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All About Cameroon

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All About Cameroon
Cameroon, a West African country whose coastline is part of the Gulf of Guinea and the Atlantic Ocean, is the world’s 53rd largest country in terms of physical size with an area of 183,569 square miles. Comparison wise, it is slightly larger than Sweden, comparable in size to Papua New Guinea, or slightly larger than the state of California. It is bordered by Nigeria to the west; Chad to the northeast; the Central African Republic to the east; and Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and the Republic of the Congo to the south ( Cameroon). The word “Cameroon” originated from the Portuguese explorers who reached the coast in the 15th century and named the area Rio dos Camaroes (or River of Prawns), which eventually evolved into the English name Cameroon (Pondi, 1997). The Cameroon flag has three equal vertical bands of green (for vegetation), red (for independence), and yellow (for sunshine), with a yellow 5-pointed star in the centered in the red band ( The Lonely Planet travel guide describes Cameroon as “Africa’s throbbing heart, a crazed, sultry mosaic of active volcanoes, white sand beaches, thick rainforest and magnificent parched landscapes broken up by the bizarre rock formations of the Sahel” (
Cameroon enjoys relatively high political and social stability. Cameroon doesn’t have the notoriety of the history of ethnic violence between the Hutu and the Tutsi such as in Rwanda, nor the fame of the beauty of the wildlife in South Africa, politically news wise it hasn’t been on the map the way Sudan (Darfur) has, or Somalia, or the use of children in armies, and in a sense that’s what makes it so interesting. It has all the beauty and diversity of Africa just like all the sub-Saharan African countries do, yet it has been relatively more insulated from the infamy of civil war and violence which has torn up so many other African countries, in spite of having more or less the same history of European colonialism as those other countries.
The earliest inhabitants of Cameroon were the Baka Pygmies who 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. Like most African countries, Cameroon has been the site of many major population migrations. The ethnic grou which has been the greatest force in Cameroon’s history are the Fulani, a pastoral Muslim people of the western Sahel, where during the late 1770s and early 1800s, they conquered most of what is now northern Cameroon, subjugating its largely non-Muslim inhabitants and created the Muslim segment of the Cameroonian population today (DeLancey, DeLancey, and Dike, 2000).
According to, the influence of Islam in Cameroon were already present before 1000 A.D. when Persian and Arab traders engaged in trade with East Africa, followed by further migrations from Arabia after Prophet Muhammad’s death resulted in chaos in the 7th century. The intermarriage of Arabs with the Bantus resulted in the Swahili ethnic group which grew into more tribes deeper into Africa over the next seven centuries. By the time the Europeans came, starting with the Portuguese in the early 1500s, they already found a thriving advanced economy thanks to the Swahili people whose business practices can be attributed to their Arabic origins since Arabs were already advanced traders for their time. The Portuguese took over control of the economy after their arrival and began the slave trade which was taken over by the Dutch in the 1600s, but that ended when the Omani Arabs overthrew the Europeans in the late 18th century. Unfortunately for the inland African tribes, the Omani Arabs practised slavery, one of their major economic enterprises, and as a result of the Omani rule because Africans in the areas from northern Mozambique to southern Somalia were abducted into the slave trade.
Besides the Portuguese, ensuing European settlers did not conquer the interior until the late 1870s due to the uncontrolled spread of malaria. After the malaria treatment quinine became available oher Europeans began to arrive engaging mostly in coastal and slave trade, the latter especially prominent in the northern part of Cameroon and subsequently suppressed in the mid-19th century. Among the Europeans who came in the late 19th century were the Christian missionaries who continue to play a role in Cameroonian life (Fanso, 1989).
The Europeans who colonized Cameroon were the French, the English, and the Germans. Commencing in 1884, all of present-day Cameroon and parts of several of its neighbors were colonized by the Germans who named the area “Kamerun” with its capital first a Buea and later at Yaounde. The end of World War I and the 1919 League of Nations mandate led to the partitioning of Kamerun between France and Britain, with France owning a larger territory and ruling from Yaounde, and Britain owning a smaller territory - the strip bordering Nigeria from the sea to Lake Chad – yet wth an equal population, and ruling from Lagos (DeLancey, DeLancey, and Dike, 2000).
