Government of Cameroon - History

Government of Cameroon - History

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Government type:
presidential republic
name: Yaounde

Administrative divisions:
10 regions (regions, singular - region); Adamaoua, Centre, East (Est), Far North (Extreme-Nord), Littoral, North (Nord), North-West (Nord-Ouest), West (Ouest), South (Sud), South-West (Sud-Ouest)
1 January 1960 (from French-administered UN trusteeship)
National holiday:
State Unification Day (National Day), 20 May (1972)
history: several previous; latest effective 18 January 1996
amendments: proposed by the president of the republic or by Parliament; amendment drafts require approval of at least one-third of the membership in either house of Parliament; passage requires absolute majority vote of the Parliament membership; passage of drafts requested by the president for a second reading in Parliament requires two-thirds majority vote of its membership; the president can opt to submit drafts to a referendum, in which case passage requires a simple majority; constitutional articles on Cameroon’s unity and territorial integrity and its democratic principles cannot be amended; amended 2008 (2017)
Legal system:
mixed legal system of English common law, French civil law, and customary law
International law organization participation:
accepts compulsory ICJ jurisdiction; non-party state to the ICCt
citizenship by birth: no
citizenship by descent only: at least one parent must be a citizen of Cameroon
dual citizenship recognized: no
residency requirement for naturalization: 5 years
20 years of age; universal
Executive branch:
chief of state: President Paul BIYA (since 6 November 1982)
head of government: Prime Minister Philemon YANG (since 30 June 2009); Deputy Prime Minister Amadou ALI (since 2014)
cabinet: Cabinet proposed by the prime minister, appointed by the president
elections/appointments: president directly elected by simple majority popular vote for a 7-year term (no term limits); election last held on 9 October 2011 (next to be held in October 2018); prime minister appointed by the president
election results: Paul BIYA reelected president; percent of vote - Paul BIYA (CPDM) 78%, John FRU NDI (SDF) 10.7%, Garga Haman ADJI 3.2%, other 8.1%
Legislative branch:
description: bicameral Parliament or Parlement consists of:
Senate or Senat (100 seats; 70 members indirectly elected by regional councils and 30 appointed by the president; members serve 5-year terms)
National Assembly or Assemblee Nationale (180 seats; members directly elected in multi-seat constituencies by simple majority vote to serve 5-year terms)
Senate - last held on 25 March 2018 (next to be held in 2023)
National Assembly - last held on 30 September 2013 (next delayed until October 2019)
election results:
Senate - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - CPDM 63, SDF 7; National Assembly - percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - CPDM 148, SDF 18, UNDP 5, UDC 4, UPC 3, other 2
National Assembly - last held on 30 September 2013 (next delayed until October 2019)
Judicial branch:
highest court(s): Supreme Court of Cameroon (consists of 9 titular and 6 surrogate judges and organized into judicial, administrative, and audit chambers); Constitutional Council (consists of 11 members)
judge selection and term of office: Supreme Court judges appointed by the president with the advice of the Higher Judicial Council of Cameroon, a body chaired by the president and includes the minister of justice, selected magistrates, and representatives of the National Assembly; judge term NA; Constitutional Council members appointed by the president for single 9-year terms
subordinate courts: Parliamentary Court of Justice (jurisdiction limited to cases involving the president and prime minister); appellate and first instance courts; circuit and magistrate's courts
Political parties and leaders:
Alliance for Democracy and Development
Cameroon People's Democratic Movement or CPDM [Paul BIYA]
Cameroon People's Party or CPP [Edith Kah WALLA]
Cameroon Renaissance Movement or MRC [Maurice KAMTO]
Cameroonian Democratic Union or UDC [Adamou Ndam NJOYA]
Movement for the Defense of the Republic or MDR [Dakole DAISSALA]
Movement for the Liberation and Development of Cameroon or MLDC [Marcel YONDO]
National Union for Democracy and Progress or UNDP [Maigari BELLO BOUBA]
Progressive Movement or MP [Jean-Jacques EKINDI]
Social Democratic Front or SDF [John FRU NDI]
Union of Peoples of Cameroon or UPC [Provisionary Management Bureau]
International organization participation:

Divisions of Cameroon

The Regions of Cameroon are divided into 58 divisions or departments. The divisions are further sub-divided into sub-divisions (arrondissements) and districts. The divisions are listed below, by province.

Cameroon is divided into 10 regions.

The constitution divides Cameroon into 10 semi-autonomous regions, each under the administration of an elected Regional Council. A presidential decree of 12 November 2008 officially instigated the change from provinces to regions.[1] Each region is headed by a presidentially appointed governor. These leaders are charged with implementing the will of the president, reporting on the general mood and conditions of the regions, administering the civil service, keeping the peace, and overseeing the heads of the smaller administrative units. Governors have broad powers: they may order propaganda in their area and call in the army, gendarmes, and police.[2] 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.

  • OFFICIAL NAME: Republic of Cameroon
  • CAPITAL: Yaoundé
  • POPULATION: 25,640,965
  • OFFICIAL LANGUAGES: French, English
  • MONEY: Central African CFA Franc
  • AREA: 183,568 square miles (475,440 square kilometers)
  • MAJOR RIVERS: Benue, Nyong, and Sanaga


Cameroon, in West Africa, is a mixture of desert plains in the north, mountains in the central regions, and tropical rain forests in the south. Along its western border with Nigeria are mountains, which include the volcanic Cameroon Mountain—the highest point in West Africa at 13,451 feet (4,100 meters).

Cameroon is triangular in shape and is bordered by Nigeria to the northwest, Chad to the northeast, the Central African Republic to the east, the Republic of the Congo to the southeast, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea to the south, and the Atlantic Ocean to the southwest.

Map created by National Geographic Maps


Approximately 250 ethnic groups speaking about 270 languages and dialects make Cameroon a remarkably diverse country.

The Republic of Cameroon is a union of two former United Nations trust territories—French Cameroon, which became independent in 1960, and southern British Cameroons, which joined it after a 1961 UN-sponsored referendum.


The rain forests in the south of Cameroon are home to screaming red and green monkeys, chimpanzees, and gorillas, as well as rodents, bats, and a great diversity of birds—from tiny sunbirds to giant hawks and eagles.

A few elephants can be found in the forest and in the grassy woodlands, where baboons and several types of antelope are the most common animals.

Waza National Park in the north, which was originally created for the protection of elephants, giraffes, and antelope, is full of forest and savanna animals, including monkeys, baboons, lions, leopards, and birds.


After Cameroon became independent in 1960, the country began to prosper and the government built schools, helped farmers diversify their crops, and encouraged new types of businesses. The global sale of products, such as cocoa, coffee, and oil, helped boost the economy.

This period of growth lasted for 20 years until corruption and the decline in the value of exports caused the economy to go into a recession. Now Cameroon relies on international aid organizations, as well as the sale of petroleum and cocoa to keep its economy stable.

People with professional jobs usually grow and sell small amounts of crops. The economy depends a lot on the amount of money people can get from selling oil, tea, coffee, and cocoa. Because oil reserves may run out in the future, Cameroon is working to come up with other ways to make money.


Tribes lived in Cameroon's highlands more than 1,500 years ago and began spreading south as they cleared forests for new farms.

Cameroon's colonial name comes from the cameros, or prawns, that 15th-century explorers found in the Wouri River.

Between 1884 and 1916, Germany united the southern and northern areas into a colony. Germany's defeat in World War I led to Cameroon's separation between France and Britain. The French tightly ruled the east from the capital, Yaoundé. The smaller British area to the west was ruled more loosely from Nigeria.

Independence was achieved in French Cameroon in 1960. In 1961, voters in the southern portion of British Cameroon chose to join in a federation with the new republic those in the north chose to unite with Nigeria. Cameroon's former French and British areas kept separate educational, legal, civil service, and legislative structures until a 1972 referendum adopted a national, one-party system along French lines.

