The North Region (North Province until 2008; French Région du Nord) makes up 66,090 km² of the northern half of The Republic of Cameroon. Neighbouring territories include the Far North Region to the north, the Adamawa Region to the south, Nigeria to the west, Chad to the east, and Central African Republic to the southeast. The city of Garoua is both the political and industrial capital. Garoua is Cameroon's third largest port, despite the fact that the Bénoué River upon which it relies is only navigable for short periods of the year.
Major ethnic groups include the Fulbe (Fula), who are Islamic pastoralists, and numerous Muslim and animist speakers of Adamawa, Chadic, and Nilo-Saharan languages. French is the language of education, though Fulfulde, the Fulbe language, is widespread as a lingua franca.
Early population movements
The flood plains of the Bénoué Depression have long attracted human settlement, as archaeological finds in the area and in Garoua attest. The Paleo-Sudanese, such as the Guider, represent the region's oldest continuous inhabitants. These peoples inhabited the region well before the 8th century. By the 9th century, various Neo-Sudanese groups migrated into the territory, among them the Chamba, Doayo, Fali, Mundang, and Mbum. The Chamba and Mbum proved the most warlike, forcing other groups to assimilate or find new homes. Over the years, the Mbum became quite cohesive, with a common language, social order, and ruler.
The Bata entered the area in two main waves. The first settled along the valley of the Bénoué River (River Benue), then the second continued south to Demsa Pwa (old Demsa). During this migration, the Bata fought and absorbed other peoples whom they met. The Bata also settled the site of Garoua (along with the Fali) in the 18th century. Other groups fled the Bata and settle elsewhere, such as the Chamba, Mbum, and Vere. The Chamba continued to migrate (due partially to internal squabbling) well into the colonial period, and they founded many settlements along the way, including Donga, Suntai, and Tissa.
Some of Cameroon's other peoples lived in the territory of the North Province at one time or another. The Bali of the Northwest Province descend from the Chamba, for example. The Tikar of the Adamawa and Northwest Provinces probably migrated to their present location from the Bénoué Depression.
The territory fell to the control of the Islamic Kanem Empire under Sultan (or Mai) Dunama (Dunam) II (r. 1221-1259). Thousands of cavalry subdued the area (known as Mabina) during this period. Under Kanem control, a governor presided over Mabina from the Kanem capital. The area was also nominally under the control of the kaigama, the Kanem military commander and ward of its southern provinces.
Kanem control did not last long. Civil war erupted upon Dunama's death, as a succession of warlords occupied the territory in an ever-shifting succession of power. The old empire was not reunited until the reign of Ali Ghaji, who came to power in 1472 and set his capital at Bornu.
Slavery and Islam are the two most enduring legacies of the Kanem-Bornu period. Slaves proved a lucrative commodity, and large numbers of them were transported from the area across the Sahara. Kanem-Bornu control brought Islam to the region between 1349 and 1385, though only a handful of elites or rulers ever converted.
Beginning in the 13th century, small numbers of Fulbe herdsmen and settlers began streaming into the territory from present-day Nigeria. Over time, Fulbe numbers grew, and the immigrants began to shift from subservience to other ethnic groups to settling Fulbe-only settlements. They also embraced Islam beginning in the 17th century. By 1804, Fulbe numbers had reached the point where the herders had to seek new pastureland and the settlers tired of paying homage to non-Fulbe rulers. The sentiment reached its peak when Fulbe mystic Usman Dan Fodio declared a jihad in what is today northern Nigeria and Cameroon. Modibo Adama became lamido of Fumbina, charged with conquering the territory for Usman's Sokoto Empire.
In areas with sizable Fulbe populations, Adama's task proved fairly simple. The settlements at Bundang, Chamba, Chebowa, Deo, Faro, Garoua, Guringa, Kilba, Malaba, Rai, Song, Turua, and Zummo fell easily, Garoua in 1813. In other areas, Adama met with staunch resistance. He first struck at the Bata of Pema, Tepa, and Turuwa. Fulbe raiders enslaved Bata resisters in great numbers, and those Bata who could fled south to found Demsa Mosu (new Demsa) and Bata Batchama to the north. Those peoples who were unwilling to submit to Fulbe supremacy were forced to flee, many of them to the forbidding Mandara and Atlantika Mountains.
Adama allied with forces from Kanem-Bornu to pursue the Mandara people. He led the charge to conquer Guider by 1810, then he moved on the Mandara capital of Douolo. Adama took these settlements and other smaller ones. The remainder of the Mandaras fled to the mountains that today bear their name. Adama had reached well into the Adamawa Plateau by 1825.
Upon Adama's death in 1847, almost all of northern Cameroon was under the rule of various Fulbe lamidos of the Sokoto Empire. What is today the North Province fell into the Garoua-Gurin and Song-Guider districts. The centralised administration (headed from Yola in present-day Nigeria) aided communication and trade throughout the region. Slaves formed a large portion of the economy, and were traded for horses and salt. In addition, the jihads cemented Islam as the dominant religion in the area.
