Country, West Africa.
Area: 183,569 sq mi (475,442 sq km). Population (2008): 18,468,000.
Capital: Yaoundé. The country has numerous ethnic groups, including the
Fang, Bamileke and Bamum, Duala, and Fulani. Pygmies (locally known as
Baguielli and Babinga) live in the southern forests. Languages: French,
English (both official), Fula, Bamileke, Duala. Religions: Christianity
(mostly Roman Catholic and Protestant), traditional beliefs, Islam
(mainly in the north). Currency: CFA franc. Cameroon has four geographic
regions. The southern area consists of coastal plains and a densely
forested plateau. The central region rises progressively to the north
and includes the Adamawa Plateau. In the north a savanna plain slopes
downward toward the Lake Chad basin. To the west and north along the
Nigerian border the relief is mountainous and includes Mount Cameroon.
Of the main rivers, the Sanaga drains into the Atlantic Ocean, and the
Benue flows westward into the Niger River basin in Nigeria. Cameroon has
a developing market economy based largely on petroleum and agriculture
but with a growing services sector. It is a republic with one
legislative house; its chief of state is the president and its head of
government the prime minister. Long inhabited before European
colonization, Cameroon was populated by Bantu-language speakers coming
from equatorial Africa to settle in the south. They were followed by
Muslim Fulani from the Niger River basin, who settled in the north.
Portuguese explorers visited in the late 15th century, and the Dutch
were also active there. In 1884 the Germans took control and extended
their protectorate over Cameroon. In World War I joint French-British
action forced the Germans to retreat, and after the war the region was
divided into French and British administrative zones. After World War II
the two areas became UN trusteeships. In 1960 the French trust territory
became an independent republic. In 1961 the southern part of the British
trust territory voted for union with the new Republic of Cameroon, and
the northern part voted for union with Nigeria. The independent country
has faced chronic economic problems, which have produced and exacerbated
unrest in the country.
Official name République du Cameroun (French); Republic of Cameroon
Form of government unitary multiparty republic with one legislative
house (National Assembly )
Chief of state President
Head of government Prime Minister
Official languages French; English
Official religion none
Monetary unit CFA franc (CFAF)
Population estimate (2008) 18,468,000
Total area (sq mi) 183,6491
Total area (sq km) 475,6501
1Excludes Bakassi Peninsula.
country lying at the junction of western and central Africa. Its
ethnically diverse population is among the most urban in western Africa.
The capital is Yaoundé, located in the south-centre of the country.
The country’s name is derived from Rio dos Camarões (“River of
Prawns”)—the name given to the Wouri River estuary by Portuguese
explorers of the 15th and 16th centuries. Camarões was also used to
designate the river’s neighbouring mountains. Until the late 19th
century, English usage confined the term “the Cameroons” to the
mountains, while the estuary was called the Cameroons River or, locally,
the Bay. In 1884 the Germans extended the word Kamerun to their entire
protectorate, which largely corresponded to the present state.
Cameroon is triangular in shape and is bordered by Nigeria to the
northwest, Chad to the northeast, the Central African Republic to the
east, the Republic of the Congo to the southeast, Gabon and Equatorial
Guinea to the south, and the Atlantic Ocean to the southwest.
Cameroon can be divided into northern, central, southern, and
western geographic regions. North of the Benue (Bénoué) River, the
savanna plain that occupies the country’s centre declines in elevation
as it approaches the Lake Chad basin. The region contains scattered
inselbergs, mounds of erosion-resistant rock that rise above the plains.
The Gotel Mountains of the Adamawa Plateau trend from south to north,
culminating in the Mandara Mountains of the northwest.
The central region extends east from the western highlands and from
the Sanaga River north to the Benue River. The land rises progressively
to the north and includes the Adamawa Plateau, with elevations between
2,450 and 4,450 feet (750 and 1,350 metres).
The southern region extends from the Sanaga River to the southern
border and from the coast eastward to the Central African Republic and
the Republic of the Congo. It consists of coastal plains that are about
25 miles (40 km) wide and a densely forested plateau with an average
elevation of a little more than 2,000 feet (600 metres).
The western region extends north and west from the Sanaga River and
continues north along the Nigerian border as far as the Benue River. The
relief is mostly mountainous, the result of a volcanic rift that extends
northward from the island of Bioko. Near the coast, the active volcanic
Mount Cameroon rises to the highest elevation in western Africa—13,435
feet (4,095 metres).
The rivers of Cameroon form four large drainage systems. In the
south the Sanaga, Wouri, Nyong, and Ntem rivers drain into the Atlantic
Ocean. The Benue River and its tributary, the Kébi, flow into the Niger
River basin of Nigeria. The Logone and Chari rivers—which form part of
the eastern border with Chad—drain into Lake Chad, whereas the Dja River
joins the Sangha River and flows into the Congo River basin.
The soils of Cameroon may be roughly divided into three groups. The
first soil group, developed primarily in the higher-precipitation south
and south-centre, is composed of soils with strong physical makeup but
weaker chemical properties. With good depth, high permeability, and
stable structure, these soils are less prone to erosion. They rely on
the input of organic matter to replenish nutrient levels; interruption
of this cycle leads to swift depletion and decrease in fertility.
