Cameroon - Tips

Cameroon Bureau of African Affairs
June 2007

Background Note: Cameroon

Cameroon dancers perform in front of
the National Assembly in Yaounde,
Cameroon, July 7, 1996. [© AP Images]

Flag of Cameroon is three equal vertical bands of green on hoist side, red,
and yellow with a yellow five-pointed star centered in the red band.

PROFILE

OFFICIAL NAME:
Republic of Cameroon

Geography
Area: 475,000 sq. km. (184,000) sq. mi.), about the size of California.
Cities (2003 Census Bureau estimates): Capital--Yaounde (pop. 1,111,641).
Other major cities--Douala (1.3 million), Garoua (424,312), Maroua (409,546),
Bafoussam (319,457), Bamenda (321,490), Nkongsamba (166,262), and Ngaoundere
(216,300).
Terrain: Northern plains, central and western highlands, southern and coastal
tropical forests. Mt. Cameroon (13,353 ft.) in the southwest is the highest
peak in West Africa and the sixth in Africa.
Climate: Northern plains, the Sahel region--semiarid and hot (7-month dry
season); central and western highlands where Yaounde is located--cooler,
shorter dry season; southern tropical forest--warm, 4-month dry season;
coastal tropical forest, where Douala is located--warm, humid year-round.

People
Nationality: English noun and adjective--Cameroonian(s); French noun and
adjective--Camerounais(e).
Population (2007 est.): 18,060,382.
Annual growth rate (2007 est.): 2.241%.
Ethnic groups: About 250.
Religions: Christian 53%, Muslim 22%, indigenous African 25%.
Languages: French and English (both official) and about 270 African languages
and dialects, including pidgin, Fulfulde, and Ewondo.
Education: Compulsory between ages 6 and 14. Attendance--65%. Literacy--75%.
Health: Infant mortality rate (2007)--6.6%. Life expectancy (2007)--52.86
yrs.
Work force: Agriculture--70%. Industry and commerce--13%.

Government
Type: Republic; strong central government dominated by president.
Independence: January 1, 1960 (for areas formerly ruled by France) and
October 1, 1961 (for territory formerly ruled by Britain).
Constitution: June 2, 1972, last amended in January 1996.
Branches: Executive--president (chief of state), 7-yr. term, renewable once;
appointed prime minister (head of government). Legislative--unicameral
National Assembly (180 members, 5-yr. terms; meets briefly three times a
year--March, June, November); a new Senate is called for under constitutional
changes made in early 1996. Judicial--falls under the executive's Ministry of
Justice.
Administrative subdivisions: 10 provinces, 58 departments or divisions, 349
subprefectures or subdivisions.
Political parties: Cameroon People's Democratic Movement (CPDM) or its
predecessor parties have ruled since independence. Major opposition parties:
the Social Democratic Front (SDF), the National Union for Democracy and
Progress (NUDP), and the Cameroon Democratic Union (CDU).
Suffrage: Universal at 20.

Economy
GDP (2006): $16.37 billion.
Annual real GDP growth rate (2006): 4.1%.
Natural resources: Oil, timber, hydroelectric power, natural gas, cobalt,
nickel.
Agriculture (2006): 45.2% of GDP. Products--timber, coffee, tea, bananas,
cocoa, rubber, palm oil, pineapples, cotton. Arable land (2005 est.)--12.54%.
Industry (2006): 16.1% of GDP.
Services (2006): 38.7% of GDP.
Trade (2002): Exports--$1.8 billion (2002): crude oil, timber and finished
wood products, cotton, cocoa, aluminum and aluminum products, coffee, rubber,
bananas. Major markets--European Union, CEMAC, China, U.S., Nigeria
(informal). Imports--$1.9 billion (2002): crude oil, vehicles,
pharmaceuticals, aluminum oxide, rubber, foodstuffs and grains, agricultural
inputs, lubricants, used clothing. Major suppliers--France, Nigeria, Italy,
U.S., Germany, Belgium, Japan.

PEOPLE
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 provinces--around Buea
and Bamenda--use standard English and "pidgin," as well as their local
languages. In the three northern provinces--Adamaoua, 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 the most fertile 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 provinces, 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.

