Nation of Outlaws, State of Violence — 2013

Nationalism, Grassfields Tradition, and State Building in Cameroon

By Meredith Terretta

“Meredith Terretta’s book constitutes a highly significant contribution to the historiography of Cameroon, West Africa, and African nationalism more generally.… In challenging conventional political and cultural understandings of Cameroonian nationalism and its chronological development, the [work] makes important theoretical contributions to the field … and serves as an important model for future studies of African nationalism.”

Elizabeth Schmidt, author of Cold War and Decolonization in Guinea, 1946–1958

“The subject matter of Nation of Outlaws, State of Violence is significant, the story movingly tragic and revealing of Cameroon’s postcolonial morass, and the research has an admirable depth and breadth.”

James R. Brennan, author of Taifa: Making Nation and Race in Urban Tanzania

Nation of Outlaws, State of Violence is the first extensive history of Cameroonian nationalism to consider the global and local influences that shaped the movement within the French and British Cameroons and beyond. Drawing on the archives of the United Nations, France, Great Britain, Ghana, and Cameroon, as well as oral sources, Nation of Outlaws, State of Violence chronicles the spread of the Union des populations du Cameroun (UPC) nationalist movement from the late 1940s into the first postcolonial decade. It shows how, in the French and British Cameroon territories administered as UN Trusteeships after the Second World War, notions of international human rights, the promise of Third World independence, Pan-African federation, and national citizenship blended with local political and spiritual practices that resurfaced as the period of European rule came to a close. After French and British administrators banned the party in the mid-1950s, UPC nationalists adopted violence as a revolutionary strategy. In the 1960s, the nationalist vision disintegrated. The postcolonial regime labeled UPC nationalists “outlaws” and rounded them up for imprisonment or execution as the state shifted to single-party rule in 1966.

Nation of Outlaws, State of Violence traces the connection between local and transregional politics in the age of Africa’s decolonization and the early decades of the Cold War. Rather than stop at official independence as most conventional histories of African nationalist movements do, this book considers postindependence events as crucial to the history of Cameroonian nationalism and to an understanding of the postcolonial government that came to power on 1 January 1960. While the history of the UPC is a story that ends with the party’s failure to gain access to political power with independence, it is also a story of the postcolonial state’s failure to become a nation.


Meredith Terretta is an associate professor of history at the University of Ottawa and the author of Petitioning for Our Rights, Fighting for Our Nation: The History of the Democratic Union of Cameroonian Women, 1949–1960.

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Abbreviations
  • Introduction
    Layering Nationalism from Local to Global
  • Part One
    GRASSFIELDS POLITICAL TRADITION AND BAMILEKE IDENTITY
  • Chapter 1
    God, Land, Justice, and Political Sovereignty in Grassfields Governance
  • Chapter 2
    “Bamileke Strangers” Make the Mungo
    River Valley Their Home
  • Part Two
    BAMILEKE NATIONALISTS CLAIM INDEPENDENCE (LEPUE) FOR THE NATION (GUNG)
  • Chapter 3
    Troublesome, Rebellious, Outlawed
    International Politics and UPC Nationalism in the Bamileke and Mungo Regions
  • Chapter 4
    Nationalists or Traitors?
    Bamileke Chiefs and Electoral Politics in the Year of Loi-Cadre
  • Part Three
    UPC NATIONALISTS GO GLOBAL
  • Chapter 5
    The Maquis at Home, Exile Abroad
    Grassfields Warfare Meets Revolutionary
    Pan-Africanism
  • Chapter 6
    “Here, God Does Not Exist”
    Emergency Law and the Violence of State Building
  • Conclusion
    “After the War, We Stop Counting the Dead”
    Reconciliation and Public Confession
  • Notes
  • Glossary
  • Bibliography
  • Index
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