Some key dates in Cameroon's history:

1520 - Portuguese set up sugar plantations and begin slave trade, taken over by the Dutch in the 1600s.

1884 - Cameroon becomes the German colony of Kamerun. It expands in 1911 when France cedes territory to Germany.

1916 - British and French troops force Germans to leave Cameroon, which is partitioned between France and Britain at the end of the First World War.

1958 - French Cameroon granted self-government with Ahmadou Ahidjo as prime minister. The country becomes independent two years later, and Mr Ahidjo becomes president.

1961 - Britain's Cameroons colonies divide between Cameroon and Nigeria after a referendum. A large-scale insurrection mars the country's first years of independence until it is put down in 1963 with the help of French forces.

1982 - Prime Minister Paul Biya succeeds Ahidjo, who flees the country the following year after President Biya accuses him of masterminding a coup.

1998 - Cameroon classed as the most corrupt country in the world by business monitor Transparency International.

2014 - Cameroon faces increased attacks from the jihadist group Boko Haram.

2016 - Activists in Anglophone areas step up a campaign for greater autonomy, prompting a fierce response from the government.


Originally, Cameroon was the exonym given by the Portuguese to the Wouri river, which they called Rio dos Camarões—"river of shrimps" or "shrimp river", referring to the then abundant Cameroon ghost shrimp. [12] [13] Today the country's name in Portuguese remains Camarões.

Present-day Cameroon was first settled in the Neolithic Era. The longest continuous inhabitants are groups such as the Baka (Pygmies). [14] From there, Bantu migrations into eastern, southern and central Africa are believed to have occurred about 2,000 years ago. [15] The Sao culture arose around Lake Chad, c. 500 AD, and gave way to the Kanem and its successor state, the Bornu Empire. Kingdoms, fondoms, and chiefdoms arose in the west. [16]

Portuguese sailors reached the coast in 1472. They noted an abundance of the ghost shrimp Lepidophthalmus turneranus in the Wouri River and named it Rio dos Camarões (Shrimp River), which became Cameroon in English. [17] Over the following few centuries, European interests regularised trade with the coastal peoples, and Christian missionaries pushed inland. [18]

German rule Edit

In the early 19th century, Modibo Adama led Fulani soldiers on a jihad in the north against non-Muslim and partially Muslim peoples and established the Adamawa Emirate. Settled peoples who fled the Fulani caused a major redistribution of population.

The Bamum tribe have a writing system, known as Bamum script or Shu Mom. The script was given to them by Sultan Ibrahim Njoya in 1896, [19] [20] and is taught in Cameroon by the Bamum Scripts and Archives Project. [20] Germany began to establish roots in Cameroon in 1868 when the Woermann Company of Hamburg built a warehouse. It was built on the estuary of the Wouri River. Later Gustav Nachtigal made a treaty with one of the local kings to annex the region for the German emperor. [21] The German Empire claimed the territory as the colony of Kamerun in 1884 and began a steady push inland. The Germans ran into resistance with the native people who did not want the Germans to establish themselves on this land. Under the influence of Germany, commercial companies were left to regulate local administrations. These concessions used forced labour of the Africans to make a profit. The labour was used on banana, rubber, palm oil, and cocoa plantations. [21] They initiated projects to improve the colony's infrastructure, relying on a harsh system of forced labour, which was much criticised by the other colonial powers. [22]

French and British rule Edit

With the defeat of Germany in World War I, Kamerun became a League of Nations mandate territory and was split into French Cameroons and British Cameroons in 1919. France integrated the economy of Cameroon with that of France [23] and improved the infrastructure with capital investments and skilled workers, modifying the colonial system of forced labour. [22]

The British administered their territory from neighbouring Nigeria. Natives complained that this made them a neglected "colony of a colony". Nigerian migrant workers flocked to Southern Cameroons, ending forced labour altogether but angering the local natives, who felt swamped. [24] The League of Nations mandates were converted into United Nations Trusteeships in 1946, and the question of independence became a pressing issue in French Cameroun. [23]

France outlawed the pro-independence political party, the Union des Populations du Cameroun (UPC), on 13 July 1955. [25] This prompted a long guerrilla war waged by the UPC and the assassination of several of the party's leaders, including Ruben Um Nyobè, Félix-Roland Moumié and Ernest Ouandie. In the British Cameroons, the question was whether to reunify with French Cameroun or join Nigeria the British ruled out the option of independence. [26]

Independence Edit

On 1 January 1960, French Cameroun gained independence from France under President Ahmadou Ahidjo. On 1 October 1961, the formerly British Southern Cameroons gained independence by vote of the UN General Assembly and joined with French Cameroun to form the Federal Republic of Cameroon, a date which is now observed as Unification Day, a public holiday. [27] Ahidjo used the ongoing war with the UPC to concentrate power in the presidency, continuing with this even after the suppression of the UPC in 1971. [28]

His political party, the Cameroon National Union (CNU), became the sole legal political party on 1 September 1966 and on 20 May 1972, a referendum was passed to abolish the federal system of government in favour of a United Republic of Cameroon, headed from Yaoundé. [29] This day is now the country's National Day, a public holiday. [30] Ahidjo pursued an economic policy of planned liberalism, prioritising cash crops and petroleum development. The government used oil money to create a national cash reserve, pay farmers, and finance major development projects however, many initiatives failed when Ahidjo appointed unqualified allies to direct them. [31]

Ahidjo stepped down on 4 November 1982 and left power to his constitutional successor, Paul Biya. However, Ahidjo remained in control of the CNU and tried to run the country from behind the scenes until Biya and his allies pressured him into resigning. Biya began his administration by moving toward a more democratic government, but a failed coup d'état nudged him toward the leadership style of his predecessor. [32]

An economic crisis took effect in the mid-1980s to late 1990s as a result of international economic conditions, drought, falling petroleum prices, and years of corruption, mismanagement, and cronyism. Cameroon turned to foreign aid, cut government spending, and privatised industries. With the reintroduction of multi-party politics in December 1990, the former British Southern Cameroons pressure groups called for greater autonomy, and the Southern Cameroons National Council advocated complete secession as the Republic of Ambazonia. [33] The 1992 Labour Code of Cameroon gives workers the freedom to belong to a trade union or not to belong to any trade union at all. It is the choice of a worker to join any trade union in his occupation since there exist more than one trade union in each occupation. [34]

In June 2006, talks concerning a territorial dispute over the Bakassi peninsula were resolved. The talks involved President Paul Biya of Cameroon, then President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria and then UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, and resulted in Cameroonian control of the oil-rich peninsula. The northern portion of the territory was formally handed over to the Cameroonian government in August 2006, and the remainder of the peninsula was left to Cameroon 2 years later, in 2008. [35] The boundary change triggered a local separatist insurgency, as many Bakassians refused to accept Cameroonian rule. While most militants laid down their arms in November 2009, [36] some carried on fighting for years. [37]

In February 2008, Cameroon experienced its worst violence in 15 years when a transport union strike in Douala escalated into violent protests in 31 municipal areas. [38] [39]

In May 2014, in the wake of the Chibok schoolgirls kidnapping, presidents Paul Biya of Cameroon and Idriss Déby of Chad announced they were waging war on Boko Haram, and deployed troops to the Nigerian border. [40] Boko Haram launched several attacks into Cameroon, killing 84 civilians in a December 2014 raid, but suffering a heavy defeat in a raid in January 2015. Cameroon declared victory over Boko Haram on Cameroonian territory in September 2018. [41]

Since November 2016, protesters from the predominantly English-speaking Northwest and Southwest regions of the country have been campaigning for continued use of the English language in schools and courts. People were killed and hundreds jailed as a result of these protests. [42] In 2017, Biya's government blocked the regions' access to the Internet for three months. [43] In September, separatists started a guerilla war for the independence of the Anglophone region as the Federal Republic of Ambazonia. The government responded with a military offensive, and the insurgency spread across the Northwest and Southwest regions. As of 2019 [update] , fighting between separatist guerillas and government forces continues. [44] During 2020, numerous terrorist attacks—many of them carried out without claims of credit—and government reprisals have led to bloodshed throughout the country. [45] Since 2016, more than 450,000 people have fled their homes. [46] The conflict indirectly led to an upsurge in Boko Haram attacks, as the Cameroonian military largely withdrew from the north to focus on fighting the Ambazonian separatists. [47]

The President of Cameroon is elected and creates policy, administers government agencies, commands the armed forces, negotiates and ratifies treaties, and declares a state of emergency. [48] The president appoints government officials at all levels, from the prime minister (considered the official head of government), to the provincial governors and divisional officers. [49] The president is selected by popular vote every seven years. [1] There have been 2 presidents since the independence of Cameroon.

