central Africa, bounded on the north by Lake Chad; on the east by Chad and
the Central African Republic; on the south by the Congo, Gabon, and
Equatorial Guinea; and on the west by the Bight of Bonny (an arm of the
Atlantic Ocean) and Nigeria. The country is shaped like an elongated
triangle, and forms a bridge between western Africa and central Africa.
Until 1972 the republic was divided into two states, East Cameroon, the
former French Cameroons, and West Cameroon, part of the former British
Cameroons. The country has a total area of 475,442 sq km (183,569 sq
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 Massif, a plateau
region with elevations reaching about 1370 m (about 4500 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 Mount Cameroon (4069
m/13,350 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 Mbé²© 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 3890 mm (about 153 in). On the
exposed slopes of the Cameroon Mountains in the west, rainfall is almost
constant and sometimes reaches 10,160 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 21.1? C (70? F), and
in the north it is 32.2? C (90? F).
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 and snakes.
Cameroon is dependent
primarily on its agricultural and timber resources. High-yield deposits of
bauxite exist in northern Cameroon. Natural gas is found near Douala, and
offshore deposits of petroleum are exploited. A small amount of gold is
mined. Hydroelectric potential is significant; the largest power station
is at Edé¡¬ on the Sanaga River.
The majority of the
people are farmers who live in small towns or villages in southern and
central Cameroon. Seminomadic herders inhabit the north.
The population of Cameroon (1993 estimate) was
12,775,883. The overall population density was 27 persons per sq km (69
per sq mi).
The capital is Yaounde (population, 1981 estimate,
435,900). Douala, on the Bight of Bonny, with an estimated population of
637,000, is the chief port. Other principal towns include Nkongsamba
(86,900), Maroua (81,900), Bafoussam (75,800) and Foumban (41,400). Less
than one quarter of the population adheres to traditional religions; about
20 percent of the population is Muslim; the remainder is Christian.
Muslims predominate in the north and Christians in the south. Cameroon
contains about 140 ethnic groups who speak 24 major 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.
principles of education predominate in Cameroon's secondary and technical
schools. Mission schools play an important role in education and are
partly subsidized by the government. In the late 1980s total annual
enrollment in primary schools was about 1,723,000, and in secondary
schools, about 288,500. The University of Yaoundé¬ which was established
in 1962, has faculties of law, arts, and science. A total of more than
19,500 students are enrolled in institutions of higher
Agricultural activities are the main
occupation of the vast majority of the population of Cameroon.
Agricultural and forestry products constitute more than half of all
exports. In the late 1980s the estimated national budget showed revenues
of about $2.1 billion and expenditures of about $2.2 billion
The principal commercial crops in
Cameroon are coffee, cacao, tobacco, cotton, and bananas. In the late
1980s yearly production of coffee and cacao, the leading export
commodities, amounted to about 138,000 metric tons for the former and
130,000 metric tons for the latter. Other commercial products include
rubber, palm products, and sugarcane. Subsistence crops include plantains,
sweet potatoes, cassava, corn, and millet.
Livestock raising is
important in the Adamawa Massif region. In the late 1980s the livestock
population included 4.5 million head of cattle, 2.9 million goats, 1.2
million pigs, and 2.9 million sheep.
Forestry and Fishing
Timber is traditionally one of Cameroon's most valuable exports,
consisting mainly of mahogany, ebony, and teak. The annual timber cut in
the late 1980s amounted to some 12.4 million cu m (438 million cu ft).
Fishing is dominated by freshwater subsistence activity. Deep-sea fishing
activity, however, is increasing, especially from the port of Douala.
About 82,500 metric tons of fish are caught annually.
One of the largest single industrial enterprises in
Cameroon is the aluminum smelting plant at Edé¡¬ which produces more than
80,000 metric tons annually from imported bauxite. The processing of
agricultural products, however, dominates industrial activity; other
manufactures include textiles, fertilizers, and cement. Offshore petroleum
exploitation began in the late 1970s, and an oil refinery has been built.
Cameroon's output of crude petroleum, mostly for export, reached 64.6
million barrels a year during the late 1980s. Small amounts of gold and
tin concentrates are also produced.
Currency, Banking, and Commerce
The unit of currency of Cameroon is the CFA franc, consisting of 100
centimes (286.4 CFA francs equal U.S.$1; 1990). 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 five Central African states. In
the late 1980s, Cameroon's annual exports earned $275 million, while
imports cost $378 million. France, the Netherlands, and the United States
are the leading trade partners.
Transportation and Communications
Of the approximately 52,215 km (approximately 32,425 mi) of roads,
about 6 percent are paved. Unpaved roads are frequently impassable during
the rainy season. The country has nearly 1200 km (nearly 750 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 airport is at Douala; a number of smaller
airfields exist. The national radio and television broadcasting system has
its headquarters at Yaoundé ¡nd local radio stations in Douala, Garoua,
and Buea. In the late 1980s about 1 million radio receivers, 5000
television sets and 61,600 telephones were in use.
Cameroon is governed under a constitution promulgated in 1972 and
subsequently revised. The president of the republic is chief of state and
commander of the armed forces and is elected to a 5-year term by universal
suffrage. The federal ministers, incuding the prime minister, are
appointed by the president and by statute are not permitted to be members
of the legislature. The president also appoints the governors of the 10
Legislative power in Cameroon is vested
in the unicameral National Assembly, which consists of 180 members elected
to 5-year terms. The leading political party is the Democratic Rally of
the Cameroonian People (1966).
The judicial system of
Cameroon is largely based on the French system with an admixture of
elements from the British system. The highest judicial body is the supreme
court. Other courts are the appeals courts, regional courts, and
The coast of present-day Cameroon
was explored late in the 15th century by the Portuguese, who named the
estuary to the south of Mount Cameroon Rio das Camer?(?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
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 Great 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
After World War II ended in 1945, the
mandates were made trust territories of the United Nations. 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 United Nations in September 1960.
year the UN sponsored a plebiscite in the British Cameroons. As a result,
the Southern Cameroons was federated with the Republic of Cameroon in
October 1961, while the Northern Cameroons joined
Rebellion and Unity
When Cameroon became independent,
President Ahidjo's government was faced with a rebellion incited by the
Cameroon 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
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 change the country's
name to the Republic of Cameroon. Biya suppressed a coup attempt that
In late August 1986, an explosive discharge of gas from a
volcanic lake near the Nigerian border killed more than 1700 people;
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.
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