The earliest inhabitants of Cameroon were probably the Pygmies.
They still inhabit the forests of the South and East Provinces. Bantu
speakers from equatorial Africa were among the first groups to invade.
During the late 1770s and early 1800s, the Fulani, a pastoral Islamic
people of the western Sahel, conquered most of what is now northern
Cameroon, subjugating or displacing its largely non-Muslim inhabitants.
Although the Portuguese arrived on Cameroon's coast in the 1500s,
malaria prevented significant European settlement and conquest of the
interior until the late 1870s, when large supplies of the malaria
suppressant, quinine, first became available. The European presence in
Cameroon during the earlier years of contact was primarily devoted to
coastal trade and the acquisition of slaves. The northern part of
Cameroon was an important part of the Muslim slave trade network.
The slave trade was largely suppressed by the mid-19th century.
Christian missions established a presence in the late 19th century and
continue to play a role in Cameroonian life. From the late 1880s, all
of present-day Cameroon and parts of several of its neighbors became
the German colony of Kamerun, with a capital first at Buea and later at
Yaounde. After World War I, this colony was partitioned between
Britain and France under a League of Nations mandate on June 28,
1919. France gained the larger share, transferred outlying regions to
neighboring French colonies, and ruled the rest from Yaounde.
Britain's territory, a strip bordering Nigeria from the sea to Lake Chad,
was ruled from Lagos.
In 1955, the outlawed Union of Cameroonian Peoples (UPC), based
largely among the Bamileke and Bassa ethnic groups, began an armed
struggle for independence in French Cameroon. This rebellion
continued, with diminishing intensity, even after independence.
Estimates of death from this conflict vary from tens of thousands to
hundreds of thousands.
In 1960, French Cameroon achieved independence as the Republic of
Cameroon. In 1961, the largely Muslim northern half of British
Cameroon voted to join Nigeria; the largely Christian southern half
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, was able to
outlaw all political parties but his own in 1966. He also successfully
suppressed the UPC rebellion, capturing the last important rebel leader
in 1970. In 1972, a new constitution replaced the federation with a
unitary state.In 1982, Ahidjo resigned as President of Cameroon and was
constitutionally succeeded by his Prime Minister, Paul Biya, a career
official from the Bulu-Beti ethnic group. Ahidjo remained leader of
the ruling party, but his influence waned. His supporters failed to
overthrow Biya in a 1984 coup, and Biya won single-candidate
elections in 1984 and 1988. Biya also won a multi-party election in
1992 which was considered seriously flawed by international observers.
source: U.S. State Department Background Notes 1996