The National Assembly makes legislation. The body consists of 180 members who are elected for five-year terms and meet three times per year. [49] Laws are passed on a majority vote. [1] The 1996 constitution establishes a second house of parliament, the 100-seat Senate. The government recognises the authority of traditional chiefs, fons, and lamibe to govern at the local level and to resolve disputes as long as such rulings do not conflict with national law. [50] [51]

Cameroon's legal system is a mixture of civil law, common law, and customary law. [1] Although nominally independent, the judiciary falls under the authority of the executive's Ministry of Justice. [50] The president appoints judges at all levels. [49] The judiciary is officially divided into tribunals, the court of appeal, and the supreme court. The National Assembly elects the members of a nine-member High Court of Justice that judges high-ranking members of government in the event they are charged with high treason or harming national security. [52] [53]

Political culture Edit

Cameroon is viewed as rife with corruption at all levels of government. In 1997, Cameroon established anti-corruption bureaus in 29 ministries, but only 25% became operational, [54] and in 2012, Transparency International placed Cameroon at number 144 on a list of 176 countries ranked from least to most corrupt. [55] On 18 January 2006, Biya initiated an anti-corruption drive under the direction of the National Anti-Corruption Observatory. [54] There are several high corruption risk areas in Cameroon, for instance, customs, public health sector and public procurement. [56] However, the corruption has gotten worse, regardless of the existing anti-corruption bureaus, as Transparency International ranked Cameroon 152 on a list of 180 countries in 2018. [57]

President Biya's Cameroon People's Democratic Movement (CPDM) was the only legal political party until December 1990. Numerous regional political groups have since formed. The primary opposition is the Social Democratic Front (SDF), based largely in the Anglophone region of the country and headed by John Fru Ndi. [58]

Biya and his party have maintained control of the presidency and the National Assembly in national elections, which rivals contend were unfair. [33] Human rights organisations allege that the government suppresses the freedoms of opposition groups by preventing demonstrations, disrupting meetings, and arresting opposition leaders and journalists. [59] [60] In particular, English-speaking people are discriminated against protests often escalate into violent clashes and killings. [61] In 2017, President Biya shut down the Internet in the English-speaking region for 94 days, at the cost of hampering five million people, including Silicon Mountain startups. [62]

Freedom House ranks Cameroon as "not free" in terms of political rights and civil liberties. [63] The last parliamentary elections were held on 9 February 2020. [64]

Foreign relations Edit

Cameroon is a member of both the Commonwealth of Nations and La Francophonie.

Its foreign policy closely follows that of its main ally, France (one of its former colonial rulers). [65] [66] Cameroon relies heavily on France for its defence, [50] although military spending is high in comparison to other sectors of government. [67]

President Biya has engaged in a decades-long clash with the government of Nigeria over possession of the oil-rich Bakassi peninsula. [58] Cameroon and Nigeria share a 1,000-mile (1 600 km) border and have disputed the sovereignty of the Bakassi peninsula. In 1994 Cameroon petitioned the International Court of Justice to resolve the dispute. The two countries attempted to establish a cease-fire in 1996, however, fighting continued for years. In 2002, the ICJ ruled that the Anglo-German Agreement of 1913 gave sovereignty to Cameroon. The ruling called for a withdrawal by both countries and denied the request by Cameroon for compensation due to Nigeria's long-term occupation. [68] By 2004, Nigeria had failed to meet the deadline to handover the peninsula. A UN-mediated summit in June 2006 facilitated an agreement for Nigeria to withdraw from the region and both leaders signed the Greentree Agreement. [69] The withdrawal and handover of control was completed by August 2006. [70]

In July 2019, UN ambassadors of 37 countries, including Cameroon, have signed a joint letter to the UNHRC defending China's treatment of Uyghurs in the Xinjiang region. [71]

Military Edit

The Cameroon Armed Forces, (French: Forces armées camerounaises, FAC) consists of the country's army (Armée de Terre), the country's navy (Marine Nationale de la République (MNR), includes naval infantry), the Cameroonian Air Force (Armée de l'Air du Cameroun, AAC), and the Gendarmerie. [1]

Males and females that are 18 years of age up to 23 years of age and have graduated high school are eligible for military service. Those who join are obliged to complete 4 years of service. There is no conscription in Cameroon, but the government makes periodic calls for volunteers. [1]

Human rights Edit

Human rights organisations accuse police and military forces of mistreating and even torturing criminal suspects, ethnic minorities, homosexuals, and political activists. [59] [60] [72] [73] United Nations figures indicate that more than 21,000 people have fled to neighboring countries, while 160,000 have been internally displaced by the violence, many reportedly hiding in forests. [74] Prisons are overcrowded with little access to adequate food and medical facilities, [72] [73] and prisons run by traditional rulers in the north are charged with holding political opponents at the behest of the government. [60] However, since the first decade of the 21st century, an increasing number of police and gendarmes have been prosecuted for improper conduct. [72] On 25 July 2018, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein expressed deep concern about reports of violations and abuses in the English-speaking Northwest and Southwest regions of Cameroon. [74]

Same-sex sexual acts are banned by section 347-1 of the penal code with a penalty of from 6 months up to 5 years' imprisonment. [75]

Since December 2020, Human Rights Watch claimed that Islamist armed group Boko Haram has stepped up attacks and killed at least 80 civilians in towns and villages in the Far North region of Cameroon. [76]

Administrative divisions Edit

The constitution divides Cameroon into 10 semi-autonomous regions, each under the administration of an elected Regional Council. Each region is headed by a presidentially appointed governor. [48]

These leaders are charged with implementing the will of the president, reporting on the general mood and conditions of the regions, administering the civil service, keeping the peace, and overseeing the heads of the smaller administrative units. Governors have broad powers: they may order propaganda in their area and call in the army, gendarmes, and police. [48] 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. [15]

The regions are subdivided into 58 divisions (French départements). These are headed by presidentially appointed divisional officers (préfets). The divisions are further split into sub-divisions (arrondissements), headed by assistant divisional officers (sous-prefets). The districts, administered by district heads (chefs de district), are the smallest administrative units. [77]

The three northernmost regions are the Far North (Extrême Nord), North (Nord), and Adamawa (Adamaoua). Directly south of them are the Centre (Centre) and East (Est). The South Province (Sud) lies on the Gulf of Guinea and the southern border. Cameroon's western region is split into four smaller regions: the Littoral (Littoral) and Southwest (Sud-Ouest) regions are on the coast, and the Northwest (Nord-Ouest) and West (Ouest) regions are in the western grassfields. [77]

At 475,442 square kilometres (183,569 sq mi), Cameroon is the world's 53rd-largest country. [78] The country is located in Central and West Africa, known as the hinge of Africa, on the Bight of Bonny, part of the Gulf of Guinea and the Atlantic Ocean. [79] Cameroon lies between latitudes 1° and 13°N, and longitudes 8° and 17°E. Cameroon controls 12 nautical miles of the Atlantic Ocean.