Cameroon’s struggle for independence from the French began in 1955 when the outlawed Union of the Peoples of Cameroon (UPC) began an armed struggle against the French. Anywhere from tens to hundreds of thousands died in this conflict, but it resulted in French Cameroon’s independence in 1960 when it became the Republic of Cameroon. In the following year the largely Muslim northern two-thirds of British Cameroon joined Nigeria (which is how Lagos became part of present-day Nigeria), while the largely Christian southern one-third of British Cameroon joined the Republic of Cameroon to form the Federal Republic of Cameroon. In 1972 a new constitution replaced the Federation with the United Republic of Cameroon. Today French and English remain the official languages of Cameroon (Terretta, 2010).
Cameroon has been referred to as the “hinge of Africa” by both national politicians and expatriates alike perhaps because of its location on continent of Africa (http://cameroon. If Africa were a door, the position of Cameroon would be where the door’s hinge would be. Cameroon is located in a tropical region with the terrain consisting of flat plains, mountains and a coastal plain. The climate varies with the terrain, from tropical along the coast to semiarid and hot in the north. It is of the wettest places in the world with 1,028 cm rainfall per year. About 13% of Cameroon’s land is arable. The flat plains of the Lake Chad basin in the northern region, the savannas, is where cattle are raised, and corn and cotton are grown. The central part consists of humid grasslands, and the southern part, which is rich in volcanic soil, is where Cameroon’s cash crops (coffee, bananas, cocoa, and palm oil) are grown. Most of the population – over a quarter – live in the southern region, where drought and desertification are the main concerns.
Cameroon has the tallest mountain in West Africa, Mount Cameroon at over 13,435 ft, which is an active volcano. Throughout the country there are areas of thermal springs and indications of current or prior volcanie activity. Cameroon’s soil is rich in minerals and its natural resources include oil, timber, natural gas, iron ore, uranium, cobalt, nickel, and hydroelectric power.
Cameroon is a parliamentary republic. For five decades running, Cameroon has enjoyed relative political stability - in comparison to other surrounding regional countries such as Chad and Central African Republic – under the leadership of two heads of state – Ahidjo (1960-1982) and Paul Biya (since 1982). After it became independent in 1960, Ahmadou Ahidjo, a French-educated Fulani, was chosen President of the federation in 1961. He became a dictator who outlawed all political parties bu his own (the Cameroon National Union) in 1966, and used a pervasive internal security apparatus to suppress opposition including the UPC rebellion (ironically, UPC is the very native party which fought for and won Cameroon’s independence from the French), capturing the last rebel leader in 1970. In 1972 a constitution replaced the federation with a unitary state ruled by one political party (DeLancey, DeLancey, and Dike, 2000).
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. Biya began his administration by moving toward a more democratic government, but a failed coup d'état prompted him to continue his predecessor’s one-party form of government, and so he has remained in power since 1982. He 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. Cameroon is on a long and slow path to a multi-party democracy. The CPDM was the only legal political party until December 1990. Numerous regional political groups have since formed. Current political parties include the Democratic Alliance of the People of Cameroon (RDPC); the Movement for the Defence of the Republic; the Social Democratic Front (FSD); the National Union for Democracy and Progress (UNDP); and the Front of Allies for Change (FAC). The English-speaking territories of Cameroon have grown increasingly alienated from the government, which has made the primary opposition party to Biya’s government the Social Democratic Front (SDF) which is based largely in the Anglophone region of the country (DeLancey, DeLancey, and Dike, 2000).
The President of Cameroon is elected, appoints government officials at all levels, and refers to the National Assembly to create legislation. The National Assembly has 180 members who are elected for five-year terms and meets three times per year. Laws as passed based on a majority vote, and rarely oppose legislation proposed by the president. In 1966 a constitution established a second house of parliament, and in 2013 a 100-seat Senate was established led by a Senate president who is the constitutional successor to the president (http://globaledge. countries/cameroon/government). Although Cameroon’s legal system is largely based on the French civil law, the government defers to the authority of traditional chiefs to resolve disputes at the local level so long as their rulings do not contradict national law. The President appoints judges at all levels. The judiciary is under the authority of the Ministry of Justice, and is divided into tribunals, the court of appeal, and the supreme court. A High Court of Justice, whose nine members are elected by the National Assembly, judges high-ranking members of government if they are charged with treason or harming national security.
Africans have, with a few notable exceptions, been ill-served by their political leaders. Like so many countries in Africa, and indeed in the struggling developing world, corruption is rife at all levels of government in Cameroon. The establishment of anti-corruption bureaus in 1997 are all but a façade as only 25% became operational. The police and military forces have been accused of mistreating criminals, ethnic minorities, political activists, and gays. Human rights organizations allege the suppression of opposition by the government by preventing demonstrations, disrupting meetings, and arresting journalists and opposition leaders.
