After Reunification there was need to mobilize the youths of the nation across the two banks of the Mungo. It is difficult to fully grasp the concept of Youth Day today without throwing a retrospective eye back into the late forties and the early fifties when Cameroonian students studying at that time in European Universities met regularly, irrespective of where they were studying, to talk about the unity of Cameroon. The recent book published by Senator Victor E. Mukete who, incidentally is also the Paramount Ruler of the Bafaws and a first-hand witness of the early years of Cameroonian nationalism, is very instructive for those interested in early Cameroonian nationalism but, above all, the role of the youth in the process of enhancing the building of the Cameroonian nation of which we are beneficiaries today. The traditional ruler, in his book (“My Odyssey”) vividly recounts the various meetings organized by students studying on the both sides of the English Channel, very often overcoming language difficulties with the ultimate desire being solely to get the fragmented parts of the territory of Cameroon, as it was before the division following the First World War, back together into a united political entity.
The institution of Youth Day, as a national observance day in Cameroon, is very much predicated on this desire even if events leading to its institutionalization were not necessarily youth-oriented, but political. The Plebiscite organized by the United Nations Organisation on February 11, 1961 to determine the future of the two Cameroonian territories – Southern Cameroons and Northern Cameroons were not of the taste of then President Ahmadou Ahidjo who would have wished that the plebiscite be organized jointly, rather than separately with one plebiscite in Northern Cameroon and the other in Southern Cameroons. The overall result would have given a victory for reunification with Cameroon, the fatherland at the time, but the separate organization produced a result in favour of Reunification with the then La République du Cameroun for Southern Cameroon and integration with Nigeria for the Northern Cameroon. (233, 571 votes for and 97, 741 votes against union with La République du Cameroun in Southern Cameroon and 97 659 for and 146, 296 against union in Northern Cameroon) For Ahidjo, this was a national catastrophe to the extent that the proclamation of the plebiscite results – February 11, 1961 – was a national day of mourning.
For the next few years following Reunification, the evocation of February 11 sent back sad memories until a mission sent to the then West Cameroon from the Youth Service of the Federal Ministry of Education, Youth, Sports and Popular Education in Yaounde came back with a report, after examining the functioning of youth services in the Federated State of West Cameroon, made proposals as to the need for the creation of a national day devoted to youth. The Federal President acquiesced and thus was formalized; the creation of Youth Day whose 50th anniversary the nation commemorates today. In declaring the day, President Ahmadou Ahidjo had decided to shoot two birds with one stone: on the one hand, keeping the Plebiscite victory alive by observing it from a more positive side rather than only remembering the date from the perspective of the loss of territory.
The plebiscite result could never be revoked as seen from the answer he got following his protest to the United Nations; and on the other hand, consolidating the new-found unity between the two political entities of East and West Cameroon by providing a meeting platform within which youths from the two sides of the Mungo could express themselves. For example, at the very beginnings of the Youth Day, an entire month was devoted to youth activities preceding the Day, but because of the high toll such a long period took on the national economy and the much learning time sacrificed by youths of school going age, the period was brought down to one week as is the case today. Looking back fifty years ago, one must acknowledge that the political gains of Youth Day have been far-reaching even if simply limited to the fact that they have not only brought the nation’s youth closer, but have also provided the opportunity to bring youth problems to the discussion table.