Tourist literature describes Cameroon as "Africa in miniature" because it exhibits all major climates and vegetation of the continent: coast, desert, mountains, rainforest, and savanna. [80] The country's neighbours are Nigeria and the Atlantic Ocean to the west Chad to the northeast the Central African Republic to the east and Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and the Republic of the Congo to the south. [1]

Cameroon is divided into five major geographic zones distinguished by dominant physical, climatic, and vegetative features. The coastal plain extends 15 to 150 kilometres (9 to 93 mi) inland from the Gulf of Guinea [81] and has an average elevation of 90 metres (295 ft). [82] Exceedingly hot and humid with a short dry season, this belt is densely forested and includes some of the wettest places on earth, part of the Cross-Sanaga-Bioko coastal forests. [83] [84]

The South Cameroon Plateau rises from the coastal plain to an average elevation of 650 metres (2,133 ft). [85] Equatorial rainforest dominates this region, although its alternation between wet and dry seasons makes it is less humid than the coast. This area is part of the Atlantic Equatorial coastal forests ecoregion. [86]

An irregular chain of mountains, hills, and plateaus known as the Cameroon range extends from Mount Cameroon on the coast—Cameroon's highest point at 4,095 metres (13,435 ft) [87] —almost to Lake Chad at Cameroon's northern border at 13°05'N. This region has a mild climate, particularly on the Western High Plateau, although rainfall is high. Its soils are among Cameroon's most fertile, especially around volcanic Mount Cameroon. [87] Volcanism here has created crater lakes. On 21 August 1986, one of these, Lake Nyos, belched carbon dioxide and killed between 1,700 and 2,000 people. [88] This area has been delineated by the World Wildlife Fund as the Cameroonian Highlands forests ecoregion. [89]

The southern plateau rises northward to the grassy, rugged Adamawa Plateau. This feature stretches from the western mountain area and forms a barrier between the country's north and south. Its average elevation is 1,100 metres (3,609 ft), [85] and its average temperature ranges from 22 °C (71.6 °F) to 25 °C (77 °F) with high rainfall between April and October peaking in July and August. [90] [91] The northern lowland region extends from the edge of the Adamawa to Lake Chad with an average elevation of 300 to 350 metres (984 to 1,148 ft). [87] Its characteristic vegetation is savanna scrub and grass. This is an arid region with sparse rainfall and high median temperatures. [92]

Cameroon has four patterns of drainage. In the south, the principal rivers are the Ntem, Nyong, Sanaga, and Wouri. These flow southwestward or westward directly into the Gulf of Guinea. The Dja and Kadéï drain southeastward into the Congo River. In northern Cameroon, the Bénoué River runs north and west and empties into the Niger. The Logone flows northward into Lake Chad, which Cameroon shares with three neighbouring countries. [93]

In 2013, the total adult literacy rate of Cameroon was estimated to be 71.3%. Among youths age 15–24 the literacy rate was 85.4% for males and 76.4% for females. [94] Most children have access to state-run schools that are cheaper than private and religious facilities. [95] The educational system is a mixture of British and French precedents [96] with most instruction in English or French. [97]

Cameroon has one of the highest school attendance rates in Africa. [95] Girls attend school less regularly than boys do because of cultural attitudes, domestic duties, early marriage, pregnancy, and sexual harassment. Although attendance rates are higher in the south, [95] a disproportionate number of teachers are stationed there, leaving northern schools chronically understaffed. [72] In 2013, the primary school enrollment rate was 93.5%. [94]

School attendance in Cameroon is also affected by child labour. Indeed, the United States Department of Labor Findings on the Worst Forms of Child Labor reported that 56% of children aged 5 to 14 were working children and that almost 53% of children aged 7 to 14 combined work and school. [98] In December 2014, a List of Goods Produced by Child Labor or Forced Labor issued by the Bureau of International Labor Affairs mentioned Cameroon among the countries that resorted to child labor in the production of cocoa. [99]

The quality of health care is generally low. [100] Life expectancy at birth is estimated to be 56 years in 2012, with 48 healthy life years expected. [101] Fertility rate remains high in Cameroon with an average of 4.8 births per woman and an average mother's age of 19.7 years old at first birth. [101] In Cameroon, there is only one doctor for every 5,000 people, according to the World Health Organization. [102] In 2014, just 4.1% of total GDP expenditure was allocated to healthcare. [103] Due to financial cuts in the health care system, there are few professionals. Doctors and nurses who were trained in Cameroon, emigrate because in Cameroon the payment is poor while the workload is high. Nurses are unemployed even though their help is needed. Some of them help out voluntarily so they will not lose their skills. [104] Outside the major cities, facilities are often dirty and poorly equipped. [105]

In 2012, the top three deadly diseases were HIV/AIDS, lower respiratory tract infection, and diarrheal diseases. [101] Endemic diseases include dengue fever, filariasis, leishmaniasis, malaria, meningitis, schistosomiasis, and sleeping sickness. [106] The HIV/AIDS prevalence rate in 2016 was estimated at 3.8% for those aged 15–49, [107] although a strong stigma against the illness keeps the number of reported cases artificially low. [100] 46,000 children under age 14 were estimated to be living with HIV in 2016. In Cameroon, 58% of those living with HIV know their status, and just 37% receive ARV treatment. In 2016, 29,000 death due to AIDS occurred in both adults and children. [107]

Breast ironing, a traditional practice that is prevalent in Cameroon, may affect girls' health. [108] [109] [110] [111] Female genital mutilation (FGM), while not widespread, is practiced among some populations according to a 2013 UNICEF report, [112] 1% of women in Cameroon have undergone FGM. Also impacting women and girls' health, the contraceptive prevalence rate is estimated to be just 34.4% in 2014. Traditional healers remain a popular alternative to evidence-based medicine. [113]

Cameroon's per capita GDP (Purchasing power parity) was estimated as US$3,700 in 2017. Major export markets include the Netherlands, France, China, Belgium, Italy, Algeria, and Malaysia. [1]

Cameroon has had a decade of strong economic performance, with GDP growing at an average of 4% per year. During the 2004–2008 period, public debt was reduced from over 60% of GDP to 10% and official reserves quadrupled to over US$3 billion. [114] Cameroon is part of the Bank of Central African States (of which it is the dominant economy), [115] the Customs and Economic Union of Central Africa (UDEAC) and the Organization for the Harmonization of Business Law in Africa (OHADA). [116] Its currency is the CFA franc. [1]

Unemployment was estimated at 3.38% in 2019, [117] and 23.8% of the population was living below the international poverty threshold of US$1.90 a day in 2014. [118] Since the late 1980s, Cameroon has been following programmes advocated by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) to reduce poverty, privatise industries, and increase economic growth. [50] The government has taken measures to encourage tourism in the country. [119]

An estimated 70% of the population farms, and agriculture comprised an estimated 16.7% of GDP in 2017. [1] Most agriculture is done at the subsistence scale by local farmers using simple tools. They sell their surplus produce, and some maintain separate fields for commercial use. Urban centres are particularly reliant on peasant agriculture for their foodstuffs. Soils and climate on the coast encourage extensive commercial cultivation of bananas, cocoa, oil palms, rubber, and tea. Inland on the South Cameroon Plateau, cash crops include coffee, sugar, and tobacco. Coffee is a major cash crop in the western highlands, and in the north, natural conditions favour crops such as cotton, groundnuts, and rice.

