|République du Cameroun
|Coat of Arms
|French, English (official)
|183,568 sq mi
|GDP per capita
|Central African franc
The Republic of Cameroon is a country in west-central Africa, sharing its borders with Nigeria, Chad, the Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and the Republic of the Congo, as well as a coastline along the Gulf of Guinea and the Atlantic Ocean.
Cameroon's estimated 250 ethnic groups from five large regional-cultural groups: western highlanders (or grassfielders), including the Bamileke, Bamoun, and many smaller entities in the northwest (est. 38% of population); coastal tropical forest peoples, including the Bassa, Douala, and many smaller entities in the Southwest (12%); southern tropical forest peoples, including the Ewondo, Bulu, and Fang (all Beti subgroups), Maka and Pygmies (officially called Bakas) (18%); predominantly Islamic peoples of the northern semi-arid regions (the Sahel) and central highlands, including the Fulani, also known as Peuhl in French (14%); and the "Kirdi", non-Islamic or recently Islamic peoples of the northern desert and central highlands (18%).
The people concentrated in the southwest and northwest provinces—around Buea and Bamenda—use standard English and "pidgin," as well as their local languages. In the three northern provinces—Adamaoua, North, and Far North—French and Fulfulde, the language of the Fulani, are widely spoken. Elsewhere, French is the principal language, although pidgin and some local languages such as Ewondo, the dialect of a Beti clan from the Yaounde area, also are widely spoken. Although Yaounde is Cameroon's capital, Douala is the largest city, main seaport, and main industrial and commercial center.
The western highlands are the most fertile in Cameroon and have a relatively healthy environment in higher altitudes. This region is densely populated and has intensive agriculture, commerce, cohesive communities, and historical emigration pressures. From here, Bantu migrations into eastern, southern, and central Africa are believed to have originated about 2,000 years ago. Bamileke people from this area have in recent years migrated to towns elsewhere in Cameroon, such as the coastal provinces, where they form much of the business community. About 20,000 non-Africans, including more than 6,000 French and 2,400 U. S. citizens, reside in Cameroon.
- Population (2007 est.): 18,060,382.
- Annual growth rate (2007 est.): 2.241%.
- Ethnic groups: About 250.
- Religions: Christian 53%, Muslim 22%, indigenous African 25%.
- Languages: French and English (both official) and about 270 African languages and dialects, including pidgin, Fulfulde, and Ewondo.
- Education: Compulsory between ages 6 and 14. Attendance—65%. Literacy—75%.
- Health: Infant mortality rate (2007)--6.6%. Life expectancy (2007)--52.86 yrs.
- Work force: Agriculture—70%. Industry and commerce—13%.
Forty percent of the population of 18.1 million is Christian, 20% Muslim, and 40% practices traditional indigenous religious beliefs. The Christian population is equally divided between Roman Catholics and Protestants.
Christians are concentrated primarily in the southern and western provinces and Muslims reside in every province. Large cities have significant populations of both groups. The two Anglophone provinces of the western region are largely Protestant and the Francophone provinces of the southern and western regions are mostly Catholic. In the northern provinces, the locally dominant Fulani (or Peuhl) ethnic group is mostly Muslim, but the overall population is fairly evenly divided between Muslims, Christians, and animists. The Bamoun ethnic group of the West Province is largely Muslim. Traditional indigenous religious beliefs are practiced in rural areas throughout the country, but are rarely practiced publicly in cities, in part because many of these groups are intrinsically local in character.
Several religious denominations operate primary and secondary schools. Although state institutions continue to dominate post-secondary education, private schools affiliated with religious denominations, including Catholic, Protestant, and Qur'anic schools, have been among the best schools at the primary and secondary levels for many years.
Government and Political Conditions
The 1972 constitution as modified by 1996 reforms provides for a strong central government dominated by the executive. The president is empowered to name and dismiss cabinet members, judges, generals, provincial governors, prefects, sub-prefects, and heads of Cameroon's parastatal (about 100 state-controlled) firms, obligate or disburse expenditures, approve or veto regulations, declare states of emergency, and appropriate and spend profits of parastatal firms. The president is not required to consult the National Assembly.