The second soil group is present mainly in the lower-precipitation
northern regions. Weathering by water is not as significant a problem
for that soil group as mechanical weathering. A lower iron content
dictates the soils’ colouring, which ranges from gray to brown. Though
more fertile than their counterparts in the south, these soils are
susceptible to nutrient imbalances that can impede productivity.
The third soil group is a general gathering of a number of young
soils, including andosols, which are developed from volcanic ash and
other matter, and the dark, clay-laden vertisols. Incidence of these
soils varies by region.
Lying wholly within the tropics, the country is hot throughout the
year; mean annual temperatures range between the low 70s and low 80s F
(within the 20s C), although they are lower in areas of high elevation.
The incidence of precipitation depends largely on the seasonal
movements of two contrasting air masses. The first is a dry continental
tropical air mass, which originates over the Sahara and is associated
with hot, dusty weather. The second is a warm and humid maritime
tropical air mass that originates over the Atlantic and brings
rain-bearing winds. Precipitation decreases from south to north. Along
the coast, the rainy season lasts from April to November, and the
relatively dry season lasts from December to March; a transition period
from March to April is marked by violent winds. The mean annual
precipitation level of more than 100 inches (2,500 mm) occurs in about
150 days. In the central plateau region, precipitation decreases to
about 60 inches (1,500 mm). There are four seasons—a light rainy season
from May to June, a short dry season from July to October, a heavy rainy
season from October to November, and a long dry season from December to
May. The north, however, has a dry season only from October to May and
an average annual precipitation level of about 30 inches (750 mm). The
wettest part of the country lies in the western highlands. Debundscha
Point on Mount Cameroon has a mean annual precipitation level of more
than 400 inches (10,000 mm)—an average rarely attained elsewhere in the
world—most of which falls from May to October.
Plant and animal life
The hot and humid south supports dense rainforests in which hardwood
evergreen trees—including mahogany, ebony, obeche, dibetu, and
sapelli—may grow more than 200 feet (60 metres) tall. There are large
numbers of orchids and ferns. Mangroves grow along the coasts and at the
mouths of rivers. The rainforest gives way to the semi-deciduous forest
of the central region, where a number of tree species shed their leaves
during the dry season. North of the semi-deciduous forest, the
vegetation is composed of wooded savanna with scattered trees 10 to 60
feet (3 to 18 metres) high. The density of trees decreases toward the
Chad basin, where they are sparse and mainly of Acacia species.
The tropical rainforest at elevations between 4,000 and 8,000 feet
(1,200 and 2,400 metres) differs from that of the lowlands: the trees
are smaller, are of different species, and are festooned with mosses,
lichens, and other epiphytes. Above the rainforest zone are drier
woodlands, tall grasslands, or patches of mountain bamboo. Above about
7,800 feet (2,400 metres) in the interior and above about 10,000 feet
(3,000 metres) on Mount Cameroon, short grasses predominate.
The country’s dense forests are inhabited by screaming red and green
monkeys, chimpanzees, and mandrills, as well as rodents, bats, and
numerous birds—from tiny sunbirds to giant hawks and eagles. A few
elephants survive in the forest and in the grassy woodlands, where
baboons and several types of antelope are the most common animals. Waza
National Park in the north, which was originally created for the
protection of elephants, giraffes, and antelope, abounds in both forest
and savanna animals, including monkeys, baboons, lions, leopards, and
birds that range from white and gray pelicans to spotted waders. To the
south lies Dja Faunal Reserve, one of the best-protected rainforests in
Africa and a reserve renowned for its biodiversity. In the late 1980s
the reserve was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.
Ethnic and linguistic composition
The country has been described as an “ethnic crossroads” because of
its more than 200 different ethnic groups. There are three main
linguistic groups: the Bantu-speaking peoples of the south, the
Sudanic-speaking peoples of the north, and those who speak the
Semi-Bantu languages, situated mainly in the west. The first Bantu
groups included the Maka, Ndjem, and Duala. They were followed at the
beginning of the 19th century by the Fang (Pangwe) and Beti peoples. The
Sudanic-speaking peoples include the Sao, who live on the Adamawa
Plateau; the Fulani; and the Kanuri. The Fulani came from the Niger
basin in two waves, in the 11th and 19th centuries; they were Muslims
who converted and subjugated the peoples of the Logone valley and the
Kébi and Faro river valleys. The Semi-Bantu groups mainly consist of
small ethnic entities, except for the Bantu-related Bamileke, who live
between the lower slopes of the Adamawa Plateau and Mount Cameroon.
Other western Semi-Bantu-speaking groups include the Tikar, who live in
the Bamenda region and in the western high plateau.
The oldest inhabitants of the country are the Pygmies, locally known
as the Baguielli and Babinga, who live in small hunting bands in the
southern forests. They have been hunters and gatherers for thousands of
years, although their numbers have consistently diminished with the
decline of the forests in which they dwell.
European missions and colonization led to the introduction of
European languages. During the colonial era, German was the official
language; it was later replaced by English and French, which have
retained their official status.