Livestock are raised throughout the country. [120] Fishing employs 5,000 people and provides over 100,000 tons of seafood each year. [121] [122] Bushmeat, long a staple food for rural Cameroonians, is today a delicacy in the country's urban centres. The commercial bushmeat trade has now surpassed deforestation as the main threat to wildlife in Cameroon. [123] [124]

The southern rainforest has vast timber reserves, estimated to cover 37% of Cameroon's total land area. [122] However, large areas of the forest are difficult to reach. Logging, largely handled by foreign-owned firms, [122] provides the government US$60 million a year in taxes (as of 1998 [update] ), and laws mandate the safe and sustainable exploitation of timber. Nevertheless, in practice, the industry is one of the least regulated in Cameroon. [125]

Factory-based industry accounted for an estimated 26.5% of GDP in 2017. [1] More than 75% of Cameroon's industrial strength is located in Douala and Bonabéri. Cameroon possesses substantial mineral resources, but these are not extensively mined (see Mining in Cameroon). [50] Petroleum exploitation has fallen since 1986, but this is still a substantial sector such that dips in prices have a strong effect on the economy. [126] Rapids and waterfalls obstruct the southern rivers, but these sites offer opportunities for hydroelectric development and supply most of Cameroon's energy. The Sanaga River powers the largest hydroelectric station, located at Edéa. The rest of Cameroon's energy comes from oil-powered thermal engines. Much of the country remains without reliable power supplies. [127]

Transport in Cameroon is often difficult. Only 6.6% of the roadways are tarred. [1] Roadblocks often serve little other purpose than to allow police and gendarmes to collect bribes from travellers. [128] Road banditry has long hampered transport along the eastern and western borders, and since 2005, the problem has intensified in the east as the Central African Republic has further destabilised. [129]

Intercity bus services run by multiple private companies connect all major cities. They are the most popular means of transportation followed by the rail service Camrail. Rail service runs from Kumba in the west to Bélabo in the east and north to Ngaoundéré. [130] International airports are located in Douala and Yaoundé, with a third under construction in Maroua. [131] Douala is the country's principal seaport. [132] In the north, the Bénoué River is seasonally navigable from Garoua across into Nigeria. [133]

Although press freedoms have improved since the first decade of the 21st century, the press is corrupt and beholden to special interests and political groups. [134] Newspapers routinely self-censor to avoid government reprisals. [72] The major radio and television stations are state-run and other communications, such as land-based telephones and telegraphs, are largely under government control. [135] However, cell phone networks and Internet providers have increased dramatically since the first decade of the 21st century [136] and are largely unregulated. [60]

The population of Cameroon was 25,216,267 in 2018. [137] [138] The life expectancy was 62.3 years (60.6 years for males and 64 years for females). [1]

Cameroon has slightly more women (50.5%) than men (49.5%). Over 60% of the population is under age 25. People over 65 years of age account for only 3.11% of the total population. [1]

Cameroon's population is almost evenly divided between urban and rural dwellers. [139] Population density is highest in the large urban centres, the western highlands, and the northeastern plain. [140] Douala, Yaoundé, and Garoua are the largest cities. In contrast, the Adamawa Plateau, southeastern Bénoué depression, and most of the South Cameroon Plateau are sparsely populated. [141]

According to the World Health Organization, the fertility rate was 4.8 in 2013 with a population growth rate of 2.56%. [101]

People from the overpopulated western highlands and the underdeveloped north are moving to the coastal plantation zone and urban centres for employment. [142] Smaller movements are occurring as workers seek employment in lumber mills and plantations in the south and east. [143] Although the national sex ratio is relatively even, these out-migrants are primarily males, which leads to unbalanced ratios in some regions. [144]

Both monogamous and polygamous marriage are practised, and the average Cameroonian family is large and extended. [145] In the north, women tend to the home, and men herd cattle or work as farmers. In the south, women grow the family's food, and men provide meat and grow cash crops. Cameroonian society is male-dominated, and violence and discrimination against women is common. [60] [72] [146]

The number of distinct ethnic and linguistic groups in Cameroon is estimated to be between 230 and 282. [147] [148] The Adamawa Plateau broadly bisects these into northern and southern divisions. The northern peoples are Sudanese groups, who live in the central highlands and the northern lowlands, and the Fulani, who are spread throughout northern Cameroon. A small number of Shuwa Arabs live near Lake Chad. Southern Cameroon is inhabited by speakers of Bantu and Semi-Bantu languages. Bantu-speaking groups inhabit the coastal and equatorial zones, while speakers of Semi-Bantu languages live in the Western grassfields. Some 5,000 Gyele and Baka Pygmy peoples roam the southeastern and coastal rainforests or live in small, roadside settlements. [149] Nigerians make up the largest group of foreign nationals. [150]

Refugees Edit

In 2007, Cameroon hosted approximately 97,400 refugees and asylum seekers. Of these, 49,300 were from the Central African Republic (many driven west by war), [152] 41,600 from Chad, and 2,900 from Nigeria. [153] Kidnappings of Cameroonian citizens by Central African bandits have increased since 2005. [129]

In the first months of 2014, thousands of refugees fleeing the violence in the Central African Republic arrived in Cameroon. [154]

On 4 June 2014, AlertNet reported:

Almost 90,000 people have fled to neighbouring Cameroon since December and up to 2,000 a week, mostly women and children, are still crossing the border, the United Nations said.

"Women and children are arriving in Cameroon in a shocking state, after weeks, sometimes months, on the road, foraging for food," said Ertharin Cousin, executive director of the World Food Programme (WFP). [155]

Languages Edit

Both English and French are official languages, although French is by far the most understood language (more than 80%). [156] German, the language of the original colonisers, has long since been displaced by French and English. Cameroonian Pidgin English is the lingua franca in the formerly British-administered territories. [157] A mixture of English, French, and Pidgin called Camfranglais has been gaining popularity in urban centres since the mid-1970s. [158] [159] The government encourages bilingualism in English and French, and as such, official government documents, new legislation, ballots, among others, are written and provided in both languages. As part of the initiative to encourage bilingualism in Cameroon, six of the eight universities in the country are entirely bilingual.

In addition to the colonial languages, there are approximately 250 other languages spoken by nearly 20 million Cameroonians. [9] It is because of this that Cameroon is considered one of the most linguistically diverse countries in the world. [8]

In the northern regions of the Far North, the North, and Adamawa, the Fulani language Fulfulde is the lingua franca with French merely serving as an administrative language. However, Chadian Arabic in the Far North's Region's department of Logone-et-Chari acts as the lingua franca irrespective of ethnic groups.

In 2017 there were language protests by the anglophone population against perceived oppression by the francophone. [160] The military was deployed against the protesters and people had been killed, hundreds imprisoned and thousands fled the country. [161] This culminated in the declaration of an independent Republic of Ambazonia, [162] which has since evolved into the Anglophone Crisis. [160]

Religion Edit

Cameroon has a high level of religious freedom and diversity. [72] The predominant faith is Christianity, practised by about two-thirds of the population, while Islam is a significant minority faith, adhered to by about one-fourth. In addition, traditional faiths are practised by many. Muslims are most concentrated in the north, while Christians are concentrated primarily in the southern and western regions, but practitioners of both faiths can be found throughout the country. [163] Large cities have significant populations of both groups. [163] Muslims in Cameroon are divided into Sufis, Salafis, [164] Shias, and non-denominational Muslims. [164] [165]

People from the North-West and South-West provinces, which used to be a part of British Cameroons, have the highest proportion of Protestants. The French-speaking regions of the southern and western regions are largely Catholic. [163] Southern ethnic groups predominantly follow Christian or traditional African animist beliefs, or a syncretic combination of the two. People widely believe in witchcraft, and the government outlaws such practices. [166] Suspected witches are often subject to mob violence. [72] The Islamist jihadist group Ansar al-Islam has been reported as operating in North Cameroon. [167]

In the northern regions, the locally dominant Fulani ethnic group is mostly Muslim, but the overall population is fairly evenly divided among Muslims, Christians, and followers of indigenous religious beliefs (called Kirdi ("pagan") by the Fulani). [163] The Bamum ethnic group of the West Region is largely Muslim. [163] Native traditional religions are practised in rural areas throughout the country but rarely are practised publicly in cities, in part because many indigenous religious groups are intrinsically local in character. [163]

Music and dance Edit

Music and dance are integral parts of Cameroonian ceremonies, festivals, social gatherings, and storytelling. [168] [169] Traditional dances are highly choreographed and separate men and women or forbid participation by one sex altogether. [170] The dances' purposes range from pure entertainment to religious devotion. [169] Traditionally, music is transmitted orally. In a typical performance, a chorus of singers echoes a soloist. [171]