The judiciary is subordinate to the executive branch's Ministry of Justice. The Supreme Court may review the constitutionality of a law only at the president's request.
The 180-member National Assembly meets in ordinary session three times a year (March–April, June–July, and November–December), and has seldom, until recently, made major changes in legislation proposed by the executive. Laws are adopted by majority vote of members present or, if the president demands a second reading, of a total membership.
Following government pledges to reform the strongly centralized 1972 constitution, the National Assembly adopted a number of amendments in December 1995, which were promulgated in a new constitution in January 1996. The amendments call for the establishment of a 100-member Senate as part of a bicameral legislature, the creation of regional councils, and the fixing of the presidential term to 7 years, renewable once. One-third of senators are to be appointed by the president, and the remaining two-thirds are to be chosen by indirect elections. As of September 2005, the government had not established the Senate or regional councils.
All local government officials are employees of the central government's Ministry of Territorial Administration, from which local governments also get most of their budgets.
While the president, the minister of justice, and the president's judicial advisers (the Supreme Court) top the judicial hierarchy, traditional rulers, courts, and councils also exercise functions of government. Traditional courts still play a major role in domestic, property, and probate law. Tribal laws and customs are honored in the formal court system when not in conflict with national law. Traditional rulers receive stipends from the national government.
The government adopted legislation in 1990 to authorize the formation of multiple political parties and ease restrictions on forming civil associations and private newspapers. Cameroon's first multiparty legislative and presidential elections were held in 1992 followed by municipal elections in 1996 and another round of legislative and presidential elections in 1997. Because the government refused to consider opposition demands for an independent election commission, the three major opposition parties boycotted the October 1997 presidential election, which Biya easily won. All of these elections were marred by severe irregularities. In December 2000, the National Assembly passed legislation creating the National Elections Observatory (NEO), an election watchdog body. NEO played an active role in supervising the conduct of local and legislative elections in June 2002, which demonstrated some progress but were still hampered by irregularities. The NEO also supervised the conduct of the presidential election in October 2004 as did many diplomatic missions, including the US Embassy. NEO reported that it was satisfied with the conduct of the election but noted some irregularities and problems with voter registration. The US Embassy also noted these issues with the election, as well as reports of non-indelible ink, but concluded that the irregularities were not severe enough to impact the final result. The incumbent, Paul Biya, was re-elected with 70.92 per cent of the vote. Cameroon has a number of independent newspapers. Censorship was abolished in 1996, but the government sometimes seizes or suspends newspapers. Mutation, the only private daily newspaper in Cameroon, was seized on April 14, 2003 after the paper published articles on "Life after Biya." Occasionally the government arrests journalists.
Radio and television continue to be a virtual monopoly of the state-owned broadcaster, the Cameroon Radio-Television Corporation (CRTV), despite the effective liberalization of radio and television in 2000. Since the issuance of the decree authorizing the creation of private radio and television on April 3, 2000, not a single station has received a license from the government, though many have applied and are currently operating while their applications are pending. There are some 15 such private radio stations broadcasting in Yaounde, Douala, Bafoussam, Bamenda, and Limbe; their existence is tolerated by the government. Magic FM, a private radio station in Yaounde, and a Voice of America (VOA) affiliate, was shut down in 2003 after carrying controversial reports and critical commentaries on the regime, but was later reopened. There are a dozen community radio stations supported by the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) which are exempted from licenses and have no political content. Radio coverage extends to about 80% of the country, while television covers 60% of the territory. The sole private television station—TV Max—broadcasts only in the economic capital of Douala.
The Cameroonian Government's human rights record has been improving over the years but remains flawed. There continue to be reported abuses, including beatings of detainees, arbitrary arrests, and illegal searches. The judiciary is frequently corrupt, inefficient, and subject to political influence.