Almost one-fourth of the population continue to adhere to
traditional religious beliefs. Nearly half of the population are
Christian; slightly more than half are Roman Catholic, while the
remainder are Protestant. Sunni Muslims account for about one-fifth of
In general, there is a cultural division between the north and
the south. The northern savanna plateau is inhabited by Sudanic and Arab
pastoralists who migrate seasonally in search of grazing land, whereas
the forested and hilly south is peopled by Bantu agriculturists living
in permanent villages. The north is predominantly Muslim, whereas the
southern peoples adhere to Christianity and traditional African
Population density is greatest in the western highlands, portions of
the north, the southern forest, and along parts of the coast; it is
lowest in the southeast interior. Douala, the country’s main port, and
Yaoundé, an important transportation and communication centre, are the
country’s largest cities. Other significant towns include Garoua,
Bamenda, Maroua, Bafoussam, Ngaoundéré, Bertoua, and Loum. In most
cases, the provincial capitals are the largest towns and have the
greatest potential for expansion.
Cameroon’s population is growing at about the same high rate as
sub-Saharan Africa as a whole. The birth and death rates, however, are
both somewhat lower than the regional average. More than two-fifths of
the population are under 15 years of age, and more than two-thirds are
under 30 years of age. More than half of the population, a comparatively
high proportion, live in urban areas. While above the regional average,
life expectancy for both men and women remains well below the global
In the two decades following independence, Cameroon was quite
prosperous. The government initially concentrated on expansion of
educational facilities, diversification of farm production, selective
industrialization, rural development, and the introduction of rural
cooperatives. In subsequent years, however, less central planning and
more reliance on private enterprise and free trade became the dominant
In the mid-1980s, economic mismanagement, coupled with the drop in
price of important export commodities—particularly cocoa, coffee, and
oil—forced the country into a lengthy recession. In the late 1980s,
budget deficits compelled Cameroon to resort to external borrowing and
to accept the intervention of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in
structural adjustment programs. Cameroon’s economy continues to depend
heavily on the sale of its products on the world market, and
fluctuations in the global prices of its primary goods—petroleum and
cocoa—have made its economic situation unpredictable; corruption, a
persistent problem, also hampers economic development.
Agriculture, forestry, and fishing
Although the growth of the petroleum industry since 1980 has
resulted in a gradual decline in the importance of agriculture,
forestry, and fishing to the gross domestic product (GDP), the sector
continues to play a notable role in the economy. Whereas some
nine-tenths of the working population was engaged in the sector in the
1970s, three decades later the proportion had dropped to slightly more
than half. Primary agricultural and forest products provide about
one-third of total export earnings, with sawn wood, cocoa, cotton, and
coffee the leading agricultural exports. Small-scale farms are
responsible for much of the agricultural exports. The main subsistence
crops include plantains, beans, potatoes, yams, cassava (manioc), corn
(maize), and oil palm in the south and peanuts (groundnuts), millet, and
cassava in the north.
Cameroon ranks among the world’s largest producers of cocoa beans,
which are grown mainly in the south. Robusta coffee, which accounts for
the majority of the country’s coffee crop, is grown both in the southern
warm and humid parts of the country and in the western high plateau,
where arabica coffee is also grown. Yields have been adversely affected
by the increasing age of the plantations and delay in modernizing.
Cotton was introduced in 1952; it is grown largely in the grasslands by
private farmers. Systematic diversification of agricultural production
into such crops as palm oil, rubber, and sugar has taken place.
Food production has kept pace with population growth, and the country
is generally self-sufficient. Domestic consumption of meat is reasonably
high for a sub-Saharan African country. Livestock is exported to
Nigeria, Equatorial Guinea, and the Republic of the Congo and hides and
skins to Nigeria and Equatorial Guinea. Fisheries development has been
restricted not only by the small size of the area available for
exploitation but also by the relatively low levels of fish in those
waters. Industrial fishing accounts for only a fraction of the catch.
About half of the country is forested, but only about one-third of
the available hardwood forest resources are exploited. Nevertheless, the
export of sawn wood, which provides more than one-tenth of Cameroon’s
export earnings, is one of the country’s most important sources of trade
income. Forestry is largely limited to the most accessible areas along
the Douala-Yaoundé railway and the main roads, but expansion into new
areas is occurring rapidly.
Resources and power
Cameroon is endowed with abundant mineral wealth, but meaningful
exploitation has been slow to materialize. Large amounts of kyanite (an
aluminum silicate) and bauxite are deposited at Minim-Martap and
Ngaoundéré on the Adamawa Plateau; the bauxite deposits at Minim-Martap
remain unexploited. Limestone deposited near Garoua is quarried for use
in cement plants. There is some gold in eastern Cameroon, and
cassiterite occurs in the Darlé River valley in the northeast. Other
resources include iron ore (found at Kribi), uranium, and rutile.
Petroleum deposits were known to exist in Cameroon as early as the
1950s. Production began in 1977, and since 1980 oil has been the
country’s most important export. Although petroleum remains attractive
as the main source of foreign-exchange income, domestic output has
steadily declined since the end of the 20th century, and Cameroon risks
becoming a net importer of petroleum. Natural gas deposits have been
located but remain unexploited because of the high investment costs.
