U.S. Department of State
Background Notes:  Cameroon, March 1996
Bureau of African Affairs


Prepared and released by the Bureau of African Affairs,
Office of Central African Affairs

March 1996
Official Name:  Republic of Cameroon

PROFILE

Geography

Area:  475,000 sq. km. (184,000 sq. mi.); about the size of California.
Surrounding Countries:  Nigeria, Chad, Central African Republic, 
Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea.
Cities:  Capital - Yaounde (population: 900,000).
Other major cities - Douala (1.4 million), Garoua (170,000), Maroua 
(150,000), Bafoussam (140,000), Bamenda (130,000), Nkongsamba 
(110,000), and Ngaoundere (100,000).
Terrain:  Northern plains, central and western highlands, southern and 
coastal rain forests.  Mt. Cameroon in the Southwest is the third highest 
peak (13,353 ft.) 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 rain forest - warm, 4-
month dry season.  Coastal rain forest, where Douala is located - warm, 
humid year-round.

People

Nationality: English noun and adjective -- Cameroonian(s); French 
noun and adjective: camerounais(e).
Population (mid-1994 est.): 12.5 million (65% in rural areas).
Annual growth rate: 2.9%.
Ethnic groups: About 250.
Religions: Christian (40%), Muslim (20%), indigenous African (40%).
Languages: English and French (official), and about 270 African 
languages and dialects, including Fulfulde, and Ewondo.
Education: Compulsory between ages 6 and 14.    Attendance - more 
than 70%.  Literacy - 65%.
Health:  Infant mortality - 5.5%  Life expectancy - 57 years. 
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.
Branches: Executive - President (chief of state) 7-year term, renewable 
once; appointed Prime Minister (head of government).  Legislative - 
unicameral National Assembly (180 members, 5-year terms, meets 
briefly twice a year, in June and November); a new Senate is called for 
under constitutional changes made in early 1996.  The judiciary, part of 
the Executive's Ministry of Justice, is to become more independent 
under new legislation in early 1996.
Administrative subdivisions: 10 provinces (to be renamed regions 
under new legislation in early 1996), 56 departments or divisions, 276 
subprefectures or subdivisions.
Ruling political party: Cameroon People's Democratic Movement 
(CPDM) or its predecessor parties have ruled since independence.  
Opposition parties, banned in 1966, were again legalized in 1990.
Suffrage:  Universal at 20.
Flag:  Green, red, and yellow vertical bands with one yellow star in 
center.

Economy

GDP: (1994 est.): $6.6 billion (FY 93/94 Est.)
Annual growth rate:  Rate declined at a 6% annual rate between 1986 
and 1993.  Growth of 3% was recorded in 1994.
Per capita GDP: $532 (FY 93/94 Est.)
Natural resources: Oil (6% of GDP), timber, hydroelectric power, 
natural gas, bauxite, gold, diamonds.
Agriculture: 35% of GDP (1994 est.).
Products - wood, coffee, tea, bananas, cocoa, rubber, palm oil and 
cotton.  Arable land - 13%.
Manufacturing: 20% of GDP (1994 est.).
Products - petroleum production and refining, food processing, light 
consumer goods, textiles, saw mills.
Trade:  Exports (est.) - $1.6 billion: crude oil, wood and wood 
products, coffee, bananas, cocoa, rubber, cotton, and palm oil.  Major 
markets - Nigeria, France, Netherlands, Italy.
Imports (est.) - $1.4 billion:  alcohol and tobacco, other consumer 
goods.  Major suppliers - France, Germany, U. S., Japan.
Official exchange rate: 100 CFA (Communaute Financiere Africaine) 
Francs to 1 French Franc, which floats against the U. S. dollar.
Current rate is between 400 and 500 CFA to one U.S. dollar.