Principal Government Officials
- President—Paul Biya
- President of the National Assembly—Djibril Cavaye Yeguie
- Prime Minister—Philémon Yang
- Ambassador to the United States—Jerome Mendouga
- Ambassador to the United Nations—Martin Belinga
Cameroon's noncontentious, low-profile approach to foreign relations puts it squarely in the middle of other African and developing country states on major issues. It supports the principles of noninterference in the affairs of third countries and increased assistance to underdeveloped countries. Cameroon is an active participant in the United Nations, where its voting record demonstrates its commitment to causes that include international peacekeeping, the rule of law, environmental protection, and Third World economic development. In the UN and other human rights fora, Cameroon's nonconfrontational approach has generally led it to avoid criticizing other countries. Cameroon's position on the UN Security Council, in the Africa rotational seat since January 2002, ended December 2003.
Cameroon enjoys good relations with the United States and other developed countries. It has particularly close ties with France, with whom it has numerous military, economic, and cultural agreements. China has a number of health and infrastructure projects underway in Cameroon, and it has also pledged $1 million in military aid. Cameroon enjoys generally good relations with its African neighbors. Cameroon has successfully resolved its border dispute with Nigeria in the oil-rich Bakassi Peninsula through peaceful legal means after having submitted the case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). With the support of the UN, both countries are working closely together to peacefully implement the ICJ ruling, and a genuine peaceful turnover of the peninsula by Nigeria has begun. Roughly 5,000 Nigerians have moved back into Nigeria thus far. Cameroon is a member of CEMAC (Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa) and supports UN peacekeeping activities in Central Africa.
The Cameroonian military generally has been an apolitical force dominated by civilian control. Traditional dependence on the French defense capability, although reduced, continues. French military advisers remain closely involved in preparing the Cameroonian forces for deployment to the Bakassi Peninsula, where there is a contested border with Nigeria. The armed forces number approximately 28,000 personnel in ground, air, and naval forces, the majority being the army and naval ground forces.
Cameroon’s goal is to develop a military with the capacity to contribute to peacekeeping efforts. While equipment needs pose a significant challenge, Cameroonian officers are already receiving training both in Africa and abroad, for example in Italy and the U.S.
For a quarter-century following independence, Cameroon was one of the most prosperous countries in Africa. The drop in commodity prices for its principal exports—oil, cocoa, coffee, and cotton—in the mid-1980s, combined with an overvalued currency and economic mismanagement, led to a decade-long recession. Real per capita gross domestic product (GDP) fell by more than 60% from 1986 to 1994. The current account and fiscal deficits widened, and foreign debt grew.
The government embarked upon a series of economic reform programs supported by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) beginning in the late 1980s. Many of these measures have been painful; the government slashed civil service salaries by 65% in 1993. The CFA franc—the common currency of Cameroon and 13 other African states—was devalued by 50% in January 1994. The government failed to meet the conditions of the first four IMF programs.
- GDP (2006): $16.37 billion.
- Annual real GDP growth rate (2006): 4.1%.
- Natural resources: Oil, timber, hydroelectric power, natural gas, cobalt, nickel.
- Agriculture (2006): 45.2% of GDP. Products—timber, coffee, tea, bananas, cocoa, rubber, palm oil, pineapples, cotton. Arable land (2005 est.)--12.54%.
- Industry (2006): 16.1% of GDP.
- Services (2006): 38.7% of GDP.
- Trade (2002): Exports--$1.8 billion (2002): crude oil, timber and finished wood products, cotton, cocoa, aluminum and aluminum products, coffee, rubber, bananas. Major markets—European Union, CEMAC, China, U.S., Nigeria (informal). Imports--$1.9 billion (2002): crude oil, vehicles, pharmaceuticals, aluminum oxide, rubber, foodstuffs and grains, agricultural inputs, lubricants, used clothing. Major suppliers—France, Nigeria, Italy, U.S., Germany, Belgium, Japan.
In December 2000, the IMF approved a 3-year Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility (ESAF) program worth $133.7 million to reduce poverty and improve social services. The successful completion of the program will allow Cameroon to receive $2 billion in debt relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative. Pursuant to the initiative, the IMF is requiring the Cameroonian Government to enhance its macroeconomic planning and financial accountability; continue efforts to privatize the remaining non-financial parastatal enterprises; increase price competition in the banking sector; improve the judicial system; and implement good governance practices.