Hydroelectricity provides the vast majority of Cameroon’s power
supply, although thermal plants are also in use. The main source of
hydroelectric power is the Sanaga River; the chief installations are at
Edéa, on the Sanaga Falls, and at Song-Loulou. There is also a station
at Lagdo on the Benue River. Despite great potential, development in the
energy sector has been limited, and there are significant energy
shortages in the country—exacerbated during times of drought—because of
infrastructure problems and the inability to keep pace with increasing
The contribution of manufacturing to the economy grew strongly in
the late 20th century, and in the early 2000s it accounted for almost
one-fifth of the GDP. The industry is chiefly centred on the processing
of the country’s various agricultural commodities; significant focus is
placed on sugar refining, cotton spinning, tobacco processing, and wood
pulp production. Industrial-sector infrastructure includes the Edéa
aluminum smelter, which smelts imported bauxite, and an oil refinery in
The government has been a major participant in the industrial sector,
mainly through the Société National d’Investissement, although its role
was significantly reduced as privatization programs began to gain pace
in the 1990s.
Cameroon is linked together with several other countries in central
and western Africa in a monetary union with a common currency, the CFA
franc, which was pegged to the euro in 2002.
As a result of the economic crisis of the late 20th century,
Cameroon’s banking system underwent large-scale restructuring, with a
number of banks being merged, privatized, or liquidated. By mid-1997 the
commercial banking sector was profitable, and in that same year two new
commercial banks were opened. By the early 2000s, commercial banks had
proliferated. In 2003 a stock exchange was opened in Douala, although
for several years no companies were listed.
Most trade is carried out with European countries, although trade
with other markets has increased. France remains Cameroon’s largest
individual trading partner, although its role has been somewhat
diminished. Spain consumes a large proportion of Cameroonian exports,
while Nigeria and China are significant sources of import trade. Major
exports include crude oil, timber, cocoa, aluminum, cotton, bananas, and
coffee. Others include oil palm products, tea, rubber, peanuts
(groundnuts), and fresh vegetables, as well as factory products such as
textiles, plastics, beverages, and confectionery. Major imports include
machinery and transportation equipment and spare parts, fertilizers,
cereals, fuel, and food products.
Services, labour, and taxation
Cameroon has good tourism potential because of its varied natural
assets and rich cultural heritage, but the industry is quite limited.
The vast majority of tourists visiting Cameroon arrive from France.
The majority of the workforce is employed in the agricultural sector.
Workers’ right to form trade unions, which is recognized by law, is
subject to a number of government restrictions. Although most workers
are permitted to strike, they may do so only after mandatory
arbitration. Some decisions taken through arbitration fail to find
implementation, however, and the government has been known to ignore or
overturn unfavourable decisions. Civil servants are among those workers
who are not permitted to strike; instead, they are expected to negotiate
directly with the minister of labour and of the department in question.
Employers’ associations include chambers of commerce in Douala and
Yaoundé and associations for those engaged in fields such as industry,
the import-export trade, and forestry. The Confederation of Cameroon
Trade Unions is based in Yaoundé.
Tax-based revenue is a significant source of governmental income.
Most tax revenues are obtained from taxes on goods and services, chiefly
the value-added tax, as well as direct taxes and import and export
Transportation and telecommunications
The difficult terrain and heavy rainfall in the south have
challenged the development and maintenance of an adequate transportation
network. The north has traditionally been isolated from the south, and
transportation infrastructure is more developed in some regions than in
A major project was the completion of the first all-weather highway
from Yaoundé to the commercial centre at Douala and between Yaoundé and
the western high plateau. Another road-building program was completed in
the Bertoua region in the southeast in 1986. Since the late 1990s the
privatization of road maintenance and increasing foreign investment have
contributed to the development of the country’s roads. Approximately
one-tenth of Cameroon’s roadways are paved.
The rail system nearly doubled in track length between 1965 and 1985,
with the extension of the main line from Yaoundé to Ngaoundéré in the
first and second phases of the Trans-Cameroon Railway and the extension
of the short branch of the western line to Kumba. The rail line from
Douala to Yaoundé was shortened and realigned in a modernization
Douala, the main port, is located on the estuary of the Wouri River
and accounts for the majority of Cameroonian port traffic. One of the
best-equipped ports in western Africa, it has docks for cargo ships,
including a wood-loading dock and a tanker dock with adjacent facilities
for the unloading and storage of minerals. Under the IMF-guided
structural adjustment program initiated in the late 20th century, many
of the port activities were placed under private control. Douala handles
most of the goods that are traded by Chad and the Central African
Republic; roads and the railroad serve as the main arteries of transport
to those countries. Other ports include those at Kribi, located at the
mouth of the Kienké River; Limbe, on Ambas Bay; and Garoua, along the
There are a number of international airports located throughout
Cameroon; the main international airport is located at Douala, although
Yaoundé and Garoua also handle international flights. The generally poor
quality of the Cameroonian road system has encouraged the proliferation
of domestic air service; domestic airports include those at Tiko,
Ngaoundéré, Bafoussam, Bamenda, Maroua, Ebolowa, Bertoua, and Batouri,
as well as numerous airfields. Cameroon Airlines provides domestic
service and routes to European and African cities, although
mismanagement and massive debt have affected its ability to deliver
Only a fraction of the population has access to fixed-line telephone
service. Equipment is aged and connections are generally unreliable.
