Saturday 23 February 2019

The Imperial Stroke of Pen: The Kamerun Campaign

The Cameroons & Nigerian Artillery during an attack on Mountain Hill Camp during the First World War. (CREDIT: The Illustrated War News, April 28th 1915).

The carving up of various regions of the world by European powers on the continents of Africa and Asia are perhaps best exemplified by the German initiated Berlin Conference (KongoKonferenz) of 1884-85 and the Anglo-French Sykes-Picot Agreement (Asia Minor Agreement) of 1916. The former came about at the time of Germany’s emergence as a colonial power, while the latter was a secret deal which enabled the creation of mutual spheres of influence in the Middle East. Less well known is the Anglo-French Picot Provisional Partition Line of 1915. This settlement has a link to the previously mentioned agreements because it was one of several agreements representing the diminution of German imperial power on the African continent -it also lost imperial outposts in east and south west Africa- and the involvement of Georges Picot who was of course a major figure in working out a division of land between the French and the British. These types of agreements often involved a great amount of arbitrariness of which the Anglo-French accord over the former German colony of Kamerun is most striking.

The Kamerun Campaign was part of the confrontation during the First World War between Britain, France and Belgium on the one hand and Germany on the other. The former nations invaded Kamerun (Cameroon) which was then a German colony, in August 1914. By February 1916, most German military and civilian personnel had fled to Rio Muni, the neutral colony of Spanish Guinea, which today forms the continental portion of Equatorial Guinea.

As was the case with the Middle Eastern theatre, Britain and France shared the spoils of war by agreeing to divide Kamerun along what was called the “Picot Provisional Partition Line” with Britain taking approximately one-fifth of the colony situated on the Nigerian border. France acquired Douala and most of the central plateau. The campaign would officially end in March 1916, but before that at a meeting on February 23 1916, Georges Picot “who knew nothing of the lands and peoples he was dividing” drew a line with a heavy pencil” which Sir Charles Strachey, the representative of the British Colonial Office, was constrained to accept.

As one of Strachey’s colleagues later observed:

“If only you had not had a pencil in your hand at the time”.

© Adeyinka Makinde (2019)

Adeyinka Makinde is a writer based in London, England.

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