In late August 2003, the Board of Directors of both the IMF and World Bank approved Cameroon's Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) with high marks. The paper integrated the main points of the Millennium Development Goal, which outlined Cameroon's priorities in alleviating poverty and undertaking strong macroeconomic commitments in the short and long term. By late summer 2004 Cameroon had met most of its PRGF targets. A lackluster performance in the fiscal arena, however, led the country off track and resulted in Cameroon not achieving the HIPC completion point. Negotiations are currently underway to create a new program so Cameroon can eventually qualify for HIPC debt forgiveness.
The privatization program has lagged because of legal and political obstacles; difficult negotiations with the government on issues such as sale price, financial disclosure, tax arrears, and overlapping debts; and in some cases, a lack of willing buyers.
The most noticeable recent problem involves the privatization of CamAir, the government-owned airline. In the response to a public request for proposals, a willing buyer which met the published criteria was in fact available, but the government decided it wanted to adopt a totally different approach, and selected another firm which did not meet the original specifications. This new proposal, if ultimately adopted, might well result in better service and more revenue, but the procedures for changing the requested proposals were anything but transparent.
France is Cameroon's main trading partner and source of private investment and foreign aid. Cameroon has a bilateral investment treaty with the United States. In addition to existing investment in the oil sector, U.S. investment in Cameroon, estimated at over $1 million, is progressively growing due primarily to both construction of the Chad-Cameroon pipeline and cobalt and nickel mining.
The earliest inhabitants of Cameroon were probably the Bakas (Pygmies). They still inhabit the forests of the south and east provinces. Bantu speakers originating in the Cameroonian highlands were among the first groups to move out before other invaders. During the late 1770s and early 1800s, the Fulani, a pastoral Islamic people of the western Sahel, conquered most of what is now northern Cameroon, subjugating or displacing its largely non-Muslim inhabitants.
Although the Portuguese arrived on Cameroon's coast in the 1500s, malaria prevented significant European settlement and conquest of the interior until the late 1870s, when large supplies of the malaria suppressant, quinine, became available. The early European presence in Cameroon was primarily devoted to coastal trade and the acquisition of slaves. The northern part of Cameroon was an important part of the Muslim slave trade network. The slave trade was largely suppressed by the mid-19th century. Christian missions established a presence in the late 19th century and continue to play a role in Cameroonian life.
Beginning in 1884, all of present-day Cameroon and parts of several of its neighbors became the German colony of Kamerun, with a capital first at Buea and later at Yaounde. After World War I, this colony was partitioned between Britain and France under a June 28, 1919 League of Nations mandate. France gained the larger geographical share, transferred outlying regions to neighboring French colonies, and ruled the rest from Yaounde. Britain's territory—a strip bordering Nigeria from the sea to Lake Chad, with an equal population—was ruled from Lagos.
In 1955, the outlawed Union of the Peoples of Cameroon (UPC), based largely among the Bamileke and Bassa ethnic groups, began an armed struggle for independence in French Cameroon. This rebellion continued, with diminishing intensity, even after independence. Estimates of death from this conflict vary from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands.
French Cameroon achieved independence in 1960 as the Republic of Cameroon. The following year the largely Muslim northern two-thirds of British Cameroon voted to join Nigeria; the largely Christian southern third voted to join with the Republic of Cameroon to form the Federal Republic of Cameroon. The formerly French and British regions each maintained substantial autonomy. Ahmadou Ahidjo, a French-educated Fulani, was chosen President of the federation in 1961. Ahidjo, relying on a pervasive internal security apparatus, outlawed all political parties but his own in 1966. He successfully suppressed the UPC rebellion, capturing the last important rebel leader in 1970. In 1972, a new constitution replaced the federation with a unitary state.
Ahidjo resigned as President in 1982 and was constitutionally succeeded by his Prime Minister, Paul Biya, a career official from the Bulu-Beti ethnic group. Ahidjo later regretted his choice of successors, but his supporters failed to overthrow Biya in a 1984 coup. Biya won single-candidate elections in 1984 and 1988 and flawed multiparty elections in 1992 and 1997. His Cameroon People's Democratic Movement (CPDM) party holds a sizeable majority in the legislature following 2002 elections—149 deputies out of a total of 180. Elections for the National Assembly and for local governments are scheduled for July 22, 2007, but preparations are not yet complete.
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