PEOPLE

Cameroon's estimated 250 ethnic groups form five larger regional-
cultural groups:  (1) western highlanders (or grasslanders), including 
the Bamileke, Bamoun, and many smaller entities in the Northwest 
(est. 38% of population); (2) coastal rain forest peoples, including the 
Bassa, Douala, and many smaller entities in the Southwest (12%), (3) 
southern rain forest peoples, including the Beti, Bulu (subgroup of 
Beti), Fang (subgroup of Beti), and Pygmies (officially called Bakas) 
(18%); (4) Predominantly Islamic peoples of the northern semi-arid 
regions (the Sahel) and central highlands, including the Fulbe, also 
known as Peuhl or Fulani (14%); and (5) 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 (around 
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, are 
also widely spoken.  Cameroon is still the only African nation where 
French and English are both official languages.

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.  In this century, many western 
highlanders have 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 over 7,000 French 
and 1,000 U. S. citizens, now reside in Cameroon.

HISTORY

The earliest inhabitants of Cameroon were probably the Pygmies.  
They still inhabit the forests of the South and East Provinces.  Bantu 
speakers from equatorial Africa were among the  first groups to invade.

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, first became available.  The European presence in 
Cameroon during the earlier years of contact 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.   From the late 1880s, 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 League of Nations mandate on June 28, 
1919.  France gained the larger 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, 
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.

In 1960, French Cameroon achieved independence as the Republic of 
Cameroon.  In 1961, the largely Muslim northern half of British 
Cameroon voted to join Nigeria; the largely Christian southern half 
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, was able to 
outlaw all political parties but his own in 1966.  He also 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.

In 1982, Ahidjo resigned as President of Cameroon and was 
constitutionally succeeded by his Prime Minister, Paul Biya, a career 
official from the Bulu-Beti ethnic group.  Ahidjo remained leader of 
the ruling party, but his influence waned.  His supporters failed to 
overthrow Biya in a 1984 coup, and Biya won single-candidate 
elections in 1984 and 1988.  Biya also won a multi-party election in 
1992 which was considered seriously flawed by international 
observers.

GOVERNMENT 

The 1972 constitution provides for a strong central government 
dominated by the executive.  The president, without consulting the 
National Assembly, names and dismisses cabinet members, judges, 
generals, provincial governors, prefects, subprefects, and heads of 
Cameroon's parastatal (about 100 state-controlled) firms; obligates or 
disburses expenditures; approves or vetoes regulations to implement 
newly enacted laws; declares states of emergency; and appropriates and 
spends profits of parastatal firms.

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 twice a 
year (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.

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.

Following government pledges to reform the strongly centralized 1972 
constitution, the National Assembly adopted a number of amendments 
in December 1995.  Among the major features were the establishment 
of a Senate as part of a bicameral legislature, the creation of regional 
councils, and the fixing of the Presidential term to seven years, 
renewable once.  Whether implementation of the revised constitution 
satisfies calls for government decentralization, independence of the 
judiciary, or greater balance among the branches of government 
remains to be seen.  

Cameroon's 25,000-person military, including a 13,000-member 
security force, and a 3,000-person presidential guard, is oriented 
chiefly toward internal security; there is also a national police force of 
15,000 and a domestic intelligence network.  As of 1995, military and 
security forces receive 30% of the government's operating budget 
disbursements, as well as unknown amounts of off-budget funds.

Principal Government Officials

President - Paul Biya
Speaker of the National Assembly - Djibril Cavaye Yeguie 
Prime Minister - Simon Achidi Achu
Ambassador to the United States - Jerome Mendouga
Ambassador to the United Nations - Paul Bamela Engo

Cameroon maintains an Embassy in the United States at 2349 
Massachusetts Avenue N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (telephone: 
202-265-8790).

POLITICAL CONDITIONS

The government adopted legislation in 1990 to authorize the formation 
of multiple political parties and ease restrictions on forming civil 
associations and private newspapers, but formalizing press censorship 
as well.  Within three years, Cameroon's first multiparty legislative and 
presidential elections were held.  Multiparty municipal elections were 
finally held in January 1996, the first time since 1987.