Partly as a result, the adoption of mobile cellular telephones is
Government and society
Cameroon’s constitution has undergone various developments since the
country achieved independence. The constitution of 1961 linked the
states of West Cameroon and East Cameroon together into a federation.
The constitution of 1972, subsequently revised, replaced the federation
with a centralized government. The constitution of 1996 provided for the
establishment of a bicameral legislature—although a second body has yet
to be created—and, to a minor extent, decentralized the government.
Executive powers are conferred upon the president, who serves as
chief of state and head of the armed forces; the president also appoints
a prime minister and a cabinet. The president is elected to a seven-year
term by direct universal suffrage. A controversial constitutional
amendment promulgated in 2008 eliminated presidential term limits and
granted immunity to the country’s president for any acts committed in an
official capacity during the president’s time in office. Legislative
power is vested in the unicameral National Assembly, which can force the
resignation of a prime minister through passage of a vote of no
confidence. Members of the National Assembly are directly elected for
five-year terms, although the president is enabled to alter the length
of that term.
Cameroon is divided into provinces, each of which is administered by
a governor appointed by the president. Each province is further divided
into départements. The 1996 constitution addressed, albeit nominally,
popular demand for decentralization of the government; to that end,
provinces were to be replaced by régions, which would be administered by
councils composed of indirectly elected members and representatives of
traditional leaders. The new administrative structure, however, has not
Although the constitution calls for an independent court system, in
practice the president has a powerful role in judicial appointments. The
legal system of Cameroon consists of the Supreme Court, a Court of
Appeal, and high and circuit courts. The Supreme Court decides whether a
bill is receivable by the National Assembly in the event of a dispute
between the president and the legislature. It also passes judgment on
appeals concerning administrative actions of the government and
decisions of the Court of Appeal. The Court of Impeachment passes
judgment on the president in case of high treason and on other
government ministers in the event of a plot against the government.
Cameroon became a de facto one-party state in 1966 and was dominated
by the Cameroon National Union, a union of six political parties; it was
renamed the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement in 1985. After
significant political unrest and a number of violent clashes, a
constitutional amendment in 1990 established a multiparty system. Other
major political parties include the National Union for Democracy and
Progress, the Cameroon People’s Union, and the Social Democratic Front.
The constitution guarantees every Cameroonian the right of
participation in the government of the country, whether directly or by
way of elected officials. Women have held a number of posts within the
government, including seats in the National Assembly and the cabinet and
positions in some of the major political parties. Although all ethnic
groups have the right to participate in the political process, the
constitution does not guarantee that they are represented proportionally
in government positions; historically, the Beti have held a
disproportionately high number of government posts.
Cameroon’s defense forces are composed of an army, a navy and naval
infantry, an air force, and a paramilitary force. The army is the
largest contingent, although the paramilitary force is also sizable.
Service in the military is voluntary, and recruits are eligible at age
18. Cameroon maintains a bilateral defense agreement with France.
Health and welfare
Although the incidence of HIV/AIDS is generally lower in Cameroon
than in neighbouring countries, it is nevertheless one of Cameroon’s
gravest health concerns. HIV/AIDS is particularly widespread among young
women. Malaria is prevalent everywhere except in the mountainous
regions, where respiratory and pulmonary diseases and dysentery are
common. There are incidences of leprosy and schistosomiasis, as well as
syphilis, sleeping sickness, and rheumatism. The infant mortality rate
remains high by world standards but is nonetheless comparatively low for
The government emphasized the improvement of the country’s health
facilities in the first decade after independence and increased the
number of hospitals, dispensaries, and elementary health centres about
sevenfold. Hospitals in major cities were modernized, and in the late
1980s the country had one of the lowest ratios of population to hospital
beds in western Africa. A Health Sciences University Centre was
established at the University of Yaoundé in 1969 to train physicians and
other medical personnel. Precipitated by the country’s economic crisis,
the quality of health care declined significantly following the major
cutbacks in health care spending during the 1990s.
There is no government system of social security covering the whole
population. Most assistance is obtained through the traditional kinship
system. The National Social Insurance Fund, financed by employee and
employer contributions, provides limited pension benefits for wage
Educational services have greatly expanded since independence, and,
at the beginning of the 21st century, Cameroon had one of the highest
rates of school attendance in Africa. Access to and quality of
educational facilities vary regionally. Attendance is low especially in
the north, where a significant proportion of girls in particular do not
attend school. Educational structure varies between the eastern and
western regions of the country, and schooling is not compulsory
Primary education generally begins at age six and lasts for six or
seven years, depending on the region. Secondary education begins at age
12 or 13 and varies in length. About three-fourths of all children of
primary-school age are enrolled either in government schools or in
Christian mission schools. This attendance rate is not constant
throughout the country, however, because the availability of school
facilities varies regionally.
There are general-education secondary schools, vocational schools,
and teacher-training schools. Manual labour is compulsory in secondary
and technical schools as a means of encouraging graduates to take up
farming instead of seeking white-collar jobs in the cities. The
University of Yaoundé was established in 1962 and divided into two
universities in 1992. Additional government universities were
subsequently opened in Buea, Dschang, Douala, and Ngaoundéré. There are
a number of private universities in operation, including those in
Baruenda and Yaoundé.
