a unitary state. The photographs of the exhibition document this political process which started in the mid-1940s and led to the formation of the Federal Republic of Cameroon in 1961 and the United Republic of Cameroon in 1972.