Cameroon - Introduction

The former French Cameroon and part of British Cameroon merged in 1961 to form the present country. Cameroon began its independence with a bloody insurrection which was suppressed only with the help of French forces.

Cameroon has generally enjoyed stability but it has struggled from one-party rule to a multi-party system Despite a slow movement toward democratic reform, political power remains firmly in the hands of President Paul BIYA, which has permitted the development of agriculture, roads, and railways, as well as a petroleum industry.

Before his regime, 20 years of repressive government of President Ahmadou Ahidjo ruled Cameroon. Nonetheless, Cameroon saw investment in agriculture, education, health care and transport during that period.

Cameroon is a Central African country with an estimated population of nearly 16.5 million. The country faces significant development challenges, with 50% of the population living on less than $2 a day and life expectancy at birth still only 45.8 years of age.

Outside the swelling and modernised cities of Cameroon (Cameroun), rainforests stretch from the Atlantic Ocean, giving way to savannah and semi-desert in the north. Elephants and antelope congregate by the hundreds in some of Africa's best wildlife parks, and beachcombers laze on long, isolated beaches.

The region was inhabited by north-western Bantu societies who prospered from the trade in slaves from the interior. It came under British control until annexed by Germany in 1884.

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.

In 1919 Cameroon was divided between the French and the British. The French sector declared independence in 1960. The British southern sector joined Cameroon in 1961 whilst the northern sector joined Nigeria.

Faced with popular discontent, Mr Biya allowed multi-party presidential elections in 1992, which he won. In 1994 and 1996 Cameroon and Nigeria fought over the disputed, oil-rich Bakassi peninsula. Nigeria withdrew its troops from the area in 2006 in line with an international court ruling which awarded sovereignty to Cameroon.

In November 2007 the Nigerian senate passed a motion declaring as illegal the Nigeria-Cameroon agreement for the Bakassi Peninsula to be handed over to Cameroon.

Internally, there are tensions over the two mainly English-speaking southern provinces. A secessionist movement, the Southern Cameroon National Council (SCNC), emerged in the 1990s and has been declared as illegal.

Cameroon has one of the highest literacy rates in Africa. However, the country's progress is hampered by a level of corruption that is among the highest in the world.

In 1986, Cameroon made the world headlines when poisonous gases escaped from Lake Nyos, killing nearly 2,000 people.

Its varied climate makes Cameroon a global reserve of flora and fauna. Cameroon has relied on agriculture and timber for its export earnings for decades; this includes the extensive cocoa and rubber plantations in the south of the country. Cameroon exports more wood and earns more forest revenue than any other country in Africa.

The forest sector is Cameroon’s largest non-public sector employer and its second largest source of export revenue after petroleum, accounting for 28% of non-petroleum exports. Cameroon’s annual growth rate between 1997 and 2000 was sustained at 4.7%.

Last Updated on Friday 13th November 2009