More than three-fourths of those age 15 and older are literate;
although there is a notable literacy gap between the genders, the
literacy rates for both are higher than the regional averages.
Each major ethnic group of the country has developed its own
culture. The vigorous rhythms played on the drums by the people of the
southern forest region contrast with the flute music of northern
Cameroonians. In the Adamawa area, the Muslim Fulani produce elaborately
worked leather goods and ornate calabashes (gourds used as containers),
and the Kirdi and the Matakam of the western mountains produce
distinctive types of pottery. The powerful masks of the Bali, which
represent elephants’ heads, are used in ceremonies for the dead, and the
statuettes of the Bamileke are carved in human and animal figures. The
Tikar people are famous for beautifully decorated brass pipes, the
Ngoutou people for two-faced masks, and the Bamum for smiling masks.
Holidays in Cameroon include those associated with the majority
Christian population, including Good Friday, Easter, and Christmas. The
Feast of the Assumption is observed by the Roman Catholic community on
August 15. Holidays celebrated by the Muslim community, including
Ramadan, are governed by the lunar calendar. Other holidays include
Youth Day, which is celebrated on February 11, and National Day, which
commemorates the unification of the English- and French-speaking
portions of the country in 1972, observed on May 20.
Of the country’s several museums, the Diamaré Museum at Maroua has
anthropological collections relating to the local Sudanic peoples that
include musical instruments, jewelry, and other cultural artifacts; the
Cameroon Museum of Douala exhibits objects of prehistory and natural
history; and the International Museum and Library in Bamenda houses
numerous cultural items. Italian sponsorship enabled the establishment
of a series of cultural heritage museums in north and northwest
Cameroon. The national library, national museum, and national archives
are located in Yaoundé.
Sports and recreation
Traditional sports are an important part of Cameroonian life, and
wrestling—found in one form or another in almost every village of the
country—is particularly popular. Tug-of-war is another common village
sport, and dancing competitions are popular in the northwest. In the
north, where the keeping of cattle is significant, horse racing is an
important recreation, especially among the Fulani. Canoe racing is
enjoyed along the coast, and villages often compete against each other.
In areas where game is hunted for food, shooting contests are held just
before hunting seasons. As more people move to the cities, however,
these traditional activities are slowly losing influence.
The most popular sport in Cameroon, football (soccer), is played
throughout the country. The sport has been viewed as an important part
of nation building: patriotic pride swelled when the national team, the
Indomitable Lions, won the African Cup of Nations in 1984 and in 2000
and when it became the first African team to advance to the semifinals
of the World Cup in 1990. In 1999 the Lions won the gold medal at the
Cameroon made its Olympic debut at the 1964 Games in Tokyo. Joseph
Bessala won the country’s first medal, a silver in welterweight boxing,
at the 1968 Games in Mexico City. The men’s soccer team later won gold
at the 2000 Sydney Games, and Francoise Mbango Etone became the first
female Cameroonian to win a gold medal when she won the women’s triple
jump at the 2004 Athens Games.
Media and publishing
Dailies in circulation in Cameroon include Le Quotidien, which is
issued in French, and the Cameroon Tribune, which is published in both
French and English. Popular periodicals include La Gazette and Le
Messager, each issued in French, and the Cameroon Outlook and Cameroon
Times, both of which are published in English. Radio programming is
available in French, English, and a variety of other languages,
depending on the station; satellite broadcasts are also available.
Domination of television broadcasting by the state was broken by the
country’s first private television station in 2001. The government
exercises substantial control over the media.
Mark W. DeLancey
From archaeological evidence it is known that humans have inhabited
Cameroon for at least 50,000 years, and there is strong evidence of the
existence of important kingdoms and states in more recent times. Of
these, the most widely known is Sao, which arose in the vicinity of Lake
Chad, probably in the 5th century ce. This kingdom reached its height
from the 9th to the 15th century, after which it was conquered and
destroyed by the Kotoko state, which extended over large portions of
northern Cameroon and Nigeria. Kotoko was incorporated into the Bornu
empire during the reign of Rābiḥ al-Zubayr (Rabah) in the late 19th
century, and its people became Muslims.
Islam became a powerful force in the northern and central portions of
the country through conquest, immigration, and the spread of commerce
from north and northwestern Africa. The most significant bearers of this
faith, the Fulani, entered northern Cameroon in the 18th century. The
first small groups of pastoralists were welcomed by the host
populations. Eventually the Fulani, frustrated under non-Muslim rule and
encouraged by the teachings of the mystic Usman dan Fodio, revolted. In
the early 1800s Modibbo Adama was appointed by Usman to lead a jihad
over large areas centred in northern Nigeria, which were subsequently
incorporated into Usman’s Sokoto empire.
The Fulani expansion reached its southernmost point with the conquest
of Bamum, a kingdom founded in the 17th century by Nshare, the son of a
Tikar chief. Bamoum was one of the largest of numerous kingdoms that
emerged in the grassland areas of Cameroon at that time. The Fulani
conquest was brief and did not result in Islamization, although this
faith was accepted by a later ruler, Sultan Njoya, in the early 20th
Islam was a significant influence entering Cameroon from the north.
