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.
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 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.
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 N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008 (tel.: 202-265-8790).
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
$1 million, 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 office in any local federal building.
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 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.
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.
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