Cameroon, republic in western Africa, bounded on the north by Lake Chad; on the east by Chad and the Central African Republic; on the south by the Republic of the Congo, Gabon, and Equatorial Guinea; and on the west by the Bight of Biafra (an arm of the Atlantic Ocean) and Nigeria. The country is shaped like an elongated triangle, and forms a bridge between West Africa and Central Africa. The country has a total area of 475,442 sq km (183,569 sq mi). Yaoundé is the capital, and Douala is the largest city.
|II||LAND AND RESOURCES|
Cameroon has four distinct topographical regions. In the south is a coastal plain, a region of dense equatorial rain forests. In the center is the Adamawa Plateau, a region with elevations reaching about 1,370 m (about 4,500 ft) above sea level. This is a transitional area where forest gives way in the north to savanna country. In the far north the savanna gradually slopes into the marshland surrounding Lake Chad. In the west is an area of high, forested mountains of volcanic origin. Located here is Cameroon Mountain (4,095 m/13,435 ft), the highest peak in western Africa and an active volcano. The country’s most fertile soils are found in this region. Among the principal streams, the Sanaga and Nyong rivers flow generally west to the Atlantic Ocean, and the Mbéré and Logone rivers flow north from the central plateau into Lake Chad. A network of rivers in the Chad Basin, including the Benue River, links the country with the vast Niger River system to the east and north.
Cameroon has a tropical climate, humid in the south but increasingly dry to the north. On the coast the average annual rainfall is about 4,060 mm (about 160 in). On the exposed slopes of Cameroon Mountain and the other peaks of the west, rainfall is almost constant and in places can reach 10,000 mm (400 in) a year. In the semiarid northwest annual rainfall averages about 380 mm (about 15 in). A dry season in the north lasts from October to April. The average temperature in the south is 25°C (77°F), on the plateau it is 21°C (70°F), and in the north it is 32°C (90°F).
|B||Plants and Animals|
Cameroon’s valuable rain forests contain a number of species of trees, including oil palms, bamboo palms, mahogany, teak, ebony, and rubber. Wildlife is diverse and abundant and includes monkeys, chimpanzees, gorillas, antelopes, lions, and elephants, as well as numerous species of birds, squirrels, frogs, and snakes.
Cameroon has significant offshore petroleum reserves. The country’s economy is also dependent on its agricultural and timber resources. Other important mineral reserves in Cameroon include gold, bauxite, uranium, and limestone. Hydroelectric power stations on Cameroon’s rivers, particularly the Sanaga, provide enough electricity to meet almost all of the country’s needs.
The population of Cameroon (2008 estimate) is 18,467,692, giving the country an overall population density of 39 persons per sq km (102 per sq mi). About half of all Cameroonians live in urban areas. The other half of the population are farmers who live in small towns or villages in southern and central Cameroon or seminomadic herders inhabiting the north.
The capital of Cameroon is Yaoundé. Douala, on the Bight of Biafra, is the largest city and the country’s chief port. Other principal towns include the northern river port of Garoua, the northern market center of Maroua, the southwestern industrial city of Nkongsamba, and Bafoussam, in the western mountains.
|B||Religion and Language|
About 24 percent of the population adheres to traditional religions, about 21 percent of the population are Muslims, and most of the remainder are Christians. Muslims predominate in the north and Christians in the south. Cameroon contains about 200 ethnic groups who speak as many different languages. In general, Bantu-speaking peoples inhabit the south, and Sudanic-speaking peoples dominate in the north. Among the more important ethnic groups are the Bamileke, a Bantu-speaking people, and the Fulani, a Muslim people. French and English are both official languages. French dominates, however; English is confined mainly to the west.
In 2002–2003, virtually all primary school-aged children were enrolled in school, but only 31 percent of appropriately aged children attended secondary school. About 81 percent of adult Cameroonians are literate. Mission schools play an important role in education and are partly subsidized by the government. Institutes of higher education include the University of Yaoundé (founded in 1962), the University of Dschang (1993), and the University of Douala (1977). In 2002–2003 a total of 81,318 students were enrolled in institutions of higher education.
Cameroon’s traditionally agricultural economy began changing in the late 20th century with the discovery and exploitation of offshore petroleum reserves. Agricultural activities are still the main occupation of 61 percent of Cameroon’s population and still contribute the largest share of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). In the early 21st century, however, petroleum surpassed agricultural products in export earnings. In 1999 the national budget showed revenues of $1.2 billion and expenditures of $1.4 billion.