HISTORY
The earliest inhabitants of Cameroon were probably the Bakas (Pygmies). They
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. 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 Buea
and later at 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 ruled the rest from Yaounde. Britain's
territory--a strip bordering Nigeria from the sea to Lake Chad, with an equal
population--was ruled 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 death 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, was chosen President of the
federation in 1961. Ahidjo, relying on a pervasive internal security
apparatus, outlawed all political parties but his own in 1966. He
successfully suppressed the UPC rebellion, capturing the last important rebel
leader in 1970. In 1972, a new constitution 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. Biya 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. Elections for the National Assembly and for local governments are
scheduled for July 22, 2007, but preparations are not yet complete.

GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
The 1972 constitution as modified by 1996 reforms provides for a strong
central government dominated by the executive. The president is empowered to
name and dismiss cabinet members, judges, generals, provincial 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 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 has seldom, until
recently, made major changes in legislation proposed by the executive. Laws
are adopted by majority vote of members present or, if the president demands
a second reading, of a 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 call for the establishment of a 100-member Senate as part of a
bicameral legislature, the creation of regional councils, and the fixing of
the presidential term to 7 years, renewable once. One-third of senators are
to be appointed by the president, and the remaining two-thirds are to be
chosen by indirect elections. As of September 2005, the government had not
established the Senate or regional councils.

All local government officials are employees of the central government's
Ministry of Territorial Administration, from which local governments also get
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 followed by municipal elections
in 1996 and another round of legislative and presidential elections in 1997.
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. All of these
elections were 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,
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 US Embassy. NEO reported
that it was satisfied with the conduct of the election but noted some
irregularities and problems with voter registration. The US 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 incumbent, Paul Biya, was re-elected with 70.92 per
cent of the vote. Cameroon has a number of independent newspapers. Censorship
was abolished in 1996, but the government sometimes seizes or suspends
newspapers. Mutation, the only private daily newspaper in Cameroon, was
seized on April 14, 2003 after the paper published articles on "Life after
Biya." Occasionally the government arrests journalists.

Radio and television continue to be a virtual monopoly of the state-owned
broadcaster, the Cameroon Radio-Television Corporation (CRTV), despite the
effective liberalization of radio and television in 2000. Since the issuance
of the decree authorizing the creation of private radio and television on
April 3, 2000, not a single station has received a license from the
government, though many have applied and are currently operating while their
applications are pending. There are some 15 such private radio stations
broadcasting in Yaounde, Douala, Bafoussam, Bamenda, and Limbe; their
existence is tolerated by the government. Magic FM, a private radio station
in Yaounde, and a Voice of America (VOA) affiliate, was shut down in 2003
after carrying controversial reports and critical commentaries on the regime,
but was later reopened. There are a dozen community radio stations supported
by the UN Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) 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. The sole private television station--TV Max--broadcasts only in
the economic capital of Douala.

The Cameroonian Government's human rights record has been improving over the
years but remains flawed. There continue to be reported abuses, including
beatings of detainees, arbitrary arrests, and illegal searches. The judiciary
is frequently corrupt, inefficient, and subject to political influence.

Principal Government Officials
President--Paul Biya
President of the National Assembly--Djibril Cavaye Yeguie
Prime Minister--Ephraim Inoni
Ambassador to the United States--Jerome Mendouga
Ambassador to the United Nations--Martin Belinga

Cameroon maintains an embassy in the United States at 2349 Massachusetts
Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel.: 202-265-8790).

ECONOMY
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; the government slashed civil
service salaries by 65% in 1993. The CFA franc--the common currency of
Cameroon and 13 other African states--was devalued by 50% in January 1994.
The government failed to meet the conditions of the first four IMF programs.

In December 2000, the IMF approved a 3-year Enhanced Structural Adjustment
Facility (ESAF) program worth $133.7 million to reduce poverty and improve
social services. The successful completion of the program will allow Cameroon
to receive $2 billion in debt relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor
Countries (HIPC) Initiative. Pursuant to the initiative, the IMF is requiring
the Cameroonian Government to enhance its macroeconomic planning and
financial accountability; continue efforts to privatize the remaining
non-financial parastatal enterprises; increase price competition in the
banking sector; improve the judicial system; and implement good governance
practices.

