The country sometimes referred to as the "hinge of Africa."
Cameroons's major environmental issues include:
- waterborne diseases are prevalent;
- poaching; and.
It is susceptible to volcanic activity with periodic releases of poisonous gases from Lake Nyos and Lake Monoun volcanoes.
Throughout the country there are areas of thermal springs and indications of current or prior volcanic activity. Mount Cameroon, the highest mountain in Sub-Saharan west Africa, is an active volcano.
French Cameroon became independent in 1960 as the Republic of Cameroon. The following year the southern portion of neighboring British Cameroon voted to merge with the new country to form the Federal Republic of Cameroon.
In 1972, a new constitution replaced the federation with a unitary state, the United Republic of Cameroon.
The country has generally enjoyed stability, which has permitted the development of agriculture, roads, and railways, as well as a petroleum industry.
Despite slow movement toward democratic reform, political power remains firmly in the hands of President Paul Biya.
Geographic Coordinates: 6 00 N, 12 00 E
Area: 475,440 km2 (469,440 km2 land and 6,000 km2 water)
arable land: 12.54%
permanent crops: 2.52%
other: 84.94% (2005)
Joint Border Commission with Nigeria reviewed a 2002 International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruling on the entire boundary and bilaterally resolved differences, including June 2006 Greentree Agreement that immediately ceded sovereignty of the Bakassi Peninsula to Cameroon with a full phase-out of Nigerian control and patriation of residents in 2008.
There is sovereignty dispute between Equatorial Guinea and Cameroon over an island at the mouth of the Ntem River.
Only Nigeria and Cameroon have heeded the Lake Chad Commission's admonition to ratify the delimitation treaty, which also includes the Chad-Niger and Niger-Nigeria boundaries.
Coastline: 402 km
territorial sea: 12 nm
contiguous zone: 24 nm
Cameroon and Nigeria agreed on maritime delimitation in March 2008.
Natural Hazards: volcanic activity with periodic releases of poisonous gases from Lake Nyos and Lake Monoun volcanoes
Volcanism: Mt. Cameroon (elev. 4,095 m), which last erupted in 2000, is the most frequently active volcano in West Africa; lakes in Oku volcanic field have released fatal levels of gas on occasion, killing some 1,700 people in 1986
Terrain: Diverse, with coastal plain in southwest, dissected plateau in center, mountains in west, plains in north. Its lowest point is the Atlantic Ocean (0 metres) and its highest point is Fako on Mount Cameroon (4,095 metres)
Climate: Varies with terrain, from tropical along coast to semiarid and hot in north.
Source: The Map Library/NASA
Topography of Cameroon. Source: Wikimedia Commons
Lake Nyos is a crater lake on the flank of an inactive volcano. Magma beneath the lake leaks carbon dioxide into the waters. In 1986, the lake emitted a large cloud of carbon dioxide that suffocated nearly 1,800 people and some 3,500 livestock in nearby villages.
Ecology and Biodiversity
See also: Dja Faunal Reserve
People and Society
Cameroon's estimated 250 ethnic groups form 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 regions--around Buea and Bamenda--use standard English and "pidgin," as well as their local languages. In the three northern regions--Adamawa, 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 among the most fertile regions 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 regions, 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: 20,129,878 (July 2012 est.)
Ethnic groups: Cameroon Highlanders 31%, Equatorial Bantu 19%, Kirdi 11%, Fulani 10%, Northwestern Bantu 8%, Eastern Nigritic 7%, other African 13%, non-African less than 1%
0-14 years: 40.5% (male 4,027,381/female 3,956,219)
15-64 years: 56.2% (male 5,564,570/female 5,505,857)
65 years and over: 3.3% (male 300,929/female 356,335) (2011 est.)
Population Growth Rate: 2.082% (2012 est.)
Birthrate: 32.49 births/1,000 population (2012 est.)
Death Rate: 11.66 deaths/1,000 population (July 2012 est.)
Net Migration Rate: 0 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2012 est.)
Life Expectancy at Birth: 54.71 years
male: 53.82 years
female: 55.63 years (2012 est.)
Total Fertility Rate: 4.09 children born/woman (2012 est.)
Languages: 24 major African language groups, English (official), French (official)
Literacy: 67.9% (male: 77% - female: 59.8% [2001 est.])
Urbanization: 58% of total population (2010) growing at an annual rate of change of 3.3% (2010-15 est.)
The earliest inhabitants of Cameroon were probably the Bakas (Pygmies). They still inhabit the forests of the South and East regions. 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 Duala (Douala) and later Buea and then Jaunde (present day 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 administered the rest from Yaounde. Britain's territory--a strip bordering Nigeria from the sea to Lake Chad, with an equal population--was governed 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 deaths 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, became President of the federation in 1961. Ahidjo, relying on a pervasive internal security apparatus, outlawed all political parties but his own (the Cameroon National Union, CNU) in 1966. He successfully suppressed the UPC rebellion, capturing the last high-ranking rebel leader in 1970. In 1972, Ahidjo introduced a new constitution, which 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 attempt. Biya won single-candidate elections in 1984 and 1988 and flawed multiparty elections in 1992, 1997, 2004, and 2011. His Cameroon People's Democratic Movement (CPDM) party, formerly the CNU, holds a sizeable majority in the legislature following 2007 elections--153 deputies out of a total of 180. The next parliamentary elections will take place in mid-2012.