Yet, this repressive form of governance – or “stable authoritarianism” – seems to create the climate of stability in Cameroon compared to its neighbors. Businesses will not set up shop in a country where it cannot rely on the government to ensure that there will be no political unrest, or for that matter labor unrest. A compliant populace – whether willingly or unwillingly – is one key factor considered by business investors. Unfortunately, business in Cameroon cannot be operated without some, if not large, degree of graft, corruption, and bribery. The government however works with large businesses to ensure the latter’s success, because that in turn ensures that Biya’s government coffers remain lined. The best example in the case of Cameroon is allowing foreign timber companies to put pressure on the government to continue to allow the deforestation of Cameroon’s tropical rainforests, which are driving out the rainforest peoples of Central Africa from areas where they are considered native and reside. Further, no doubt the Cameroonian people may benefit in some small measure from export revenues, however even the most repressive tactics can result in a breaking point where the façade of contentment and stability can no longer be hidden. Yet, after decades of rule, and only recent allowance by the government for new media outlets and hundreds of new political parties to form (again, it is also a façade because Biya’s political party still holds sway at elections and within the government whose members are, after all, appointed by himself), the people still choose “the devil” (as critics refer to Biya) over another party simply because they are familiar with the party and the President, and witnessing what is happening elsewhere outside Cameroon’s borders only bolster support for familiarity over uncertainty.
Cameroon has a population of 23,130,708, with slightly more females (11,129,363 women or 50.01%) than males (11,124,596 men or 49.99%). The life expectancy for females at 54.52 years is also slightly higher than the 52.89 years for males. The median age of the population is 18.3 years. According to 2014 estimates, the population growth rate is 2.6% (ranks #26 in comparison to the world), driven by a birth rate of 36.58 births per 1,000 population (ranks #19 in comparison to the world) and a death rate of 10.4 deaths per 1,000 population (ranks #41 in comparison to the world). Mortality rate is in part due to excessive deaths by AIDS, a disease epidemic still being battled in sub-Saharan African ( publications/the-world-factbook/geos/cm.html).
Cameroon’s population is almost evenly divided between urban and rural dwellers (West, 2004), with population density highest in the largest cities of Douala, Yaounde, and Garoua, western highlands, and the northeastern plains (Neba, 1999). There is a 3.6% annual rate of change of urbanization as people from the overpopulated western highlands and the underdeveloped north are moving to the coastal plantation zone and urban centres for employment ( Both monogamy and polygamy are practised in Cameroon, and the average Cameroonian family is large and extended. Like most societies, Cameroonian society is male dominated. In the rural north women work at home while men work as farmers or cattle herders, and in the rural south women grow subsistence crops, while men grow cash crops and provide meat (Mbaku, 2005).
Culturally, the country has often been referred to as “Africa in miniature” for its geological and ethnic diversity. In terms of geography, it has all the major climates and vegetation of the continent – the coast, the desert, mountains, rainforest, and savanna. The major religions practised are Christianity by 40% of the population which is in the south of Cameroon; Islam, practised by 20% of the population predominantly in the north; and traditional African cult beliefs practised by 40% of the population (
Due to its French and British colonial history, the country has both Francophone and Anglophone regions, with French, English, and Ewondo as the official languages. Ewondo is the languge of the Beti-Pahuin peoples, a Bantu ethnic group located in the rainforest regions of the Cameroon (as well as the Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and São Tomé and Príncipe). The Beti-Pahuin are divided into individual clans but share a common origin, history, and culture. There were approximately over 8 million Beti-Pahuin in the early 21st century and are the largest ethnic group in Cameroon.