Musical accompaniment may be as simple as clapping hands and stamping feet, [172] but traditional instruments include bells worn by dancers, clappers, drums and talking drums, flutes, horns, rattles, scrapers, stringed instruments, whistles, and xylophones combinations of these vary by ethnic group and region. Some performers sing complete songs alone, accompanied by a harplike instrument. [171] [173]

Popular music styles include ambasse bey of the coast, assiko of the Bassa, mangambeu of the Bangangte, and tsamassi of the Bamileke. [174] Nigerian music has influenced Anglophone Cameroonian performers, and Prince Nico Mbarga's highlife hit "Sweet Mother" is the top-selling African record in history. [175]

The two most popular music styles are makossa and bikutsi. Makossa developed in Douala and mixes folk music, highlife, soul, and Congo music. Performers such as Manu Dibango, Francis Bebey, Moni Bilé, and Petit-Pays popularised the style worldwide in the 1970s and 1980s. Bikutsi originated as war music among the Ewondo. Artists such as Anne-Marie Nzié developed it into a popular dance music beginning in the 1940s, and performers such as Mama Ohandja and Les Têtes Brulées popularised it internationally during the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. [176] [177]

Holidays Edit

The most notable holiday associated with patriotism in Cameroon is National Day, also called Unity Day. Among the most notable religious holidays are Assumption Day, and Ascension Day, which is typically 39 days after Easter. In the Northwest and Southwest provinces, collectively called Ambazonia, October 1 is considered a national holiday, a date Ambazonians consider the day of their independence from Cameroon. [178]

Cuisine Edit

Cuisine varies by region, but a large, one-course, evening meal is common throughout the country. A typical dish is based on cocoyams, maize, cassava (manioc), millet, plantains, potatoes, rice, or yams, often pounded into dough-like fufu. This is served with a sauce, soup, or stew made from greens, groundnuts, palm oil, or other ingredients. [179] Meat and fish are popular but expensive additions, with chicken is often reserved for special occasions. [180] Dishes are often quite spicy, with salt, red pepper sauce, and Maggi. [181] [182] [183]

Cutlery is common, but food is traditionally manipulated with the right hand. Breakfast consists of leftovers of bread and fruit with coffee or tea. Generally breakfast is made from wheat flour in various different foods such as puff-puff (doughnuts), accra banana made from bananas and flour, bean cakes, and many more. Snacks are popular, especially in larger towns where they may be bought from street vendors. [184] [185]

Water, palm wine, and millet beer are the traditional mealtime drinks, although beer, soda, and wine have gained popularity. 33 Export beer is the official drink of the national soccer team and one of the most popular brands, joining Castel, Amstel Brewery, and Guinness.

Fashion Edit

Cameroon's relatively large and diverse population is also diverse in its contemporary fashion. Climate religious, ethnic and cultural beliefs and influences from colonialism, imperialism and globalization are all reflected in modern Cameroonian dress.

Notable articles of clothing include: Pagnes, sarongs worn by Cameroon women Chechia, a traditional hat kwa, a male handbag and Gandura, male custom attire. [186] Wrappers and loincloths are used extensively by both women and men but their use varies by region, with influences from Fulani styles more present in the north and Igbo and Yoruba styles more often in the south and west. [187]

Imane Ayissi is one of Cameroon's top fashion designers and has received international recognition. [188]

Local arts and crafts Edit

Traditional arts and crafts are practiced throughout the country for commercial, decorative, and religious purposes. Woodcarvings and sculptures are especially common. [189] The high-quality clay of the western highlands is used for pottery and ceramics. [169] Other crafts include basket weaving, beadworking, brass and bronze working, calabash carving and painting, embroidery, and leather working. Traditional housing styles use local materials and vary from temporary wood-and-leaf shelters of nomadic Mbororo to the rectangular mud-and-thatch homes of southern peoples. Dwellings of materials such as cement and tin are increasingly common. [190] Contemporary art is mainly promoted by independent cultural organizations (Doual'art, Africréa) and artist-run initiatives (Art Wash, Atelier Viking, ArtBakery). [191]

Literature Edit

Cameroonian literature has concentrated on both European and African themes. Colonial-era writers such as Louis-Marie Pouka and Sankie Maimo were educated by European missionary societies and advocated assimilation into European culture to bring Cameroon into the modern world. [192] After World War II, writers such as Mongo Beti and Ferdinand Oyono analysed and criticised colonialism and rejected assimilation. [193] [194] [195]

Films and literature Edit

Shortly after independence, filmmakers such as Jean-Paul Ngassa and Thérèse Sita-Bella explored similar themes. [196] [197] In the 1960s, Mongo Beti, Ferdinand Léopold Oyono and other writers explored postcolonialism, problems of African development, and the recovery of African identity. [198] In the mid-1970s, filmmakers such as Jean-Pierre Dikongué Pipa and Daniel Kamwa dealt with the conflicts between traditional and postcolonial society. Literature and films during the next two decades focused more on wholly Cameroonian themes. [199]

Sports Edit

National policy strongly advocates sport in all forms. Traditional sports include canoe racing and wrestling, and several hundred runners participate in the 40 km (25 mi) Mount Cameroon Race of Hope each year. [200] Cameroon is one of the few tropical countries to have competed in the Winter Olympics.

Sport in Cameroon is dominated by football. Amateur football clubs abound, organised along ethnic lines or under corporate sponsors. The national team has been one of the most successful in Africa since its strong showing in the 1982 and 1990 FIFA World Cups. Cameroon has won five African Cup of Nations titles and the gold medal at the 2000 Olympics. [201]

Cameroon was the host country of the Women Africa Cup of Nations in November–December 2016. [202] The women's football team is known as the "Indomitable Lionesses."

History explains why Cameroon is at war with itself over language and culture

Verkijika G. Fanso does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.


The Conversation UK receives funding from these organisations

Tensions between English-speaking Cameroonians and the West-central African nation’s French-speaking government stretches back to end of colonial rule nearly 60 years ago. At the heart of the tension is Anglophones’ desire to form their own independent state, Ambazonia. In recent weeks there have been violent clashes and several protesters have been killed, reportedly by government security forces. The Conversation Africa asked Verkijika G. Fanso to explain what’s happening.

Why is there such animosity between French-speaking and English-speaking Cameroonians?

The animosity is actually between English-speaking Cameroonians and the government led and dominated by French-speaking Cameroonians. They have ruled the country in an authoritarian way since the unification of the two former United Nations trusteeship territories – French Cameroun and British Southern Cameroons – in 1961.

The current dispute is between the part of the country that was once run by the British, and the larger part where French is spoken and which was once run by the French. In 1972 the original federal structure that post-colonial unification was based on was abrogated. The English-speaking, or Anglophone, West Cameroon was annexed in a united republic, and in 1984 the word “united” was scrapped. The country became Cameroon and the English-speaking region was assimilated into the French-speaking area.

The dignity and statehood of Anglophones was silently destroyed – not by the French-speaking (Francophone) community at large, but by the government led and dominated by Francophones.

Being Anglophone or Francophone in Cameroon is not just the ability to speak, read and use English or French as a working language. It is about being exposed to the Anglophone or Francophone ways including things like outlook, culture and how local governments are run.

Anglophones have long complained that their language and culture are marginalised. They feel their judicial, educational and local government systems should be protected. They want an end to annexation and assimilation and more respect from the government for their language and political philosophies. And if that doesn’t happen, they want a total separation and their own independent state.

What’s the history of the call for an independent state?

On January 1 1960 French Cameroun gained independence and became Cameroun Republic. Later that year Nigeria gained its independence from Britain and became a Federal Republic. The British-controlled southern Cameroons was then separated from Nigeria and was due to achieve full independence on October 1 1961.

But there was a hitch: the United Nations organised a plebiscite in which southern Cameroonians were asked to chose between joining the Cameroun Republic or Nigeria. This vote was prompted by a British report that insisted its former territory would not survive economically on its own.