The 1972 constitution (amended in 1996 and 2008) provides for a strong central government dominated by the executive. The president is empowered to name and dismiss cabinet members, judges, generals, regional 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, in the absence of a constitutionally mandated Constitutional 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 seldom makes major changes in legislation proposed by the executive. Laws are adopted by a majority vote of members present or, if the president demands a second reading, of 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 called for the establishment of a 100-member Senate as part of a bicameral legislature, the creation of regional councils, and the installation of a 7-year presidential term, renewable once. One-third of senators would be appointed by the president, and the remaining two-thirds would be chosen by indirect elections. As of October 2010, neither the Senate nor the regional council had been created. In April 2008, the National Assembly acceded to constitutional changes proposed by the presidency that, inter alia, removed presidential term limits and provided the president with immunity from prosecution for acts committed while in office.
All local government officials are employees of the central government's Ministry of Territorial Administration, from which local governments receive 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. 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.
Each of Cameroon's national elections has been 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 and July 2007, 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 U.S. Embassy. The incumbent, Paul Biya, was re-elected with 72% of the vote. NEO reported that it was satisfied with the conduct of the election but noted some irregularities and problems with voter registration. The U.S. 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 U.S. Embassy provided monitors for the July 2007 parliamentary and municipal elections and concurred with the analysis of other observers and diplomatic missions, who noted some improvements but persistent flaws, especially in the registration of voters and the prevention of voter fraud.
In December 2006, the President enacted the law creating Elections Cameroon (ELECAM), an independent body in principle that is responsible for the organization, management, and supervision of all election operations and referendums. In December 2008, Biya appointed 12 members to the ELECAM Council, 10 of whom were from the President’s CPDM party. This weakened public confidence in the commission that lingered even beyond the President’s 2011 appointment of six additional members from civil society. In 2010 and 2011, the National Assembly amended legislation in order to allow overseas voting and to permit political parties to play a more significant role in the electoral process, notably at the level of the various commissions that will govern voter registration, vote count, and disputes. The amendment also empowered the Directorate General of Elections, the technical branch of ELECAM. These important reforms notwithstanding, the 2011 presidential elections suffered from many of the same problems related to registration, indelible ink, allegations of multiple voting, and other irregularities. Again, international observers did not consider the results to be significant to the outcome. Biya won with approximately 78% of the vote.
Cameroon has a number of private newspapers, radio stations, and private television stations. Censorship was officially abolished in 1996, but the government has on occasion seized or suspended newspapers, radio stations, and television stations. Because libel is a criminal (rather than civil) offense, journalists are occasionally imprisoned for articles that are critical of the government or senior government officials.
Radio and television continue to be a virtual monopoly of the state-owned broadcaster, the Cameroon Radio-Television Corporation (CRTV). However, there are several independent television stations and many more regional private radio stations, although many are owned by or financed by parliamentarians, mayors, or party officials.
Since the issuance of the decree authorizing the creation of private radio and television on April 3, 2000, only two stations have received a license from the government. Licensing fees are more than $100,000 for radio stations and $200,000 for television stations, which many in the press consider exorbitant.
There are a dozen community radio stations created and supported by the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and local councils, 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.
Despite strong civil rights on the books, the government recurrently infringes upon rights and liberties in practice. Discrimination against women, homosexuals and indigenous peoples is pervasive. There is very little distinction between the CPDM party and the Cameroonian Government, and the government uses patronage and intimidation to limit political debate. Similarly, the rights to assemble and of association are often curtailed according to ideology and political alignment. The public’s ability to seek recourse from the courts remains minimal due to insufficient resources and physical access, and corruption. Government prisons are at times life-threatening, plagued by overcrowding, poor sanitation, and corruption by security forces. Reports of torture, excessive force, unlawful arrests and detention, and unlawful killings by police and security forces persist, although the GRC has made some progress in holding security officials accountable. The government has made some strides to address human trafficking and forced labor.
Government Type: republic; multiparty presidential regime
Capital: Yaounde - 1.739 million (2009)
Other Major Cities: Douala 2.053 million (2009)
Administrative Divisions: 10 regions (regions, singular - region);
Independence Date: 1 January 1960 (from French-administered UN trusteeship)
Legal System: mixed legal system of English common law, French civil law, and customary law. Cameroon accepts compulsory International Court of Justice (ICJ) jurisdiction; but is a non-party state to the International Criminal court (ICCt)
Suffrage: 20 years of age; universal
Source: Wikimedia Commons
International Environmental Agreements
Cameroon is party to international agreements on Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Endangered Species, Hazardous Wastes, Law of the Sea, Ozone Layer Protection, Tropical Timber 83, Tropical Timber 94, Wetlands, and Whaling.
Total Renewable Water Resources: 285.5 cu km (2003)
Freshwater Withdrawal: Total: 0.99 cu km/yr (18% domestic, 8% industrial, 74% agricultural).