In late August 2003, the Board of Directors of both the IMF and World Bank
approved Cameroon's Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) with high marks.
The paper integrated the main points of the Millennium Development Goal,
which outlined Cameroon's priorities in alleviating poverty and undertaking
strong macroeconomic commitments in the short and long term. By late summer
2004 Cameroon had met most of its PRGF targets. A lackluster performance in
the fiscal arena, however, led the country off track and resulted in Cameroon
not achieving the HIPC completion point. Negotiations are currently underway
to create a new program so Cameroon can eventually qualify for HIPC debt
forgiveness.

The privatization program has lagged because of legal and political
obstacles; difficult negotiations with the government on issues such as sale
price, financial disclosure, tax arrears, and overlapping debts; and in some
cases, a lack of willing buyers.

The most noticeable recent problem involves the privatization of CamAir, the
government-owned airline. In the response to a public request for proposals,
a willing buyer which met the published criteria was in fact available, but
the government decided it wanted to adopt a totally different approach, and
selected another firm which did not meet the original specifications. This
new proposal, if ultimately adopted, might well result in better service and
more revenue, but the procedures for changing the requested proposals were
anything but transparent.

France is Cameroon's main trading partner and source of private investment
and foreign aid. Cameroon has a bilateral investment treaty with the United
States. In addition to existing investment in the oil sector, U.S. investment
in Cameroon, estimated at over $1 million, is progressively growing due
primarily to both construction of the Chad-Cameroon pipeline and cobalt and
nickel mining.

For further information on Cameroon's economic trends, trade, or investment
climate, contact the International Trade Administration, U.S. Department of
Commerce, Washington, DC 20230 and/or the Commerce Department district office
in any local federal building.

DEFENSE
The Cameroonian military generally has been an apolitical force dominated by
civilian control. Traditional dependence on the French defense capability,
although reduced, continues. French military advisers remain closely involved
in preparing the Cameroonian forces for deployment to the Bakassi Peninsula,
where there is a contested border with Nigeria. The armed forces number
approximately 28,000 personnel in ground, air, and naval forces, the majority
being the army and naval ground forces.

Cameroon's goal is to develop a military with the capacity to contribute to
peacekeeping efforts. While equipment needs pose a significant challenge,
Cameroonian officers are already receiving training both in Africa and
abroad, for example in Italy and the U.S.

FOREIGN RELATIONS
Cameroon's noncontentious, low-profile approach to foreign relations puts it
squarely in the middle of other African and developing country states on
major issues. It supports the principles of noninterference in the affairs of
third countries and increased assistance to underdeveloped countries.
Cameroon is an active participant in the United Nations, where its voting
record demonstrates its commitment to causes that include international
peacekeeping, the rule of law, environmental protection, and Third World
economic development. In the UN and other human rights fora, Cameroon's
nonconfrontational approach has generally led it to avoid criticizing other
countries. Cameroon's position on the UN Security Council, in the Africa
rotational seat since January 2002, ended December 2003.

Cameroon enjoys good relations with the United States and other developed
countries. It has particularly close ties with France, with whom it has
numerous military, economic, and cultural agreements. China has a number of
health and infrastructure projects underway in Cameroon, and it has also
pledged $1 million in military aid. Cameroon enjoys generally good relations
with its African neighbors. Cameroon has successfully resolved its border
dispute with Nigeria in the oil-rich Bakassi Peninsula through peaceful legal
means after having submitted the case to the International Court of Justice
(ICJ). With the support of the UN, both countries are working closely
together to peacefully implement the ICJ ruling, and a genuine peaceful
turnover of the peninsula by Nigeria has begun. Roughly 5,000 Nigerians have
moved back into Nigeria thus far. Cameroon is a member of CEMAC (Economic and
Monetary Community of Central Africa) and supports UN peacekeeping activities
in Central Africa.

U.S.-CAMEROONIAN RELATIONS
U.S.-Cameroonian relations are close, although from time to time they have
been affected by concerns over human rights abuses and the pace of political
and economic liberalization. The bilateral U.S. Agency for International
Development (USAID) program in Cameroon closed for budgetary reasons in 1994.

However, approximately 140 Peace Corps volunteers continue to work
successfully in agroforestry, community development, education, and health.
The Public Affairs section of the U.S. Embassy in Yaounde organizes and funds
diverse cultural, educational, and information exchanges. It maintains a
library and helps foster the development of Cameroon's independent press by
providing information in a number of areas, including U.S. human rights and
democratization policies. The Embassy's Self-help and Democracy and Human
Rights Funds are some of the largest in Africa.