Southern Cameroonians wanted nothing more to do with Nigeria. They had suffered enormously at the hands of Igbo people who’d settled in their territory in previous decades. So they elected to unite in a new federation with Cameroun Republic. It was supposed to be a partnership of equals, a notion reinforced by bilateral negotiations that had started before the vote.

These negotiations were concluded at the Foumban Conference in July 1961. The general view after the conference was that the delegation from the Cameroun Republic, accompanied by French advisers, got virtually everything they wanted. The Anglophones, who received none of the support promised by the British or the UN, were effectively sidelined.

So the new federation was born, but it was never a happy union. The regions were centrally governed but neither of the two presidents since unification have spoken nor understood English. The incumbent, Paul Biya, reads English with difficulty.

Since then Anglophones have pushed for autonomy. This call is actually supported in a UN resolution passed in April 1961 that defines the joining of the two former territories as a federation of two states, equal in status and autonomous.

What’s prompted the latest violence?

In October 2016 lawyers went on a strike in an effort to force the government to stop appointing Francophone magistrates who spoke no English and had no training in common law to preside over courts in the Anglophone regions.

During peaceful demonstrations in the cities of Bamenda and Buea, the lawyers were roughly manhandled by government security forces.

Teachers soon came out in support of the lawyers. They wanted the government to stop posting Francophone teachers who spoke no English to teach subjects other than French in Anglophone schools. People across professions followed the teachers, and Cameroon’s cities became “ghost towns” everywhere on certain days of the week as part of a large-scale stay away.

Earlier this year government banned the trade unions that had led the strikes. Many of their members – some of whom were engaged in discussions with the government – were arrested and jailed on charges of terrorism and attempts to change the form of the state. The government also shut down internet and other communication services in Anglophone regions to stop people sharing information and organising.*

Shamed by international condemnation, President Biya reinstated communication services three months later. He also ordered the release of some strike leaders and scrapped the charges against them. But he didn’t call for a resumption of talks.

Anglophones were unimpressed. On October 1 they took to the streets to commemorate what they consider their independence day. They raised the flag of Ambazonia in various towns and cities. It was an assertion of autonomy. Government security forces were deployed and used excessive. Over the next few days a number of people were killed, some reports suggesting 17 others suggesting as many as 100.

Is there any chance of resolving this conflict?

Dialogue and diplomacy are foremost. Cameroon’s leadership must initiate or reinstate dialogue with those representing Anglophone interests. Failing this, the African Union or the UN – or both – should initiate dialogue.

Cameroon is being haunted by agreements that were never respected, from the Foumban Conference to the UN’s resolution regarding autonomy. These agreements must be revisited and respected if the crisis is to end.

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Land Edit

The West sits at the geologic crossroads of Cameroon the soil varies greatly within a relatively small land area. The land along the Noun River and at the Bamendjing Reservoir, for example, is a lightly evolved blend of various raw minerals. The province's western half, on the other hand, is a haphazard mixture of raw minerals, granite, ferrallitic patches of red dirt, and other types. Finally, the soil of the eastern portions away from the reservoir is ferrallitic. Rocks in the area range from the volcanic along the reservoir and Noun to Precambrian deposits of crystalline rocks such as granite and gneiss under a cover of basaltic rock in the northwest. Metamorphic rocks like gneiss and mica dominate the rest of the territory. The soil throughout is mostly red in color due to high iron content, though that of the northwest is black or brown basalt. The province's soils are the richest and most productive in Cameroon.

Drainage Edit

The West's mountainous terrain and active tectonics create many fast-moving rivers with picturesque falls and isolated crater lakes. These rivers follow a Cameroon regime, experiencing a period of high waters during the wet season and a period of low waters in the dry period. The rivers all form part of the Atlantic basin.

The Mbam River runs along the border with the Centre and Southeast Provinces. The Nkam is the name for the headwaters of the Wouri River, which flow from the West's Bamboutos Mountains. The eastern branch through the area rises northwest of Bangangté, and the western branch forms the border with the Littoral Province southwest of Bafang. These headwaters are subject to seasonal flooding. The Noun River, a tributary of the Sanaga, flows from the Centre Province, around Bafoussam, and to the Bamendjing Reservoir. This man-made lake is created by a dam on the Noun River, which helps regulate the Sanaga at Edéa in the Littoral Province and is thus an important component in Cameroon's supply of hydroelectric power. Falls are common, such as the Balatchi, Metché, and Tsugning Falls.

Most of the West's lakes are crater lakes formed from collapsed volcanoes. Such lakes exist at Balent, Banéfo, Doupé, and near Foumban. Many of these still have active volcanoes at their bottoms, particularly in the northwest on the Western High Plateau. One example is Lake Baleng, northeast of Bafoussam, and the twin lakes of Foumbot. These volcanoes can cause deposits of gas to build up at the lakebed until poisonous gases finally bubble to the surface. Such an eruption at Lake Monoun killed 37 villagers near Foumbot on 15 and 16 August 1984.

Relief Edit

The Bamboutos Mountains are the West's primary land feature. Elevations reach as high as 2,000 metres and dip as low as 500 metres in the Noun and Nkam valleys. The highest point is Mt. Bamboutos, a dormant volcano west of Mbouda, at 2,740 metres. These mountains lie along the Cameroon Fault, dating from the Cretaceous, which runs roughly parallel to the border with the Northwest Province and through the capital of Bafoussam. West of the Cameroon Mountains lies the Western High Plateau, with elevations of 1,000-2,500 metres. South of the fault, the land descends in steps until levelling off at the South Cameroon Plateau. Here, terrain is gentler, with large hills separated by deep valleys.

Climate Edit

High elevations and moderate to high humidity give the West one of Cameroon's more pleasant climates. Temperatures average a cool 22˙, and rainfall is moderate. Except for the southeasternmost portions, the West experiences two major seasons in lieu of the traditional four: the year begins in a long, dry period of little rain, which runs until May, then the rains begin in May or June and last until October or November. Though the transition is gradual, the southeastern reaches of the province are part of the South Cameroon Plateau and thus have four seasons: the long dry season from December to March, the short rainy season from March to June, the short dry season from June to August, and the long rainy season from September to December.

The climate is equatorial of the Cameroon sub-variety in the northwestern third and equatorial of the Guinea type in the southeastern two-thirds. Rainfall, moderated by the mountains, averages 1,000-2,000 mm per year throughout, though it is highest at the area of the Bamendjing Reservoir.

Plant and animal life Edit

Very little of the West's original flora or fauna survives, since most land has been cleared by human farmers. This is particularly evident on the Western High Plateau, where poor soil and less rainfall have exacerbated the effects of deforestation, turning the area into grassland. The Melap Reserve (Réserve de Melap) near Foumban is one heavily wooded area, but it is more of a city park than an actual reserve.

East of the Noun River, the terrain is primarily covered in woodland savanna of the Sahel type, which forms a transitional zone to the lowly vegetated northern provinces. West of that river, this savanna is of the Sudan type, and is interspersed among open, dry forest. A few small patches of rain forest persist to the west of the Mbam River in the Noun division. As elevation increases, forests thin out, until they are replaced by ferns and bamboos at 1,800 metres. Trees throughout shed their leaves during the dry season as protection against brush fires.

Settlement patterns Edit

The West's population density is high in general, especially in the towns of Bafoussam, Dschang, Mbouda, and Bafang. This is due to the pleasant climate and fertile soils. Bafoussam is both the provincial capital and the centre of the Bamileke lands. Populations thin out toward the southern border and in the eastern Bamum-dominated territories. Settlements are scattered.

The region experiences significant out-migration, particularly when the vast plantations of the Southwest Province hire workers for annual harvests. Permanent emigration is mainly by those who wish to escape the overcrowded conditions and to farm larger pieces of land, and is directed mainly to the Southwest and Littoral Provinces.