The 200 ethnic groups and anywhere from 230-282 different folk and linguistic groups of Cameroon render the country a vast ethnic and linguistic jigsaw, yet in contrast to so many of its neighbors, Cameroon enjoys relative stability. The Bantu ethnic groups are the main groups among the 200. The Dualas, Bamilekes, Tikars and Bamauns are mostly in the south; the Euondos and Fulbes in the west, and the Fulanis in the north. The Baka Pygmies live in the southeast, surviving by hunting and fishing ( Overall, Cameroon’s ethnic groups are as follows: Source:
Cameroon’s natural resources of oil, natural gas, timber, iron ore and other minerals, as well as its favorable agricultural conditions have allowed the country to be one of the better primary commodity economies in sub-Saharan Africa. Yet unemployment was estimated at 30% more than 30% with a third of the population living below the international poverty threshold of $1.25 per day. The country’s GDP – real growth rate of 5.1% ranks #52 in the world, but #189 in the world for GDP – per capita. As out of sync the GDP – per capita is with the GDP – real growth rate, Cameroon’s GDP per capita is actually one of the 10 highest in sub-Saharan Africa, simply because it’s far far worse in the other countries. Cameroon faces the same conditions which exist unfortunately in many other underdeveloped countries: stagnant per capita income, inequitable distribution of income, and a generally unfavorable climate for business growth and development (
Since 1990, the government has been working with IMF and the World Bank to try to create business investments, improve trade, and increase agricultural efficiency. Presently Cameroon has several large infrastructure programs underway, including a deep sea port in Kirbi, the Lom Pangar Hydropower Project, and a natural gas powered electricity generating plant ("Cameroon Business Mission Fact Sheet 2010-2011"). The government has also taken measures to increase tourism in the country. We tend to think of Kenya or South Africa as being the magnet for wildlife tourism in Africa, yet it may surprise most people to learn that Cameroon has 7 national parks and Waza National Park is its most famous one with numerous elephants, lion, giraffe, antelope and birdlife and has some of the richest flora and fauna found in Africa.
Since embarking on the programs with the IMF and World Bank, Cameroon has been enjoying a steady economic growth and strong economic performance in the last decade. It has reduced its public debt and quadrupled its official reserves. Since Cameroon’s natural resources are well suited for agriculture, agricultural productivity is central to Cameroon’s export industry. About 70% of its agriculture comprise an estimate 19.8% of its GDP in 2009. On the coast, soils and climate encourage extensive commercial cultivation of bananas, cocoa, oil palm, rubber, and tea. Inland, in the plateau, the cash crops grown are coffee, sugar, and tobacco. Cameroon does not have considerable oil reserves like the other sub-Saharan countries, yet it exports a major share of its petroleum production and this sector also owns a major share in the total export volume. Based on 2009 estimates, Cameroon has a total export volume in excess of US$4.8 billion, with Spain leading as its export partner (at 19.4% share), followed by Italy, US, France, and the Netherlands. Other major export items are lumber, cocoa, aluminum, cotton, and the aforementioned cash crops. Factory-based industry accounted for an estimated 29.7% of GDP in 2009. The country ranks #110 in the export of merchandising, and #126 in the export of commercial services (
Cameroon is a member of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community - Communauté Économique et Monétaire de l'Afrique Centrale (CEMAC), along with the Central African Republic, Chad, the Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon. Barring a few exceptions, Cameroon’s customs tariffs are based on the CEMAC common external tariff (CET), which are ad valorem. The CEMAC CET is applied on the c.i.f. (cost, insurance, freight) value. There is also an 18.7% Value Added Tax applied on the c.i.f. An Excise Tax (indirect tax on consumption goods) of 25% on c.i.f. may also apply for specific categories of goods (
The World Trade Organization (WTO) published two Secretariat reports on Cameroon's trade policies and practices. In 1995 it reported that Cameroon's comprehensive macroeconomic and structural reform programme has gone a long way towards reversing the country's previous inward-looking anti-export policies ( In 2001 it reported that Cameroon has improved its economic performance due mainly to the implementation of structural reforms such as economic liberalization and privatization. However, it still needs to improve its infrastructure and diversify its exports – many of which are cash crops vulnerable to price changes – and also increase its participation in the multilateral trading system to provide a more secure environment to attract foreign investment ( In my search I could not find another more recent publication of the WTO for Cameroon’s trade policies and practices.
The conservative think tank Heritage Foundation defines trade freedom as “a composite measure of the absence of tariff and non-tariff barriers that affect imports and exports of goods and services”, the measure being calculated according to a mathematical formula ( trade-freedom). According to the Heritage Foundation, Cameroon’s score is 51.9, ranking it as #146 in the world, and #35 out of 46 countries in sub-Saharan Africa in the 2015 index, and 0.7 points worse than last year, with declines in labor freedom, business freedom, property rights, and trade freedom outweighing improvements in monetary freedom and freedom from corruption. The analysis argues that Cameroon has made little progress in capitalizing on reform momentum and the oil and commodity boom has lessened the pressured for needed fiscal changes ( cameroon).
