From Mélanie Torrent’s Diplomacy and Nation-Building in Africa: Franco-British Relations and Cameroon at the End of Empire, readers are to learn that as the Second World War came to a close, there emerged weakened European powers, but African independence movements started to gain momentum, and that, in turn, culminated in a large number of African nations’ conclusions of independence agreements with colonial powers in the 1960s.
This book sheds light on the national and international power struggles that transpired at the end of colonial rule in Africa, particularly in Cameroon, with its dual trusteeship status. It highlights the international connection, the form of cooperation, conciliation, compromise, and resistance that influenced international relations in the postindependence era. The crux of the thesis is that Cameroon was central to the histories of French and British decolonization processes and foreign-policy choices, forcing both countries into interactions that never manifested in other colonial settings.
Torrent relies heavily on her impressive background as an international relations and history scholar in articulating the interplay between diplomacy and nation-building. She aims at the obvious importance that France and Britain bestowed on Cameroon in the anticipated exercise of influence in the country, as well as to one another in the context of diplomacy and a decision-making process during decolonization. To an extent, she argues that Franco-British relations could be seen as an integral part of any study of the motives, strategies, and consequences of power transfer in Africa. In particular, the role of diplomacy in nation-building is analyzed within a broader context of Franco-British relations in Cameroon, casting more light on the redefinition of French and British identity at the end of colonial rule.
Torrent’s book seeks to facilitate an understanding of the making and execution of Cameroon’s diplomacy. Historical explanation and narratives dominate the interchange of events in this publication, which leaves one to intimate the juxtaposition of diplomacy, nation-building, and state-building in Cameroon. Consequently, there is the need to adopt a novel approach and [End Page 94] insight into Cameroon’s diplomacy, which stresses the ignored or neglected side of nation-building in the country through a description of events to give a just and balanced analysis of the issues and events shaping the postcolonial state under the late President Ahmadou Ahidjo.
One learns from what Nigeria’s Claude Ake characterized the contemporary African nation (or state) to be: a purely generic phenomenon, with the argument that the state is a specific modality of class domination. To that end, the African state is an independent actor; however, many postcolonial states had institutions that were often forced to give up their capacity, power, and ability to make and implement critical decisions, mainly because of the existence of a class within those states with ties to foreign interests. Many French-speaking African countries fell under this group with France.
Cameroon presented a unique situation because, under Ahidjo, the state was an instrument utilized to achieve his objective of political and economic development. His creation of a “progressive clan,” through training at the School of Administration, with no ties to foreign interest, and his coalition-building tactics through his shifting-alliance strategy, were instrumental in his interaction with France, Britain, and Southern Cameroon.
In the author’s view, diplomacy was not a disjointed but an integral part of international relations; hence issues of economic, trade, national-interest, and foreign policy are lumped as diplomacy. As established in the book, the way diplomatic engagement flourished to the advantage of Ahidjo suggests that he was imbued with the following characteristics: sound bargaining power, good negotiation skills, tact, shrewdness, and an analytical mind.
The book offers a sobering prognosis for nation-building and diplomacy on the eve of decolonization. The analysis in Cameroon shows that nation-building was a contestable notion, meaning different things to the many actors. Ahidjo understood this shortcoming of states and played the actors to his advantage. In fact, in...