French President Emmanuel Macron has challenged Cameroonian and French historians to “shed light” on the darker side of French colonial history, promising to fully open French archives to the historians.
Mr. Macron was speaking on July 26 at a joint press conference with his Cameroonian counterpart Paul Biya.
“There is a need to continue to write this history. I wish that we can together launch a joint project that brings together Cameroonian and French historians to shed light on our history,” Macron said.
He committed to giving “complete access to colonial archives to this joint group of historians who will help clarify the past, so as to gauge the responsibility of France as well as the role of Cameroonian authorities before and after independence.”
“All French archives will be open to this group of historians,” the French President emphasized to shed light on “the painful and tragic moments.”
Cameroon’s independence struggle was mired in bloodshed as French troops targeted those fighting for the country’s independence. Historians estimate that at least 400,000 people of Bamileke extraction were massacred because they supported the UPC-the major party fighting to free French-speaking Cameroon from the shackles of colonialism.
Tens of thousands of pro-UPC activists, including the independence leader Ruben Um Nyobè, were massacred first by the French army and then after independence by the Cameroonian army under President Ahmadou Ahidjo’s regime.
Macron described Cameroon as “a strategic partner” that needs to be at peace with itself for development to take a foothold.
He said effective decentralization can provide the solution to the raging pro-independence war in the former UN Trust territory of British Southern Cameroons often referred to as Cameroon’s English-speaking regions.
“I remain convinced that regionalization is a response to the serious crisis that continues to affect the country in the northwest and southwest regions, and that it’s through this policy of dialogue, of reforms, of reconciliation that a sustainable solution can be found,” Macron said.
Cameroon has for about six years now been faced with a pro-independence uprising in the former UN Trust territory under British mandate.
The two regions that makeup 20% of Cameroon’s nearly 27 million people have for decades complained about marginalization. The complaints came to a head in 2016 when teachers and lawyers in the territory took to the streets to protest what they considered as attempts by the predominantly Francophone administration in Yaounde to do away with the education and Common Law system they inherited from their British colonialists.
The government took a hardline, responding to peaceful protests with lethal force. An armed rebellion developed and for nearly six years has been fighting for the independence of the two regions, and the creation of a new nation they call Ambazonia.
Macron said effective decentralization would help douse the tensions and restore peace to the troubled country.
The French President also said he was in Cameroon as part of an African tour that will also take him to Benin and Guinea-Bissau, to “renew relations between Africa and France.”
The statement comes amid dwindling French influence in Cameroon. In the 1990s for instance, French companies represented 40% of the Cameroon economy. That influence has dropped to just 10% today.
And it’s a trend across the continent, a situation compounded by the entry of new actors like China and Russia.
Mr. Macron recognized the threat posed by these new actors and underscored the need for a diversification of French investments in Africa.
“The French Development Agency has for the last ten years financed development projects to the tune of 2 billion euros in Cameroon. This cooperation now faces competition from other actors, and we think that we need to diversify our cooperation with Cameroon,” Macron said.
He said the French are interested in diversifying investments in the areas of Agriculture, infrastructure, industry, sports, and culture.
His Cameroonian counterpart Paul Biya, in power now for nearly 40 years, was challenged on whether he would still run for re-election in 2025.
The age of the 89-year-old showed through, as journalists and President Macron had to repeat questions severally before he could come to grips with them.
Quizzed on whether he still intends to run for re-election in 2025, Biya said that will be known at the end of the current seven-year mandate.
“As you know, Cameroon is run in accordance with its constitution… When this mandate expires you will be informed if I’ll stay or return to the village…” Biya said.