Analysis and Conclusion
Politics and economics are remain the primary challenges facing the Cameroonian government and its people. Institutional reforms are needed to continue to tackle Cameroon’s government corruption, nepotism, cronyism, and the lack of an independent judiciary. The economy is also overly dependent on commodity exports and subject to burdensome regulation. The country’s challenge is to find ways to diversify its exports and its source of GDP revenue. One idea would be, as mentioned earlier, to promote tourism which is a very good possibility since the country has 7 national parks which is still little to lesser known to the world unlike Kenya’s and South Africa’s wildlife tourism.
Also, while Cameroon compared with so many other sub-Saharan African countries, has enjoyed relative internal peace (or lack of civil war), this has been precariously held through decades of political repression and human rights abuses in order to create a docile citizenry that has become so used to it that they fear changing their government to something else. Yet, this is changing because the Paul Biya is in his 80s and his health has been a concern. There is also a growing potential of social unrest because of rising public frustration with perceptions of weak improvement in living standards. Presently the Cameroonian security forces are also at war with the terrorist group Boko Haram which has attacked and infiltrated villages along the Cameroon-Nigerian border. Cameroon now hosts approximately 35,000 refugees from the Central African Republic which has been impacted by Boko Haram’s activities. Such political conditions no doubt will adversely impact Cameroon’s peace and stability, and ultimately its economy since no business will invest in a country at war.
It helps that Cameroon has a strong ally in, and enjoys great economic cooperation with Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia Ambassador Mohammed Bin Suliman Almusher said that his country has been contributing to the development of Cameroon by financing economic and social development projects, particularly in energy, transport, training, agriculture and infrastructure. Further, both countries have a vested interest in staying committed to fighting terrorist groups like Boko Haram in Africa and Al Qaeda and ISIS in the Arabia Peninsula and the Middle East. Saudi Arabia has also welcomed many Cameroonians to study at their universities, ostensibly these are Muslim students. While the Cameroonian students study various subjects, many also travel to Saudi Arabia to study traditional Islam, which has been branded as “Wahabbi” form of Islam. While the traditional form of Islam practised in Cameroon has been largely influenced by Sufi groups or movements, the Saudi trained Islamic students who return to Cameroon are finding themselves in conflict with a form of Islam practised that is at odds, if not in some contravention of orthodox Islamic teachings. This, according to a Cameroonian blogger, is creating tensions not only amongst Cameroonian Muslims – those who follow more traditional or Sufi teachings versus those who follow more orthodox or Wahabbi eachings – but also between Christian Cameroonians and Muslim Cameroonians who until now have been in relative peaceful co-existence.
Clearly, from many standpoints, Cameroon remains one of the most interesting African countries to observe over the next decade. Will Biya be eventually replaced by a new leader because of ill health, death, or because true democracy at the polls finally prevailed? And, if so, how will the new leader rule the country? Will he (or she) allow the tens of media outlets and hundreds of political parties in existence really play their role to promote freedom of speech, democracy at the polls, and government transparency? Or will he (or she) be the same, or worse, than Biya? Will the country eventually diversify its GDP revenue by promoting tourism as its goal ( And, how successful will it be in fighting Boko Haram and containing the extremist movement within sub-Saharan Africa? And to what extent will countries like Saudi Arabia aid in Cameroon’s efforts in this area? Last but not least, what will be the future of ethnic relations between Christians and Muslims, and amongst the diverse Muslim population within Cameroon? These are all interesting questions which can only be answered with time and observation.

"Cameroon: Government". Michigan State University: Broad College of Business. Retrieved 12 April 2013.
"Cameroon Business Mission Fact Sheet 2010-2011". Netherlands-African Business Council. 2011.
DeLancey, Mark W. and DeLancey, Mark Dike (2000). Historical Dictionary of the Republic of Cameroon (3rd ed.). Lanham, Maryland: The Scarecrow Press.
Fanso, V. G. (1989). Cameroon History for Secondary Schools and Colleges, Vol. 1: From Prehistoric Times to the Nineteenth Century. Hong Kong: Macmillan Education Ltd., p. 84.
Mbaku, John Mukum (2005). Culture and Customs of Cameroon. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press.
Neba, Aaron (1999). Modern Geography of the Republic of Cameroon (3rd ed.). Bamenda: Neba Publishers.
Pondi, J. E. (1997). "Cameroon and the Commonwealth of nations". The Round Table 86(344): 563–570.
Terretta, M. (2010). "Cameroonian Nationalists Go Global: From Forest Maquis to a Pan-African Accra". The Journal of African History 51 (2).
West, Ben (2004). Cameroon: The Bradt Travel Guide. Guilford, Connecticut: The Globe Pequot Press.

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