The principal commercial crops in Cameroon are cacao, coffee, bananas, and sugarcane. Other commercial products include palm oil, rubber, and cotton. Subsistence crops include plantains, sweet potatoes, cassava, corn, millet, and rice. Livestock raising is important in the Adamawa Plateau region and is central to the lives of the seminomadic herders of the north. Cattle, goats, and fowl are the most commonly raised animals.
|B||Forestry and Fishing|
Timber is traditionally one of Cameroon’s most valuable exports, consisting mainly of mahogany, ebony, and teak. The timber cut in 2006 amounted to 11.4 million cu m (401 million cu ft). Most of the fish caught in Cameroon come from the country’s rivers and lakes and are consumed locally. However, deep-sea fishing activity is increasing, especially from the port of Douala. Some 142,682 metric tons of fish are caught annually.
|C||Mining and Manufacturing|
Offshore petroleum exploitation began in the late 1970s, and an oil refinery has been built on the coast at Limboh Point. Cameroon’s output of crude petroleum, mostly for export, was 24 million barrels in 2004. Small amounts of gold and tin concentrates are also mined. One of the largest single industrial enterprises in Cameroon is a huge aluminum smelting plant at Edéa. Despite the presence of extensive bauxite reserves in Cameroon, the aluminum produced in the country is derived from imported bauxite because the government has yet to develop the infrastructure necessary to exploit its own supply. The processing of petroleum and agricultural products, such as palms and sugar, dominates industrial activity in Cameroon. Other manufactures include cement, textiles, and fertilizers.
|D||Currency, Banking, and Commerce|
The unit of currency of Cameroon is the CFA franc, consisting of 100 centimes (522.90 CFA francs equal U.S.$1; 2006 average). The currency is issued by the Bank of the States of Central Africa (headquartered in Yaoundé), the central bank of a monetary union formed by six Central African states. In 2003, Cameroon’s exports earned $2.2 billion while imports cost $2 billion. Spain, Italy, France, Netherlands, and the United States are leading partners for exports; France, Nigeria, the United States, Germany, and Japan are leading partners for imports.
|E||Transportation and Communications|
Of the 50,000 km (31,069 mi) of roads, only about 10 percent are paved. Unpaved roads are frequently impassable during the rainy season. The country has 1,016 km (631 mi) of railroad. The overwhelming majority of port traffic is handled at Douala; Kribi is the country’s second port. The port of Garoua on the Benue River in the north is open two to three months a year and handles most of the trade with Nigeria. Cameroon Airlines provides domestic and international service. The main international airports are at Douala, Garoua, and Yaoundé. A state-run radio and television broadcasting system, with its headquarters at Yaoundé, operates local stations in cities across the country. Mobile telephones are much more prevalent than telephone mainlines in Cameroon, and in 2006 about 370,000 Cameroonians were online.
Cameroon is governed under a constitution promulgated in 1972 and subsequently revised. Citizens of age 21 or higher are eligible to vote.
|A||Executive and Legislature|
The president of the republic is chief of state and commander of the armed forces and is elected by universal suffrage. A 1995 amendment to the constitution extended the president’s term from five years to seven and introduced a two-term limit (effective starting with the 1997 election). However, in 2008 the legislature abolished the two-term limit. The federal ministers, including the prime minister, are appointed by the president and are not permitted to be members of the legislature. The president also appoints the governors of the country’s ten provinces. Legislative power in Cameroon is vested in the single-chamber National Assembly, which consists of 180 members elected to five-year terms.
The judicial system of Cameroon is based largely on the French system, with a mixture of elements from the British system. The highest judicial body is the Supreme Court. Other courts are the appeals courts, regional courts, and magistrates’ courts.
The leading political party in Cameroon is the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (French initials RDPC), founded in 1966 as the National Cameroonian Union and renamed in 1985. The main opposition parties are the Social Democratic Front, the Cameroon Democratic Union, the Union of the Peoples of Cameroon, and the National Union for Democracy and Progress.
The coast of present-day Cameroon was explored late in the 15th century by the Portuguese, who named the estuary to the south of Cameroon Mountain Rio das Camerões (“river of prawns”). Merchants established trading stations along the coast in the 17th century, buying slaves, ivory, and rubber. British traders and missionaries were especially active in the area after 1845. The Germans and British began to explore inland after 1860, and in 1884 the former established a protectorate over the Douala area; the British, taken by surprise, offered no resistance to their claim.