Non-Fulbe peoples were forced to either submit to Fulbe control (and the rule of non-native rulers) or to continue their resistance long after Adama's death. The Fali of the Bénoué Depression led the Fulbe to fortify Garoua, which they called Ribadou-Garoua. Meanwhile, the new Muslim empire attracted Muslims from other areas to immigrate, and Hausa, Bornu, and Shuwa Arabs moved in the late 19th century.
The explorer Dr. Heinrich Barth, a German under British patronage, visited Garoua in 1851 as a guest of the emir at Yola. Dr. Gustav Nachtigal, another German, led a later expedition in 1869. Nachtigal became a guest of the sultan of Bornu, and with his permission penetrated the area south to the Adamawa Plateau, where he remained until 1873. Nachtigal took careful note of the region's various peoples, their relations with one another, and those goods or produce that might prove attractive to German interests.
Germany followed up on Nachtigal's findings by sending two Englishmen, J. H. Ashcroft and Edward E. Flegel, and a missionary named Hutchinson in 1879. The trio reached Garoua on 4 September and began the exploration of the upper Bénoué River. Flegel led a second expedition in 1882, travelling far and wide and negotiating treaties to give the Germans a monopoly on ivory in the area. He died in 1883, however, cutting the project short. Nonetheless, Germany annexed the "Kameruns" in 1884. Meanwhile, British traders set up trade in Garoua in 1890 for ivory, salt, and textiles.
Despite the new overlords, the northern territory of the Kameruns was mostly ignored; it was difficult to reach and its goods were of little priority compared to those of the southern forest zone. The only significant northern focus for the colonials was the port at Garoua. The first German administrators reached the settlement in 1901. The Germans then continued the development of Garoua as a port and a gateway from North to West Africa. In 1902, Garoua became the capital of the Ngaoundéré and Garoua administrative unit.
The Germans left much of the administration of the territory to the traditional rulers. They particularly favoured the Fulbe lamidos, and they encouraged other ethnic groups to convert to Islam and thus fall under the control of these rulers. Nevertheless, those lamidos and other rulers who showed too much independence or disregard for German supremacy were ousted or killed.
During World War I, Garoua and the surrounding territory formed a major focus of the British African front. Under Hugh Cunliffe, British troops attacked Garoua on 30 August 1914, but were repulsed. Cunliffe retreated to Yola (at this time also German territory). The Germans counterattacked, leaving Garoua defenseless. Cunliffe took the city and used it as a staging area for further gains against the Germans. After the German surrender of 1918, the present North Province territories fell under a League of Nations mandate, to be administered by France.
The French maintained a similar policy of governing the area through the Fulbe. Also like the Germans, recalcitrant rulers found themselves quickly deprived of their positions. Missionaries also entered the region, such as the Lutheran Fraternal Mission in Garoua in 1919.
Still, the French largely ignored the area except for the Bénoué port, which they enlarged in 1930. They also introduced a hardier variety of cotton (allem) in 1931. The French orchestrated further road building in the area, including a major route from Foumban to Garoua via Ngaoundéré. In addition, Garoua received a large airport. The region fell into the Mora-Garoua division, administered from Garoua.
Under André-Marie Mbida, first premier of Cameroon after France granted it self-governance in 1956, the North's Fulbe majority rose in opposition, especially against the 1957 Abong-Mbang Resolutions. The Union Camerounaise political party with its large Fulbe support base formed the nerve centre for this opposition. In the resolutions, Mbida had called for a "democratisation" of Cameroon's north, which the lamidos saw as an attack on their traditional power. They thus threatened to secede to join French Chad, which set into motion a series of events that led to Mbida's resignation. Ahmadou Ahidjo, a northern Muslim, took his place on 18 February 1958.
On 1 January 1960, Cameroon gained its independence with Ahidjo its first president. The period of Ahidjo's presidency proved a boon to the territory, as the native son relished great projects on Garoua and the surrounding zone, particularly in the road network. He also initiated SODECOTON to supervise and ameliorate the region's cotton-based economy.
The Northern economy, long centered on Garoua, took a severe blow during the Biafra Secessionist War, which broke out in 1967 in Nigeria and severely hampered trade along the Bénoué. Even at the war's end in 1970, the port of Garoua never fully reached its previous levels of commerce.
Under Paul Biya, Cameroon's second president, the North continued to enjoy some improvements, as Biya was careful to cater to the region's Fulbe majority. Nevertheless, upon Biya's accession to power, the Cameroonian press accused an Ahidjo collaborator named Moussa Yaya of trying to turn the northern lamidos against the new president. Biya's main change to the region came in his splitting of Cameroon's Grand North into three provinces, the Adamawa, the North, and the Far North in 1983. That same year, Biya reshuffled his cabinet, and Ahidjo retaliated by urging all northern ministers to resign from the government. Biya retaliated by dismissing all ministers who had served under Ahidjo, claiming that some of them had participated in an assassination attempt on him. The alleged plotters were tried and found guilty on 27 February 1984. Ahidjo escaped to Paris. A further affront to Biya's rule came on 6 April 1984 when members of Cameroon's Republican Guard who hailed from the north attacked various government buildings in an attempt to overthrow the government. They also failed.