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Ahmadou Ahidjo, first president of the United Republic of Cameroon

Ahmadou Babatoura Ahidjo was a Cameroonian politician who was the first President of Cameroon, holding the office from 1960 until 1982. Ahmadou Ahidjo was born on August 1924 in Garoua, a major river port along the Benue River in northern Cameroun, which was at the time a French mandate territory. He presided over one of the few successful attempts at supraterritorial African unity: the joining of the southern half of the former British Cameroons with the larger, French-speaking Cameroon.

Ahmadou Ahidjo’s mother was a Fulani of slave descent, while his father was a Fulani village chief. Ahidjo’s mother raised him as a Muslim and sent him to Quranic kuttab school as a child. He returned to school and obtained his school certification a year later. Ahmadou Ahidjo spent the next three years attending secondary school at the Ecole Primaire Superieur in Yaounde, the capital of the mandate, studying for a career in the civil service. Ahmadou Ahidjo’s classmates are, among others, Felix Sabbal-Lecco, Minister under his government, Abel Moume Etia, first Cameroonian meteorological engineer and writer, as well as Jean-Faustin Betayene, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Federal Cameroon. At school, Ahmadou Ahidjo played soccer and competed as a cyclist.

He served as a radio operator in the French colonial administration from 1941/42 to 1953. He was elected to the Cameroon territorial assembly in 1947 and reelected in 1952 and 1956. His early political career also included several years in France (1953–56) as the Cameroon member of the Assembly of the French Union. In the first Cameroon government (1957), he was vice premier and minister of the interior; when the first premier fell in early 1958. Ahmadou Ahidjo established a single-party state under the Cameroon National Union in 1966 and became the new premier.

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Since 1956 the more radical, nationalist Union of the Populations of Cameroon, which advocated immediate independence from France, had taken up arms against the French administration. Ahidjo used French troops to put down the rebels, but he also offered amnesty to those who would surrender. Many refused, however, and sporadic outbreaks of violence haunted Ahidjo for years. His initial program included immediate internal autonomy, a definite timetable for full independence, reunification with the British Cameroons, and cooperation with the French. He was able to attain independence in 1960 and the unification with the southern British Cameroons in 1961, following a plebiscite.

President John F. Kennedy visits with President of Cameroon, Ahmadou Ahidjo, and others upon President Ahidjo’s arrival at the White House for a luncheon in his honor. L-R: Naval Aide to President Kennedy, Captain Tazewell Shepard; US Chief of Protocol, Angier Biddle Duke; President Kennedy; President Ahidjo; Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs of Cameroon, Jean Faustin Betayene. North Portico, White House, Washington, D.C. Circa 13 March 1962 Photographer: Rowe, Abbie, 1905-1967.

In 1972, Ahmadou Ahidjo abolished the federation in favor of a unitary state. However, in the elections held soon after independence, Ahidjo won by only a small majority but, despite continuing small-scale violence, managed to build up a stable, relatively prosperous country. After being elected five consecutive times for the presidency (in what became a one-party state). Ahmadou Ahidjo resigned from the presidency in 1982, and Paul Biya assumed the presidency.

Subsequently 1983 Ahidjo lived in exile, and in 1984 he was, in absentia, condemned to death in Cameroon for complicity in a plot against Biya. He never returned to Cameroon, dividing his time between residences in Senegal and the south of France. He died on Nov. 30, 1989, Dakar, Senegal.

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