Transportation difficulties and local resistance slowed German development of the area, but they managed to cultivate large cacao, palm, and rubber plantations. They also built roads and began the construction of a railroad and the port of Douala on the Atlantic coast.
Anglo-French forces invaded the German colony in 1916. In 1919 one-fifth of the territory, which was contiguous with eastern Nigeria, was assigned to Britain, and the remaining four-fifths were assigned to France as mandates under the League of Nations.
The British Cameroons consisted of the Northern and Southern Cameroons, which were separated by a 72-km (45-mi) strip along the Benue River. The northern territory, peopled by tribes of Sudanese origin, was always administered as a part of Northern Nigeria. The Southern Cameroons, peopled by a variety of tribes, was administered as part of the Nigerian federation but had a locally elected legislature. The French Cameroons was administered as a separate territory. Neither area, however, experienced much social or economic progress.
After World War II ended in 1945, the mandates were made trust territories of the United Nations (UN). In the following years political ferment grew enormously in the French territory, where more than 100 parties were formed between 1948 and 1960. The campaign for independence, intermittently violent, gained steady momentum during the 1950s, until the French granted self-government in December 1958; full independence was achieved on January 1, 1960. Ahmadou Ahidjo, prime minister since 1958, became the first president. The new republic was admitted to the UN in September 1960.
The following year the UN sponsored a plebiscite in the British Cameroons. As a result, the Southern Cameroons joined the Republic of Cameroon to form the Federal Republic of Cameroon in October 1961, while the Northern Cameroons joined Nigeria.
When Cameroon became independent, President Ahidjo’s government was faced with a rebellion incited by the Cameroonian People’s Union, a pro-Communist party. By 1963, however, the revolt had been suppressed, and Ahidjo soon established the authority of his regime. In 1966 the six major parties merged into the National Cameroonian Union, which was declared the only legal party in the country. In 1972 Ahidjo sponsored a national referendum that changed Cameroon from a federal to a unitary state, called the United Republic of Cameroon.
Reaffirmed in office in 1975 and again in 1980, President Ahidjo resigned unexpectedly in November 1982. He was succeeded in office by Paul Biya, the former prime minister. Relations between Biya and Ahidjo deteriorated, and in July 1983 Ahidjo (who had retained the leadership of the National Cameroonian Union) went into exile in France and gave up his party post, which Biya assumed. Biya won election to his first full term as president in January 1984. During the same month, the constitution was amended to abolish the office of prime minister and to change the country’s name to the Republic of Cameroon. Biya suppressed a coup attempt that April.
In late August 1986 an explosive discharge of carbon dioxide and hydrogen sulfide from Lake Nios, a volcanic lake near the Nigerian border, killed more than 1,700 people in the valleys below. International medical and economic aid was sent to the area.
Biya ran unopposed in the presidential election of April 1988, held a year ahead of schedule to coincide with legislative balloting. Facing rising popular discontent in the early 1990s, he began to implement political reforms. Biya won a 40 percent plurality in the nation’s first multiparty presidential election, held in October 1992. In November 1995 Cameroon became a member of the Commonwealth of Nations.
Early in 1994 a border dispute arose between Nigeria and Cameroon after Nigerian troops invaded the petroleum-rich Bakassi Peninsula of Cameroon. The Nigerian government claimed that a 19th-century treaty made Nigeria the rightful owner of the peninsula. The Cameroonian government filed a complaint with the International Court of Justice (ICJ), and the two nations started negotiations in March. In October 2002 the ICJ ruled in favor of Cameroon and ordered Nigerian forces to leave the area.
Biya faced increasing opposition leading up to 1997 legislative and presidential elections. In elections to the National Assembly held that May, Biya’s party, the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (Rassemblement démocratique du peuple camerounais, or RDPC), won a majority of seats amid violent confrontations between rival political groups and allegations of electoral fraud. The three main opposition parties boycotted the October presidential elections, and Biya was reelected in a landslide. Election observers estimated that voter participation was less than 30 percent in the presidential elections. Biya’s party dominated June 2002 legislative elections and he was reelected, again by a landslide, in October 2004.
Opposition parties filed protests following the 2007 legislative elections, in which Biya’s RDPC again won by a landslide with a reported voter turnout of more than 60 percent. The official vote gave the RDPC more than 150 seats in the 180-member legislature. The opposition charged election irregularities and ballot stuffing. In 2008 the RDPC-dominated legislature abolished a two-term limit that had been imposed on the presidency in 1997, thereby giving Biya the option of again running for the office.