Ahmadou Ahidjo (1924-1989) was the president of the Federal Republic of Cameroon and one of the most influential leaders of the French-speaking African states.
Ahmadou Ahidjo was born in August 1924, in Garoua, an inland river port on the Benue River in northern Cameroon. The son of a Fulani chief, he attended secondary school in Yaoundé, the Cameroon capital, to prepare for a career in the lower echelons of the civil service. Unable to complete his education, he became a radio operator for the post office, a position he held until 1946 when he entered territorial politics. In 1947 he was elected to the trust territory's first Assembly and was reelected in 1952. His growing importance in Cameroon politics was emphasized when, in 1953, in addition to his functions as territorial deputy, he was elected to the Assembly of the French Union. He served that body as one of its secretaries in 1954 and as vice president for the 1956-1957 session.
Cameroon was granted responsible government in 1957, and André Marie Mbida, leader of the Démocrates Camerounais party, became the territory's first prime minister. Ahidjo, who had joined the Démocrates during the previous year and whose influence among the northern deputies was widely acknowledged, was appointed vice premier and minister of the interior in the Mbida government. When Mbida was forced to resign in February 1958, Ahidjo, who had broken with him earlier, took over as premier.
On January 1, 1960, the former French Cameroon Trust Territory became an independent republic, and in May Ahidjo was elected his country's first president. When, on October 1, 1961, the Cameroon Republic and the former British Trust Territory of the Southern Cameroons merged to become the Federal Republic of Cameroon, he became president of the federation. On March 23, 1970, Ahidjo, as the only candidate of the ruling Cameroon National Union (CNU), was reelected to his second seven-year term as president.
Ahidjo began his career as a deputy from the Benué region in the north, representing northern sectional interests. As his outlook broadened, he helped found a number of northern-based political associations. Then in 1956 he joined the Démocrates, a party that had been founded by Catholic intellectuals in the south. A devout Moslem, he brought to the Démocrates both northern support and a national outlook. In 1958, following his break with Mbida, he organized a new political party, the Union Camerounaise (UC), which became the governing party when Ahidjo succeeded Mbida as prime minister. The UC came to dominate Cameroon's political scene, absorbing other parties and groups until 1966, when it merged with the remaining East and West Cameroon parties and became the country's only party, under the new name of the Cameroon National Union. Since Ahidjo was president of the UC, he also became president of the CNU.
Ahidjo was by nature retiring and not given to personal ostentation and flamboyant public display. These qualities contributed to a political style marked not only by dignity and an air of quiet command, but also by a capacity for occasional firm, even ruthless, action (as demonstrated in 1962 when, at a single stroke, he jailed all four leaders of opposition parties). His political philosophy included espousal of the single-party state, a commitment to pan-African ideals, and a somewhat vaguely defined brand of African socialism. He was a firm proponent of intra-African cooperation—trying to bring peace between rival factions in Cameroon's north and south—and his government played key roles in various regional organizations, as well as in the broader-based Organization of African Unity.
In November 1982, Ahidjo resigned the presidency and handed over power to his prime minister and long-time associate, Paul Biya, but stayed on as head of the country's single political party. A power struggle broke out, however, and Ahidjo was accused of plotting against the government.
He went into exile in France in August 1983 and in early 1984 was sentenced to death in absentia by a Cameroon court. Though the sentence was later commuted to an indefinite term of detention, Ahidjo never returned to Cameroon. He died of a heart attack November 30, 1989, in Dakar, Senegal.
For information on Ahidjo see Victor T. Le Vine, The Cameroons:From Mandate to Independence (1964); Claude E. Welch, Jr., Dream of Unity: Pan Africanism and Political Unification in West Africa (1966); and Willard R. Johnson, The Cameroon Federation: Political Integration in a Fragmentary Society (1970).