U.S. Department of State, December 1999|
Bureau of African Affairs
Area: 475,000 sq. km. (184,000) sq. mi.), about the size of
Nationality: English noun and adjective--Cameroonian(s);
French noun and adjective--Camerounais(e).
Type: Republic; strong central government dominated by president.
GDP (1996): $9.0 billion.
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 Beti, Bulu (subgroup of Beti), Fang (subgroup of Beti), 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, Garoua, and Maroua--either French or Fulfulde, the language of the Fulani, is widely spoken. Elsewhere, French is the principal second 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 14,000 non-Africans, including more than 6,000 French and 1,000 U. S. citizens, reside in Cameroon.
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-l9th 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 Cameroonian Peoples (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 1983 and flawed multiparty elections in 1992 and 1997. His CPDM party holds a sizeable majority in the legislature.
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 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 March 1998, the government has 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 1977 presidential election, which Biya easily won. The leader of one of the opposition parties, Bello Bouba Maigari of the NUDP, subsequently joined the government.
Cameroon has a number of independent newspapers. Censorship was abolished in 1996, but the government sometimes seizes or suspends newspapers and occasionally arrests journalists. Although a 1990 law authorizes private radio and television stations, the government has not granted any licenses as of March 1998.
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
Ambassador to the United States--Jerome Mendouga
Cameroon maintains an embassy in the United States at 2349 Massachusetts Avenue N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (tel.: 202-265-8790).
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 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 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.
Recent signs, however, are encouraging. As of March 1998, Cameroon's fifth IMF program--a 3-year enhanced structural adjustment program approved in August 1997--is on track. Cameroon has rescheduled its Paris Club debt at favorable terms. GDP has grown by about 5% a year beginning in 1995. There is cautious optimism that Cameroon is emerging from its long period of economic hardship.
The Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility (ESAF) signed recently by the IMF and Government of Cameroon calls for greater macroeconomic planning and financial accountability; privatization of most of Cameroon's nearly 100 remaining non-financial parastatal enterprises; elimination of state marketing board monopolies on the export of cocoa, certain coffees, and cotton; privatization and price competition in the banking sector; implementation of the 1992 labor code; a vastly improved judicial system; and political liberalization to boost investment.
France is Cameroon's main trading partner and source of private
investment and foreign aid. Cameroon has an investment guaranty
agreement and a bilateral accord with the United States. U.S.
investment in Cameroon is about
For further information on Cameroon's economic trends, trade, or investment climate, contact the International Trade Administration, U. S. Department of Commerce, Washington, D.C. 20230, and Commerce Department district office in any local federal building.
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 non-confrontational approach has generally led it to avoid criticizing other countries.
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. Cameroon enjoys generally good relations with its African neighbors, except for Nigeria, with whom it is engaged in a sporadic armed conflict in the oil-rich Bakassi Peninsula. Cameroon has repeatedly demonstrated its preference for resolving this conflict through peaceful legal means and has submitted its case to the International Court of Justice. It supports UN peacekeeping activities in Central Africa.
The Cameroonian military generally has been an apolitical force dominated by civilian control. Traditional dependence on the French defense capability, although reduced, continues to be the case as French military advisers remain closely involved in preparing the Cameroonian forces for deployment to the contested Bakassi Peninsula. The armed forces number 26,000-27,000 personnel in ground, air, and naval forces, the majority being the army and naval ground forces.
U.S.-Cameroonian relations have been affected by concerns over human rights abuses and the pace of political and economic liberalization, as well as U.S. budget realities. There is no longer a bilateral USAID program in Cameroon. However, some 135 Peace Corps volunteers continue to work successfully in agro-forestry, community development, education, and health. The United States Information Agency organizes and funds diverse cultural, educational, and information exchanges. It maintains a library in Yaounde and helps to 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 United States and Cameroon work together in the United Nations and a number of other multilateral organizations. 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--Charles H. Twining, Jr.
The U.S. Embassy in Cameroon is located on Rue Nachtigal, Yaounde (te1: 237 - 22-25-89/23-40-14; fax: 237-23-07-53, B. P. 817, Yaounde.
The U. S. mailing address is American Embassy Yaounde, Department of State, Washington, D.C. 20521-2520.
The U.S. Department of State's Consular Information Program provides Consular Information Sheets, Travel Warnings, and Public Announcements. Consular Information Sheets exist for all countries and include information on entry requirements, currency regulations, health conditions, areas of instability, crime and security, political disturbances, and the addresses of the U.S. posts in the country. Travel Warnings are issued when the State Department recommends that Americans avoid travel to a certain country. Public Announcements are issued as a means to disseminate information quickly about terrorist threats and other relatively short-term conditions overseas which pose significant risks to the security of American travelers. Free copies of this information are available by calling the Bureau of Consular Affairs at 202-647-5225 or via the fax-on-demand system: 202-647-3000. Consular Information Sheets and Travel Warnings also are available on the Consular Affairs Internet home page: http://travel.state.gov. Consular Affairs Tips for Travelers publication series, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad are on the internet and hard copies can be purchased from the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, telephone: 202-512-1800; fax 202-512-2250.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained from the Office of Overseas Citizens Services at (202) 647-5225. For after-hours emergencies, Sundays and holidays, call 202-647-4000.
Passport information can be obtained by calling the National Passport Information Center's automated system ($.35 per minute) or live operators 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (EST) Monday-Friday ($1.05 per minute). The number is 1-900-225-5674 (TDD: 1-900-225-7778). Major credit card users (for a flat rate of $4.95) may call 1-888-362-8668 (TDD: 1-888-498-3648). It also is available on the internet.
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.
Information on travel conditions, visa requirements, currency and customs regulations, legal holidays, and other items of interest to travelers also may be obtained before your departure from a country's embassy and/or consulates in the U.S. (for this country, see "Principal Government Officials" listing in this publication).
U.S. citizens who are long-term visitors or traveling in dangerous areas are encouraged to register at the U.S. embassy upon arrival in a country (see "Principal U.S. Embassy Officials" listing in this publication). This may help family members contact you in case of an emergency.
Further Electronic Information
Department of State Foreign Affairs Network. Available on the Internet, DOSFAN provides timely, global access to official U.S. foreign policy information. Updated daily, DOSFAN includes Background Notes; daily press briefings; Country Commercial Guides; directories of key officers of foreign service posts; etc. DOSFAN's World Wide Web site is at http://1997-2001.state.gov.
U.S. Foreign Affairs on CD-ROM (USFAC). Published on an annual basis by the U.S. Department of State, USFAC archives information on the Department of State Foreign Affairs Network, and includes an array of official foreign policy information from 1990 to the present. Contact the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office, P.O. Box 371954, Pittsburgh, PA 15250-7954. To order, call (202) 512-1800 or fax (202) 512-2250.
National Trade Data Bank (NTDB). Operated by the U.S. Department of Commerce, the NTDB contains a wealth of trade-related information. It is available on the Internet (www.stat-usa.gov) and on CD-ROM. Call the NTDB Help-Line at (202) 482-1986 for more information.
Cameroon Background Notes
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