Situated in West Central Africa and sometimes referred to as ‘the miniature Africa’, Cameroon is rich in geographical and cultural diversity. The land is filled with natural splendors (beaches, deserts, mountains, rainforests and savannas) and has two official languages of French and English. Cameroon has generally enjoyed stability, permitting the development of agriculture, roads and railways as well as the petroleum industry. Despite slow progression towards democratic reform, political power remains firmly in the authoritarian hands of President Paul Biya.
Bantu speakers were the first groups to settle in Cameroon, followed by the Muslim Fulani in the 18th and 19th centuries. The land escaped colonial rule until 1884, when treaties with tribal chiefs brought the area under German domination. After World War I, the League of Nations gave the French a mandate over 80% of the area, and the British 20% adjacent to Nigeria. Following World War II, when the country came under a UN trusteeship in 1946, self-government was granted. Cameroon became an independent republic on January 1, 1960.
Cameroon is situated in the so-called ‘armpit’ of Africa and has a coastline with the Gulf of Guinea and neighbors Nigeria, Chad, Central African Republic, Congo, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea. Its climate varies from tropical along the coastline to semi-arid and hot in the north. Its terrain is also diverse with coastal plains in the southwest, a dissected plateau in the middle, mountains in the west and plains in the north.
Its natural resources are petroleum, bauxite, iron ore, timber, hydro-power and like most African countries faces difficulties addressing environmental issues such as waterborne diseases, deforestation, overgrazing, desertification, poaching and overfishing.
The Cameroon culture is characterized by its Anglo-French personality, which is further complicated by the array of African ethnic groups and languages (around 260 in total). The music in Cameroon is among the most popular in Africa, especially ‘makossa’ a popular dance rhythm widely played in clubs and discos. Cameroon has some of the best food in central Africa. Street food is typically excellent, consisting mainly of spicy grilled brochettes and grilled fish, pork or chicken. Among other things, art, literature, masks and football form a large part of Cameroonian culture.
Cameroon’s population is almost evenly divided between urban and rural dwellers as well as having a high level of religious freedom and diversity. Compared to other African countries, Cameroon enjoys relatively high political and social stability. Nevertheless, large numbers of Cameroonians live in poverty as subsistence farmers. In terms of education, most children have access to free, state-run schools or subsidized, private and religious facilities. Cameroon has one of the highest school attendance rates in Africa and has a literacy rate of 67.9%.
Unemployment was estimated at 30% in 2001, and about a third of the population was living below the international poverty threshold of US$1.25 a day in 2009. Also in 2009 the UN estimated Cameroon’s population at 19,522,000. The population is young: an estimated 40.9% are under 15, and 96.7% are under 65. The birth rate is estimated at 34.1 births per 1,000 people, the death rate at 12.2. The life expectancy is 53.69 years (52.89 years for males and 54.52 years for females).