Other powerful influences entered from the southern coastal region. In
1472 the Portuguese explorer Fernão do Pó was the first European to view
the Cameroon coast, although Hanno, a Carthaginian, may have sailed
there 2,000 years earlier. Pó was followed by traders, many of whom were
involved in the Atlantic slave trade. Cameroon became a significant
source of slaves, a number of whom were sold and traded at Bimbia,
Douala, and other ports. Routes linked these ports far inland where the
Bamileke, Bamoum, and other kingdoms provided a greater supply of
slaves. In the early 1800s the slave trade declined, and attention
turned to trade in rubber, palm oil, and other items. Earlier Portuguese
and Dutch influences were largely replaced by the British and the
Christian missionaries also began to play a role in the region. Under
the leadership of Englishman Alfred Saker and West Indians such as
Joseph Merrick, a Baptist station was established in 1845 at Akwa Town
(now Douala). Saker established a larger post at Victoria (now Limbe) in
1858. The American Presbyterian mission opened a station in 1871. The
origin and denomination of the missions changed frequently, but the
Presbyterians, Baptists, and Roman Catholics have been the most
German Kamerun (1884–1916)
In spite of the predominant role of the British along the coast, in
1884 the Germans claimed the region as Kamerun. The explorer Gustav
Nachtigal arrived in July 1884 to annex the Douala coast. The Germans
moved inland over the years, extending their control and their claims.
Initially, their major dealings were with African traders, but direct
trade with the interior promised greater profits, and colonial power was
used to break the African monopoly. Plantation agriculture was another
major German economic activity. Large estates were established in
southwestern Kamerun to provide tropical produce for Germany. Traders,
plantation owners, and government officials competed for labour, and
force was used to obtain it. The system established was harsh, and many
workers died serving German interests.
British Cameroons (1916–61) and French Cameroun (1916–60)
In World War I British, French, and Belgian troops drove the Germans
into exile, beginning a period of British rule in two small portions and
French rule in the remainder of the territory. These League of Nations
mandates (later United Nations [UN] trusts) were referred to as French
Cameroun and British Cameroons.
The British trust territory consisted of a strip of land bisected by
the Benue River along the eastern border of Nigeria. British rule was a
period of neglect, and this, coupled with the influx of numerous
Nigerians, caused great resentment. The old German plantations were
eventually united into a single parastatal (government-owned
enterprise), the Cameroon Development Corporation, and were the mainstay
of the economy. Development also occurred in agriculture, especially in
the latter years of British rule. The production of cacao, coffee, and
bananas grew rapidly.
The French territory had an administration based on that of the other
territories of French Equatorial Africa. Greater agricultural
development took place in French Cameroun. Limited industrial and
infrastructural growth also occurred, largely after World War II. At
independence, French Cameroun had a much higher gross national product
per capita, higher education levels, better health care, and better
infrastructure than British Cameroons.
Although there were differences in the French and British colonial
experiences, there were also strong similarities. Most important, these
rulers continued drawing Cameroon into the international economic
system. By the time of independence, the trusts produced raw materials
for European industries but were dependent on Europe, and especially
France, for finished goods. This fragile economy would long continue to
Moving toward independence
After World War II, developments in Cameroon and Europe brought
about independence. In French Cameroun the major question was the type
and intensity of the relationship with France after independence. The
first nationalist party, the Cameroon People’s Union (Union des
Populations Camerounaises; UPC), led by Felix-Roland Moumie and Reuben
Um Nyobe, demanded a thorough break with France and the establishment of
a socialist economy. French officials suppressed the UPC, leading to a
bitter civil war, while encouraging alternative political leaders. On
Jan. 1, 1960, independence was granted. In elections held soon after
independence, Ahmadou Ahidjo was elected the first president of the
Republic of Cameroon. Ahidjo and his party, the Cameroon Union (Union
Camerounaise), pledged to build a capitalist economy and to maintain
close ties to France.
In British Cameroons the major question was whether to remain with
Nigeria or to unite with the newly independent Republic of Cameroon. In
a UN-supervised plebiscite in February 1961, the south decided to unite
with the former French Cameroun, creating the Federal Republic of
Cameroon. The north voted to join the Federation of Nigeria.
Ahidjo presidency (1960–82)
Ahidjo ruled from independence until 1982. He centralized political
power in himself and in the capital, Yaoundé. Cameroon became an
authoritarian, single-party state (under the Cameroon National Union
[Union Nationale Camerounaise; UNC], formed in the mid-1960s by the
merger of a number of parties) in which civil rights meant little.
Ahidjo declared nation building to be a major goal, using the fear of
ethnic conflict to justify authoritarianism.
Ahidjo’s policy of planned liberalism was formulated to encourage
private investment, with government to play a strong role in guiding
development. Expansion of export crops was to provide the foreign
capital needed. The 1973 announcement of the Green Revolution proposed
that the country was to become self-sufficient in food and to become the
primary food source for its neighbours.
The discovery of exploitable petroleum in the 1970s was of great
benefit to the economy, and petroleum swiftly became Cameroon’s most
valuable export. Petroleum revenues were used to increase prices to
farmers, to pay for imports of materials and technology, and to build
financial reserves. Unfortunately, petroleum income also paid for a
number of costly and poorly planned projects.
