On May 5, 1960, Ahmadou Babatoura Ahidjo became Cameroon’s first president. He would hold that post until 1982. Ahidjo’s first entry into politics was in 1942 when he became a member of Cameroon’s Representative Assembly at the young age of 23.
Ahidjo was a passionate nationalist and Pan-Africanist who ushered his country into independence in 1960 and governed Cameroon in an unpopular but effective manner that enabled it to be one of the most stabilized in western Africa. His tactics were deemed conservative and authoritarian.
Ahidjo was born on August 24, 1924, in Garoua, Cameroun. His father was a Fulani village chief and his mother was a Fulani born from slave descendants.
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Before beginning a secular education, Ahidjo was educated in Quranic school. In 1932, he began attending a local government primary school. Upon failing his examination for certification in 1938, Ahidjo shifted gears and worked in the veterinary service. In 1939, he retested and obtained his certificate. He resumed schooling and attended secondary school for three years while studying for a career in civil service. Ahidjo was also a cyclist and soccer player.
In 1942, Ahidjo joined the civil service as a radio operator for a postal service. It is said that he was the first civil servant from northern Cameroun to work in the southern area. The expertise he gained working in places such as Douala, Ngaoundéré, Bertoua, and Mokolo would serve as a precursor for handling the challenges presented by leading a multi-ethnic state.
Ahidjo formally entered the realm of politics in 1946. From January 28, 1957, to May 10, 1957, Ahidjo was the President of the Legislative Assembly of Cameroon. He simultaneously served as the Deputy Prime Minister under André-Marie Mbida’s government.
As deputy Prime Minister, Ahidjo laid the groundwork for Cameroon’s independence by filing a motion and negotiating the terms of independence with France.
Ahidjo’s infusion of French interests in how he ran Cameroon was not popular among some Cameroonians thus, a group formulated a new political party in March 1959 named the Union des Populations du Cameroun or the Union of the Peoples of Cameroon (UPC).
That same year, Ahidjo also petitioned the United Nations to gain support for France’s independence plan.
Nevertheless, when Cameroon gained its independence on January 1, 1960, Ahidjo became the nation’s first president.
In 1960, the UPC attempted to stage an uprising, however, their efforts were killed before it gained traction, as documented by Trip Down Memory Lane. French forces helped to quiet down the UPC. Ahidjo was given four bills to declare a state of emergency to snuff out the efforts of the UPC for good.
After the independence of the French-controlled regions of Cameroon, Ahidjo then turned his attention on reuniting the newly-independent portion with the British dominated part of Cameroon. Ahidjo and his supporters were in favor of integration and reunification while the UPC preferred reunification. The UN agreed with Ahidjo’s stance.
In July 1961, Ahidjo attended a conference where plans to reunite the Francophone and Anglophone Cameroon were solidified. Ahidjo and Premiere John Foncha met to create a new constitution for both regions. They also both agreed not to join the commonwealth or French community.
In August 1961 Ahidjo and Foncha agreed on the final draft of the constitution and on October 1, the two regions formally joined with Ahidjo as president and Foncha serving as Vice President.
On May 2, 1972, Ahidjo proposed in a referendum set for May 20 to eliminate the federation and establish a unitary state to combat Cameroon’s underdevelopment and improve the country’s public structure.
On June 2, 1972, in Ahidjo’s Presidential Decree Number 72-720, the Republic of Cameroon was instated which did away with the federation.
Subsequently, the position of Vice President was eliminated, Ahidjo also became the Commander in Chief of Cameroon’s military and the position of Prime Minister was introduced with Paul Biya gaining the role.
On November 4, 1982, Ahidjo resigned from his presidency. His reasoning for stepping down vary; it is speculated that he was misled by a doctor about the condition of his health and that he planned to return to his position after the improvement of his health. However, he remained as the President of the Cameroon National Union (CNU).
Two days later, Biya took the helms as President of Cameroon.
The original agreement was for Biya to become the Vice-President of CNU and handle the affairs of President in his absence.
This agreement was short lived as a feud erupted in 1983 between Ahidjo and Biya. On July 19, 1983, Ahidjo went into exile in France.
On August 22m Biya exposed a supposed plot by Ahidjo.
Ahidjo stated that Biya “was abusing his power, that he lived in fear of plots against him, and that he was a threat to national unity.”
Ahidjo and Biya never reconciled. Ahidjo stepped down as President of CNU and in February 1984 he was found guilty and sentenced to death in absentia for the June 1983 coup attempt.
Ironically, in April 1984 a coup was attempted in Cameroon and was quashed.
Ahidjo divided his time between France and Senegal before dying of a heart attack on November 30, 1989.
His final resting place was in Dakar, Senegal.
On October 30, 2007, Biya stated that returning the remains of Ahidjo to Cameroon was a “family affair.”
In June 2009 an agreement about returning Ahidjo’s remains was reached.
Nonetheless, Ahidjo’s remains have yet to be transported back to Cameroon.