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 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 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 (183,568 sq mi). Yaoundé is the capital, and Douala is the largest city.
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 (4095 m/14,435 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 4060 mm (about 160 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° C (70° F), and in the north it is 32° 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, antelope, lions, and elephants, as well as numerous species of birds and snakes.
The economy of Cameroon is dependent primarily on its agricultural and timber resources, although receipts from petroleum reserves constitute a primary source of government revenue. High-yield deposits of bauxite exist in northern Cameroon. A significant reserve of natural gas is found near Douala, but it remains unexploited. A small amount of gold is mined. Hydroelectric potential is significant; the largest power station is at Edéa, 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 (1995 estimate) is about 13,275,000. The overall population density is about 28 persons per sq km (72 per sq mi).
The capital is Yaoundé (population, 1991 estimate, 649,000). Douala, on the Bight of Biafra, with an estimated population of 810,000, is the chief port. Other principal towns include Nkongsamba (130,000), Maroua (123,000), Bafoussam (113,000), and Foumban (1985 estimate, 50,100). About 25 percent of the population adheres to traditional religions; about 22 percent of the population is Muslim; the remaining majority is Christian. Muslims predominate in the north and Christians in the south. Cameroon contains about 200 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.
Cameroon has achieved one of the highest rates of school attendance in Africa, although the literacy rate is still just 54 percent. Mission schools play an important role in education and are partly subsidized by the government. In the early 1990s total annual enrollment in primary and preprimary schools was about 2.1 million, and in secondary schools, about 410,000. The University of Yaoundé, which was established in 1962, has faculties of law, arts, and science. A total of more than 64,500 students are enrolled in institutions of higher education.
While agricultural activities are the main occupation of about 60 percent of the population of Cameroon, petroleum products constitute more than half of all exports. In the early 1990s the estimated national budget showed revenues of about $1.7 billion and expenditures of about $2.4 billion annually.
The principal commercial crops in Cameroon are cacao, coffee, tobacco, cotton, and bananas. In the early 1990s yearly production of cacao and coffee, the leading agricultural export commodities, was about 94,000 metric tons for the former and 85,000 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 early 1990s the livestock population included 4.7 million head of cattle, 3.6 million goats, 3.6 million sheep, and 1.4 million pigs.
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 early 1990s amounted to some 14.6 million cu m (515 million cu ft). Fishing is dominated by freshwater subsistence activity. However, deep-sea fishing activity is increasing, especially from the port of Douala. About 78,000 metric tons of fish are caught annually.
Mining and Manufacturing
One of the largest single industrial enterprises in Cameroon is the aluminum smelting plant at Edéa, which produces about 92,000 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 on the coast at Limboh Point. Cameroon's output of crude petroleum, mostly for export, reached 61 million barrels a year during the early 1990s. 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 (592.1 CFA francs equal U.S.$1; 1994). An exchange rate of 50 CFA francs equal to 1 French franc was in force until 1994, when the CFA franc was devalued by 50 percent. 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 early 1990s, Cameroon's annual exports earned an estimated $1.8 billion while imports cost about $1.2 billion. France, the United States, and the Netherlands are leading partners for exports; France and Germany are leading partners for imports.
Transportation and Communications
Of the approximately 70,050 km (approximately 43,530 mi) of roads, about 11 percent are paved. Unpaved roads are frequently impassable during the rainy season. The country has 1104 km (about 686 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; three other international airports and many smaller airfields exist. The national radio and television broadcasting system has its headquarters at Yaoundé and local radio stations in Douala, Garoua, and Buea. In the early 1990s about 1.7 million radios, 279,000 television sets, and 51,000 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 five-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 ten provinces.
Legislative power in Cameroon is vested in the unicameral National Assembly, which consists of 180 members elected to five-year terms. The leading political party is the Cameroon People's Democratic Movement, founded in 1966 as the National Cameroonian Union and renamed in 1985.
The judicial system of Cameroon is largely based 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 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 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 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 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 was federated with the Republic of Cameroon in October 1961, while the Northern Cameroons joined Nigeria.
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 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 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 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.
Early in 1994 a border dispute arose between Nigeria and Cameroon after Nigerian troops invaded Cameroonian territory in the petroleum-rich Bakassi Peninsula. The Cameroonian government filed a complaint with the International Court of Justice and the two nations started negotiations in March. Nigerian troops led a surprise attack on the region in September, leaving 10 Cameroonian soldiers dead.