What Germany Has Lost in the Cameroons

[The New York Times/Current History, August 1916]

Cameroon, the important German colony on the central west coast of Africa, passed into possession of the Allies on Feb. 18, 1916, when the garrison of Mora, in the northern portion, capitulated. The first mention of this district is by early Portuguese navigators, who sought its shores for food and water. In drawing their nets they found them laden with prawns, and named the district River of Prawns, or Rio dos Camaroes; this was in the seventeenth century. Two hundred years later the Niger Trading Company, an English company, sent steamships to that section for legitimate commerce, although it is suspected the slave trade was surreptitiously the chief purpose. In 1857 a British cruiser, sent out to suppress the trade, while anchored in the Cameroon River, was visited by a delegation of native chiefs, who asked that England take possession of the Cameroon country, and in compliance with this request the commander hoisted the British flag and took possession. The British Admiralty revoked this action and ordered the flag hauled down. Twenty-two years later the chiefs again asked England to take possession, but no action was taken.

In 1840 Hamburg merchants opened trade relations with the natives of the West Coast, and in 1859 they had factories near the Cameroon River. In 1883 the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce recommended the annexation of the Cameroon coast, and on April 20, 1884, the German Chargé d'Affaires at London notified the British Foreign Office that the German Consul General would "visit" the West Coast of Africa with authority to conduct negotiations "connected with certain questions," and asked that the German officials be "furnished with suitable recommendations." Shortly thereafter two German warships appeared at the coast—one the Möwe, curiously enough the predecessor of the Möwe which recently made a sensational sea raid near the coast, achieving a dramatic escape from the British fleet and returning safely to Hamburg. On July 5, 1884, the German flag was raised at Togoland, and a few days later at the Cameroon River.

This was a shock to England, revealing the fact that Germany had entered the lists in the scramble for colonies in Africa. As soon as the news leaked out that Togoland and the Cameroon had been taken by Germany, British agents made treaties with native chiefs to secure the mouths of the Niger and the Oil River, which were the choice possessions of that region.

The colony was increased in 1911 to an area of 295,000 square miles by the cession of part of the Congo territory by France in compensation for German concessions in Morocco. Its length is over 700 miles and its breadth 600 miles, being twice the size of the United Kingdom.

Edward Bond, in a study of the district for the Contemporary Review, gives some interesting data concerning it. About half the country is flat, with fine agricultural possibilities. The western part from the sea northward is mountainous, with some lofty peaks, one, the Mountain of Greatness, having an altitude of 13,370 feet. The forests contain much valuable hardwood, conspicuously ebony. The natives are Moslems, with Arabic civilization. Their chief occupation is stock raising. The chief town, Duala, had a population of 25,000, including 200 Europeans. It is well laid out and sanitary. In 1913 a railway 150 miles long had been built, another was under construction, and a third under survey. The total population of the colony is 3,500,000. There are four Government schools, with 868 pupils, and four missionary schools, with 24,000 pupils. At the time of the latest figures the imports were $8,000,000 and the exports $5,600,000.

The colony has been a liability to the German Government, the latest reported deficit reaching nearly $2,500,000 per annum. However, it has the very brightest prospects, as everything that will grow in tropical Africa can be grown there and the temperate climate in the vast mountainous areas gives all the possibilities of a temperate zone.

© J. Fred MacDonald, 2013

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