Per capita Freshwater Withdrawal:: 61 cu m/yr (2000)
Access to improved sources of drinking water: 74% of population
Access to improved sanitation facilities: 47% of population
Agricultural Products: coffee, cocoa, cotton, rubber, bananas, oilseed, grains, root starches; livestock; timber
Irrigated Land: 260 sq km (2003)
Cameroon is endowed with an abundance of natural resources, including in the agricultural, mining, forestry, and oil and gas sectors. Cameroon is the commercial and economic leader in the sub-region, although regional trade, especially with Nigeria, remains under-realized.
Natural Resources: petroleum, bauxite, iron ore, timber, hydropower.
5.421 billion kWh
4.883 billion kWh
200 million bbl
(1 January 2011 est.)
20 million cu m
20 million cu m
0 cu m
0 cu m
135.1 billion cu m
(1 January 2011 est.)
|Source: CIA Factbook|
Because of its modest oil resources and favorable agricultural conditions, Cameroon has one of the best-endowed primary commodity economies in sub-Saharan Africa. Still, it faces many of the serious problems confronting other underdeveloped countries, such as stagnant per capita income, a relatively inequitable distribution of income, a top-heavy civil service, endemic corruption, and a generally unfavorable climate for business enterprise.
Subsidies for electricity, food, and fuel have strained the budget.
Cameroon is the commercial and economic leader in the sub-region, although regional trade, especially with Nigeria, remains under-realized.
Cameroon's economy is highly dependent on commodity exports, and swings in world prices strongly affect its growth. Cameroon's economic development has been impeded by economic mismanagement, pervasive corruption, and a challenging business environment (for local and foreign investors). Cameroon remains one of the lowest-ranked economies on the World Bank's annual Doing Business and similar surveys and regularly ranks among the most corrupt countries in the world. Over the last 3 years, GDP growth has averaged around 2%-3%, which is roughly on par with population growth but not enough to significantly reduce high poverty levels. Despite boasting a higher GDP per capita than either Senegal or Ghana, Cameroon lags behind these two countries in important socio-economic indicators, including health and education. The government has professed a determination to foster urgent economic growth and job creation, and there is a decided uptick in interest in the mining sector and infrastructure development, but it is not yet clear how well these promises will translate into improved performance.
New mining projects - in diamonds, for example - have attracted foreign investment, but large ventures will take time to develop.
Cameroon's business environment - one of the world's worst - is a deterrent to foreign investment.
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, including the government’s slashing of civil service salaries by 50% in 1993. The CFA franc--the common currency of Cameroon and 13 other African states--was devalued by 50% in January 1994. The conjunction of these two events meant an overall drop in purchasing power of nearly 65%. The government failed to meet the conditions of the first four IMF programs. A three-year Poverty Reduction and Growth Facility (PRGF) approved by the IMF in October 2005 ended in 2008. Cameroon has not negotiated any new IMF program but is continuing cooperation with the Fund under Article IV consultations. In 2009, the IMF disbursed $144 million to Cameroon under its Exogenous Shocks Facility to help with the effects of the global economic crisis. In 2010, Cameroon issued its first sovereign bond, raising, approximately $400 million for special projects.
Inflation remains low in Cameroon, as many basic commodities, including fuel and food items, are either subsidized or subject to government price controls. Public frustration over rising prices was partly to blame for an outbreak of social unrest and violence in many Cameroonian cities in February 2008. In March 2008, the government announced a reduction in food import tariffs and other measures designed to reduce the cost of basic commodities. The government also began subsidizing fuel at the retail level in 2008, leading to massive yearly government expenditures. Experts estimate the fuel subsidy will consume ten percent of the government budget in 2011. The global economic crisis has seriously impacted Cameroon’s oil, cotton, timber, and rubber sectors, depressing exports, growth, and overall consumption.
The European Union is Cameroon's main trading bloc, accounting for 41.1% of total imports and 55.1% of exports (vy value), according to government statistics. France and China are Cameroon's main trading partners, but the United States is a leading investor in Cameroon (largely through the Chad-Cameroon pipeline and energy provider AES Sonel). According to press reports, China recently became the number one importer of Cameroonian exports, especially unprocessed timber. U.S. exports to Cameroon were approximately $132 million, reflecting approximately 4% of total imports to Cameroon in 2010. Cameroonian exports to the United States, that same year, were approximately $297 million (or about 5.7% of total Cameroonian exports).
GDP (Purchasing Power Parity): $47.12 billion (2011 est.)
GDP (Official Exchange Rate): $25.8 billion (2011 est.)
GDP-per capita (PPP): $2,300 (2011 est.)
GDP-composition by sector:
services: 48.4% (2011 est.)
Population Below Poverty Line: 48% (2000 est.)
Industries: petroleum production and refining, aluminum production, food processing, light consumer goods, textiles, lumber, ship repair
Exports: crude oil and petroleum products, lumber, cocoa beans, aluminum, coffee, cotton
Imports: machinery, electrical equipment, transport equipment, fuel, food
Currency: Communaute Financiere Africaine franc (XAF)
Ports and Terminals: Douala, Limboh Terminal