The area that is now Cameroon was originally inhabited during the Neolithic period. Groups such as the Baka have been around for the longest time (Pygmies). Bantu migrations into eastern, southern, and central Africa are thought to have begun here about 2,000 years ago. Near AD 500, the Sao civilization developed around Lake Chad, giving rise to the Kanem and its successor state, the Bornu Empire. In the west, kingdoms, fondoms, and chiefdoms emerged.
In 1472, Portuguese sailors arrived along the shore. They called the Wouri River Rio dos Camares (Shrimp River) for the abundance of the ghost shrimp Lepidophthalmus turneranus, which became Cameroon in English. Over the next several centuries, European interests established regular commerce with the coastal peoples, while Christian missionaries spread inland.
Modibo Adama led Fulani troops on a jihad in the north against non-Muslim and partly Muslim peoples in the early nineteenth century, establishing the Adamawa Emirate. The migration of settled peoples fleeing the Fulani resulted in a significant demographic shift. The northern region of Cameroon was a vital link in the Arab slave trading network.
Bamum script, also known as Shu Mom, is a writing system used by the Bamum people. Sultan Ibrahim Njoya gave them the script in 1896, and the Bamum Scripts and Archives Project teaches it in Cameroon. In 1884, the German Empire established Kamerun as a colony and started a gradual advance inland. They began efforts to develop the colony’s infrastructure, depending on a brutal forced labor system that was heavily criticized by the other colonial powers.
With Germany’s loss in World War I, Kamerun became a League of Nations mandate area, and in 1919 it was divided into French Cameroons and British Cameroons. France linked Cameroon’s economy with its own, improving infrastructure via capital investments and skilled labor, and reforming the forced labor system.
From neighboring Nigeria, the British controlled their area. Natives protested that they were being treated as a “colony of a colony.” Nigerian migrant laborers flocked to Southern Cameroons, thereby eliminating forced labor but infuriating local locals who felt overburdened. In 1946, the League of Nations mandates were transformed into UN Trusteeships, and the subject of independence became a serious issue in French Cameroon.
On July 13, 1955, France banned the most extreme political group in Cameroon, the Union des Populations du Cameroun (UPC). This resulted in a protracted guerrilla battle and the murder of the party’s head, Ruben Um Nyobé. The issue in the relatively tranquil British Cameroons was whether to reunify with French Cameroon or join Nigeria.
President Ahmadou Ahidjo led French Cameroon to independence from France on January 1, 1960. The previously British Southern Cameroons merged with French Cameroons on October 1, 1961, to create the Federal Republic of Cameroon. Ahidjo utilized the ongoing battle with the UPC to consolidate authority in the presidency, and he continued to do so even after the UPC was suppressed in 1971.
On September 1, 1966, his political party, the Cameroon National Union (CNU), became the only legal political party, and the federal form of governance was abolished in 1972 in favor of a United Republic of Cameroon, led from Yaoundé. Ahidjo followed a planned liberalism economic strategy, prioritizing cash crops and petroleum development. The government utilized oil money to establish a national cash reserve, compensate farmers, and fund large development projects; nevertheless, many efforts failed because Ahidjo chose incompetent friends to manage them.
On November 4, 1982, Ahidjo resigned and handed over authority to his constitutional successor, Paul Biya. However, Ahidjo retained leadership of the CNU and attempted to rule the nation from behind the scenes until he was forced to retire by Biya and his supporters. Biya started his presidency by moving toward a more democratic governance, but a failed coup d’état pushed him back toward his predecessor’s leadership style.
The mid-1980s to late 1990s saw an economic catastrophe as a consequence of worldwide economic circumstances, drought, decreasing petroleum prices, and years of corruption, incompetence, and cronyism. Cameroon sought international assistance, reduced government expenditure, and privatized businesses. With the return of multi-party politics in December 1990, former British Southern Cameroons pressure groups demanded more autonomy, while the Southern Cameroons National Council pushed for full independence as the Republic of Ambazonia. Cameroon suffered its worst violence in 15 years in February 2008, when a transport union strike in Douala erupted into violent demonstrations in 31 local districts.
Following the abduction of the Chibok schoolgirls in May 2014, Cameroonian President Paul Biya and Chadian President Idriss Déby declared war on Boko Haram and sent soldiers to the Nigerian border.