Through several State Department and USAID regional funds, the Embassy also
provides funds for: refugees, HIV/AIDS, democratization and girl's
scholarships. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) provided a commodity
grant valued at $6 million in 2003 to fund agricultural development projects
in the North and Far North provinces. A similar program for $4 million was
approved in 2004. The program will fund an agricultural development and
nutrition enhancement project in the East and Adamawa provinces.

The United States and Cameroon work together in the United Nations and a
number of other multilateral organizations. While in the UN Security Council
in 2002, Cameroon worked closely with the United States on a number of
initiatives. The U.S. Government continues to provide substantial funding for
international financial institutions, such as the World Bank, IMF, and
African Development Bank, that provide financial and other assistance to
Cameroon.

Principal U.S. Officials
Ambassador--R. Niels Marquardt
Deputy Chief of Mission--Richard Nelson
Management Officer--Charles F. Werderman
Public Affairs Officer--Judith Ravin
Political/Economic/Commercial Officer --Katherine Brucker
Defense Attache'--Major Matthew Sousa
Peace Corps Director--Robert Strauss
Consular Officer--William Swaney

The U.S. Embassy in Cameroon has moved from its previous downtown Yaounde
location to a New Embassy Compound adjacent to the golf course at the base of
the Mont Fébé. The new Embassy Chancery contacts are: Tel: (237) 220 15 00/
Fax: (237) 220 16 20 while the Consular Section can be reached directly at
Tel: (237) 220 16 03/Fax: (237) 220 1752. The mailing address is: B.P. 817,
Yaounde, Cameroon. The U.S. mailing address is American Embassy Yaounde,
Department of State, Washington, DC 20521-2520.

TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program advises Americans
traveling and residing abroad through Consular Information Sheets, Public
Announcements, and Travel Warnings. Consular Information Sheets exist for all
countries and include information on entry and exit requirements, currency
regulations, health conditions, safety and security, crime, political
disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. embassies and consulates abroad.
Public Announcements are issued to disseminate information quickly about
terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions overseas that
pose significant risks to the security of American travelers. Travel Warnings
are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel
to a certain country because the situation is dangerous or unstable.

For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad
should regularly monitor the Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet
web site at http://www.travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution,
Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings can be found. Consular Affairs
Publications, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a
safe trip abroad, are also available at http://www.travel.state.gov. For
additional information on international travel, see http://www.usa.gov/
Citizen/Topics/Travel/International.shtml.

The Department of State encourages all U.S citizens who traveling or residing
abroad to register via the State Department's travel registration website or
at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. Registration will make your
presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an
emergency and will enable you to receive up-to-date information on security
conditions.

Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained
by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or the regular
toll line 1-202-501-4444 for callers outside the U.S. and Canada.

The National Passport Information Center (NPIC) is the U.S. Department of
State's single, centralized public contact center for U.S. passport
information. Telephone: 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778). Customer service
representatives and operators for TDD/TTY are available Monday-Friday, 7:00
a.m. to 12:00 midnight, Eastern Time, excluding federal holidays.

Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 877-FYI-TRIP
(877-394-8747) and a web site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel/index.htm give the
most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements,
and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A
booklet entitled "Health Information for International Travel" (HHS
publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government
Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.

Further Electronic Information
Department of State Web Site. Available on the Internet at http://
www.state.gov, the Department of State web site provides timely, global
access to official U.S. foreign policy information, including Background
Notes and daily press briefings along with the directory of key officers of
Foreign Service posts and more. The Overseas Security Advisory Council (OSAC)
provides security information and regional news that impact U.S. companies
working abroad through its website http://www.osac.gov

Export.gov provides a portal to all export-related assistance and market
information offered by the federal government and provides trade leads, free
export counseling, help with the export process, and more.
STAT-USA/Internet, a service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, provides
authoritative economic, business, and international trade information from
the Federal government. The site includes current and historical
trade-related releases, international market research, trade opportunities,
and country analysis and provides access to the National Trade Data Bank. ***********************************************************
See http://www.state.gov/r/pa/bgn/ for all Background notes
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