Although some opposition parties boycotted the March 1992 legislative 
elections, the ruling Cameroon People's Democratic Movement 
succeeded in winning 88 of 180 seats in the National Assembly, 
entering a coalition with other parties to obtain a parliamentary 
majority.  In a presidential election that raised substantial concerns 
about its honesty, President Biya claimed re-election with 40% of votes 
cast.  Opposition leader John Fru Ndi was subsequently placed under 
house arrest for a brief period as the government also cracked down on 
the independent press.

Constitutionally-mandated terms of the President and National 
Assembly will end in 1997.  The President has the option of calling 
earlier elections, however.  An election schedule for the new Senate 
and regional councils has yet to be determined.  

While Cameroon has a number of independent newspapers and the 
government tolerates some criticism, it continues to censor and 
sometimes seize or suspend papers.  Although a 1990 law authorizes 
private radio and television stations, the government has not granted 
any licenses as of January 1996.  Opposition parties receive only 
limited access to government media.  The U.S. Government expressed 
its concern over the Cameroon Government's intimidation of the press 
in September 1995.

The 1994 "Country Report on Human Rights Practices" reports a 
number of human rights abuses, including limitations on political 
activity by opposition parties, restrictions on the press, numerous 
beatings of suspected criminals by the police and government 
interference in the judicial process.  Ethnic strife and widespread 
banditry in the Far North Province led to a number of violent 
confrontations with government security forces in 1994 but these eased 
in 1995.  Incidents of road banditry continue in the Far North.

ECONOMY

Real per capital GDP fell by more than 60% from 1986 to 1994, but 
Cameroon's economy is still one of the largest in Africa.  It grew 
steadily from independence until 1986, when real per capita income 
peaked at more than $1,000.  However, during the mid-1980's, 
Cameroon's terms of trade rapidly deteriorated, due to falling world 
prices for major exports (oil, coffee, cocoa, rubber, cotton) and adverse 
exchange rate movements.  Oil production declined, and the 
government increased borrowing abroad to compensate.  This created 
large current and capital account deficits, loss of international 
competitiveness, and sharp declines in investment.

The government's adjustment to these changes has been slow.  Two 
successive International Monetary Fund (IMF) programs (in 1988 and 
1991), designed to respond to these altered circumstances, went off 
track as the government faced the harsh realities of economic reform.  
Civilian government employees' salaries were cut by 65% during 1993.  
A third IMF stand-by agreement was concluded in 1994 following 
devaluation of the CFA franc (the common currency of Cameroon and 
13 other African states) by 50% in January, 1994.  Although the 
devaluation had a positive impact on the economy, the 1994 

Stand-By Agreement was not successful and a fourth stand-by accord 
was negotiated in October, 1995.  This is a test of the Cameroonian 
Government's commitment to the political and economic reform 
required to revitalize its faltering economy.

With much unused arable land, abundant energy resources, and one of 
the best educated populations in Africa, Cameroon has great 
development potential.  Economic observers agree that prospects for 
economic recovery would be enhanced by greater macro-economic 
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 U. S.  U. S. investment in 
Cameroon is about $1 billion, most of it in the oil sector.

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 offices in any local Federal building.

FOREIGN RELATIONS

U.S.-CAMEROONIAN RELATIONS

U.S.-Cameroonian relations have been affected by concerns over 
human rights abuses and the slow 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 U.S. 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. Embassy Officials

Ambassador - Charles H. Twining, Jr.
Deputy Chief of Mission (designate) - Mark Boulware (arrives 8/96)
Economic/Commercial Officer - Aubrey V. Verdun
Political Officer - Peter A. O'Donohue
Consular Officer- Kimberly Murphy
Public Affairs Officer - Gerald Huchel
Defense Attache - Lt. Col. James L. Cobb
Peace Corps Director - Walter Ogrodnick

The U. S. Embassy in Cameroon is located on Rue Nachtigal, Yaounde 
(tel:[237]22-25-89/23-05-12; 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.
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