French Cameroon achieved independence on January 1, 1960 as the La Republique du Cameroun. After Guinea, it was the second of France’s colonies in Sub-Saharan Africa to be granted independence. The following year, on October 1, 1961, the largely Muslim northern two-thirds of British Cameroons voted to join Nigeria; the largely Christian southern third, Southern Cameroons, voted to join with the Republic of Cameroon to form the Federal Republic of Cameroon. The formerly French and British regions each maintained substantial autonomy. Ahmadou Ahidjo, a French-educated Fulani, was chosen president of the federation in 1961. Ahidjo, relying on a pervasive internal security apparatus, outlawed all political parties but his own in 1966. He successfully suppressed the continuing UPC rebellion, capturing the last important rebel leader in 1970. In 1972, a new constitution replaced the federation with a unitary state called the United Republic of Cameroon. This is the major cause of tension between the French and English speaking areas of Cameroon. Southern Cameroonians feel the agreement at the Foumban constitution conference is not respect.
Although Ahidjo’s rule was characterised as authoritarian, he was seen as noticeably lacking in charisma in comparison to many post-colonial African leaders. He didn’t follow the anti-western policies pursued by many of these leaders, which helped Cameroon achieve a degree of comparative political stability and economic growth.
Ahidjo resigned as president in 1982 and was constitutionally succeeded by his Prime Minister, Paul Biya, a career official from the Beti-Pahuin ethnic group. Ahidjo later regretted his choice of successors, but his supporters failed to overthrow Biya in a 1984 coup. Biya won elections in 1983 and 1984 when the country was again named the Republic of Cameroon. Biya has remained in power, winning multiparty elections in 1992, 1997, and 2004. His Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) party holds a sizeable majority in the legislature.
On August 15, 1984, Lake Monoun exploded in a cataclysmic eruption that released carbon dioxide, suffocating 37 people to death. On August 21, 1986, another cataclysmic eruption at Lake Nyos killed as many as 1,800 people and 3,500 livestock. The two disasters are the only recorded instances of cataclysmic eruptions.