Large-scale industrial development projects met with little success,
and much capital was lost. Although there was more success in assisting
the growth of agribusinesses and small and medium-sized enterprises
producing goods for local use, the country still largely depended on
imported industrial goods. Exceptions to this were refined petroleum
products, cement, textiles and clothing, beverages, and aluminum.
Expansion of transportation facilities, the development of hydroelectric
capability, and tremendous growth in education took place.
Cameroon under Biya
On Nov. 4, 1982, Ahidjo resigned and was succeeded by Prime Minister
Paul Biya under the constitution; however, Ahidjo remained head of the
UNC, the sole political party. Despite Ahidjo’s resignation, he still
had expectations of retaining control over the government—intentions
that did not sit well with Biya. A confrontation soon followed when
Ahidjo tried to assert party domination over the government. The bid was
unsuccessful, however, and in August 1983 Ahidjo was forced to resign as
head of the party. A minor coup attempt and a subsequent uprising by the
Republican Guard on April 6, 1984—perhaps favoured or directed by Ahidjo
or his supporters—followed. Biya emerged unscathed, while Ahidjo, who
had taken refuge in France, was tried and sentenced in absentia for his
role in the plot. What remained of Ahidjo’s UNC was soon restyled as
Biya’s Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (Rassemblement Démocratique
du Peuple Camerounaise; RDPC).
Consolidation and challenge
At first Biya had sought the development of a more democratic
society. Competitive elections for party offices and the National
Assembly were permitted, even though the country was still a
single-party state. The conflict with Ahidjo and the 1984 coup attempt,
however, brought back some of the restrictions of the Ahidjo era. As the
sole candidate for the country’s only legal political party, Biya won
uncontested presidential elections in both 1984 and 1988. In the 1990s
Biya resisted both domestic and international pressure to democratize.
Although he supported legislation in late 1990 that provided for a
change to a multiparty political system, he employed a variety of
tactics to ensure the status of the RDPC as the dominant party.
At the same time, calls for democracy were also increasing in the
English-speaking part of the country. There, many citizens claiming
oppression by the French-speaking majority made demands for a return to
a federal system, while extremists called for Anglophone independence
and threatened violence if their demands were not met. Tensions between
the Anglophone community and the Biya administration continued into the
In addition to political strife, Biya also had to deal with growing
economic troubles. He had inherited a country poised on the brink of
severe economic crisis; although the crisis had taken root during
Ahidjo’s tenure, it did not surface until after his resignation.
Cameroon’s economy, extremely dependent on such exports as cocoa,
coffee, and oil, was adversely affected by decreases in the prices of
these commodities during the 1980s. In addition, poor economic
management had long plagued the country. Cameroonians placed the blame
on Biya, and by the late 1980s opposition to the government had grown.
In 1987 Biya admitted that the country faced an economic crisis, and the
necessity of an International Monetary Fund structural adjustment
program and budget cuts was recognized. The realization that Cameroon
had not been able to change the dependent nature of its economy,
regardless of the economic progress made since independence, was the
cause of much frustration.
Despite the subsequent efforts made toward economic reform,
conditions in Cameroon were less than ideal, and corruption was rampant.
By the 1990s the country was in severe recession. Numerous jobs had been
lost, many workers had received salary cuts, and education and health
care funding had been reduced. Discontent with the government—manifested
in part by periodic demonstrations and strikes to protest the country’s
economic policies—was extremely high. Cameroon did benefit from debt
relief by international creditors, particularly in 2006, when the
majority of the country’s sizable debt to the Paris Club, a group of
creditor countries, was cancelled.
Despite the array of challenges facing him, Biya’s rule was extended
with his victories in multiparty elections held in 1992, 1997, and 2004
(the presidential term had been extended, first to five and then to
seven years)—all marred by irregularities, although the 2004 election
experienced fewer problems than the others and was generally viewed as
free and fair. In April 2008 the National Assembly passed a
controversial constitutional amendment abolishing presidential term
limits, thereby providing Biya with the option to run again in the
Meanwhile, tensions from a long-standing border dispute with Nigeria
over the oil-rich Bakassi Peninsula came to a head in late 1993 and
early 1994 when Nigerian troops advanced into the region. New skirmishes
occurred in early 1996, and, although a truce was signed, sporadic
fighting continued for the next few years. After eight years of
investigation and deliberation, the International Court of Justice (ICJ)
awarded the peninsula to Cameroon in October 2002. Nigeria and Cameroon
entered into two years of mediation and discussion to facilitate the
implementation of the ICJ ruling, reaching an agreement to transfer
sovereignty of the peninsula in September 2004. Despite these measures,
Nigeria did not meet the deadline, citing technical problems with
preparing for the transfer. In August 2006 the handover of the Bakassi
Peninsula from Nigeria to Cameroon was largely completed. Although the
transfer was not without its problems—including the dissatisfaction of
many peninsula residents who would have preferred to retain their
Nigerian identity—the region enjoyed relative peace until November 2007,
when Cameroonian troops stationed in the peninsula were killed by
assailants who were reportedly wearing Nigerian military uniforms.
Nigeria quickly declared that its military was not involved and cited
recent criminal activity in the Niger delta region, where military
supplies—including uniforms—were stolen. A ceremony held on Aug. 14,
2008, marked the completion of the peninsula’s transfer from Nigeria to
Mark W. DeLancey