Bamileke homes are traditionally made of dried earth placed on a bamboo frame and covered by a thatched roof. Farm plots separated by fences surround the typical home. Houses of this type are seldom seen today, however, though barns are still constructed using these methods. The last bastion of traditional architecture are the many chiefs' compounds that dot the province. These are characterized by their tall, conical roofs, bamboo and clay-brick walls, and carved poles around the entryway. The typical layout places a central audience chamber in front of other rooms for individuals of progressively lower rank.

People Edit

Two major tribal groups dominate the West: the Bamileke and the Bamum. Both of these are considered semi-Bantu or grassfields Bantu. The Bamileke are the more numerous, estimated to number 3000000 or more. They are concentrated southeast of the Bamboutos Mountains and west of the Noun River. Their major settlements are at Bafoussam, Bandjoun, Bafang, Bawaju, Bangangté, Dschang, and Mbouda. They organise themselves in sub-groups, each under the rule of a different chief. Examples are the Fe'fe', Ghomala, Kwa', Medumba, Mengaka, Nda'nda', Ngomba, Ngombale, Ngiemboon, and Yemba. Most of these groups speak a unique language, though all are closely related. Most Bamileke are Christian, with Catholics in the majority.

The Bamum people are the area's other major ethnic group. They are a subgroup of the Tikar, though they speak a language called Bamum. They are primarily Islamic, and all are ruled by a sultan in their tribal capital, Foumban.

Other languages spoken in the province include Bamenyam, Mbo, and Tikar. Most educated inhabitants also speak French.

The West is one of Cameroon's soundest economic areas due primarily to its agricultural prosperity and the enterprising traditions of the Bamileke people. In areas that do not have a daily market, market days are typically every eighth day (the Bamileke follow an eight-day week).

Agriculture Edit

Subsistence farming Edit

The Bamileke are skilled farmers who exploit virtually every strip of land available. [ citation needed ] Along with the neighbouring Northwest Province, the West supplies most of the food consumed in Cameroon's seven lower provinces. Tools are largely traditional. Farmers plant after the first rains in fields consisting of alternating ridges and furrows. In the past, farmers practiced field rotation, allowing land to lie fallow for two or three years. Due to increasing population density, however, they use the land almost continuously today the loss in fertility is partially countered through extensive use of fertilisers and manure. Hedges or fences that separate private plots and keep out animals surround farms in the West. These hedges also provide firewood and help prevent from soil erosion. In the Southeast, farmers sometimes place fields in forest clearings where they use slash-and-burn agriculture.

Maize is the major staple, and farmers surround rows of it with cocoyams, plantains, beans, groundnuts, melons, and yams. Potatoes are another mainstay, and the West is one of the few places in Cameroon where they grow well due to high elevations in the region. Farmers grow these crops on the hillsides and use the valleys to plant cocoyams, colocasia, and raffia palms. In the western Wouri valley, rice is also important.

Plantation agriculture Edit

Population pressures prevent entrepreneurs from establishing large plantations more prevalently in the West. Coffee is the major cash crop, with large fields in the regions of Bafoussam, Foumbot, and Dschang and powerful supervision by Union des Cooperatives de Café Arabica de l'Ouest (UCCAO). Cocoa is also important, particularly in the lowlands. Tea is grown commercially near Dschang. Some rice cultivation takes place under the Upper Noun Development Company (UNVDA) in the southeast, largely due to government projects. Tobacco from Mbouda and Foumbot stays within the province for local consumption, though the Bastos Company of Yaoundé processes some for export.

Livestock Edit

Livestock raising was once practiced more widely, but as populations have risen, most land has been converted to crop cultivation (a fact that has raised tensions between herders and farmers). Still, some herders drive cattle using transhumance methods in the northwestern half of the province, and the Kounden area is home to some modern ranching. Ranchers sell these animals, which account for 10% of Cameroon's beef, mostly in the Douala market.

Many farmers raise sheep and goats in the southeastern half of the province. Increasingly common these days are poultry and pigs, which can live in pens on smaller farms. In fact, the majority of Cameroon's pork comes from the region, and a large government-run poultry farm operates at Kounden. Smallholder farmers, especially women, keep domestic cavies in their homesteads that may provide more protein to family nutrition than any other meat source. [3] [4]

The Bamendjing is also the site of traditional fishing, and professional fisheries operate at Foumban.

Industry Edit

The West is home to relatively little industry. The area's few factories are almost all devoted to food processing, with plants in Bafoussam (beer, instant coffee), Foumbot, Dschang, and Kékem. The building materials, pharmaceuticals, and bauxite mining industries also have a presence.

Arts and crafts form the heart of the West's production. Particularly renowned are the goods produced by Bamum cooperatives at Foumban. These include intricately decorated ceramics made from Foumban's high-quality clay, woodworking, brass and bronze casting, and cotton textiles, often featuring elaborate embroidery. The Bamileke are also skilled artisans, with their own cooperative at Bafoussam.

Transportation Edit

With such a small land area and large network of mostly paved roads, the West is one of Cameroon's more accessible provinces. Major routes through the area include National Road 4 to Yaoundé, National Road 5 from Békoko to Bandjoun, and National Road 6 (dubbed la Transafricaine) from Ekok, Mamfe and Bamenda in the Northwest Province through Mbouda and Foumban to Banyo and beyond in the Adamawa. Bafoussam forms an important nexus between the cities of Bamenda, Douala, Yaoundé, and Foumban. Roads often must wind and sharply turn to traverse the region's mountains, and traffic accidents are not uncommon. The region is reachable by air via domestic airports at Bafoussam and Koutaba and an airstrip at Dschang.

Tourism Edit

With its legions of artisans and its lavish sultan's palace, Foumban forms the West's main tourist draw. Visitors also come to experience the region's magnificent scenery and rich traditional culture.

The West's high population and economic dominance lend it great political importance. However, Cameroon's government and state-run media, largely run by President Paul Biya's numerically inferior Beti-Pahuin tribal group, are often accused of anti-Bamileke bias. The Bamileke thus stand to gain a great deal from a more free and transparent government, and the West harbors many sympathisers for the presidential party's main opponents, the Social Democratic Front.

Government Edit

The West consists of eight divisions or departments (departements), each headed by a prefect (prefet), or senior divisional officer. The president appoints all of these officers and the provincial governor in Bafoussam. A special urban council presides over Bafoussam, staffed by presidentially appointed counselors who serve under a presidentially appointed delegate.

The Noun department, headquartered at Foumban, is the largest division geographically and occupies most of the Bamum territories bordering the Adamawa and Centre Provinces. The Ndé department is southwest of this with its capital at Bangangté. The Haut-Nkam (Upper Nkam) department, whose capital is Bafang, is further west, and the Ménoua department borders it to the northwest with its capital at Dschang. The Mifi department, with its capital Bafoussam, forms the centre of the region, and it is hemmed in by a handful of smaller divisions: the Bamboutos department, headquartered at Mbouda, the Hauts-Plateaux (High Plateaus) department, governed from Baham, and the Koung-Khi department, governed from Bandjoun. These latter two divisions were recently formed due to population booms in the area.

Traditional political organisation Edit

Traditional rulers still hold substantial power in the province. A sultan, whose palace and head of government are in Foumban, rules the Bamum. Bamum tradition claims an unbroken line of succession since 1394.

The Bamileke, in contrast, are divided into over 100 groups, each headed by a chief (fon, foyn, or fo). The chiefs are themselves divided into various ranks, with major rulers living in Bandjoun, Bafang, Bangangté, Dschang, and Mbouda. Traditionally, chiefs command divine powers and own all lands by divine mandate. Individual tenants work plots at their chief's behest. These groupings thus form the basis for Bamileke tribal identity. Advisers, often called the “Council of Notables”, in turn serve the chiefs. Below them are various district chiefs who govern individual wards in the village.

Education Edit

With nearly 1,000 schools serving its some 1,000 villages, the West relatively well provisioned educationally. The high population density contributes to classroom overcrowding, however. Students must often travel to nearby towns in order to pursue higher levels of education, since most villages do not have secondary schools. The province is also the location of a bilingual university at Dschang as well as the private Université des Montagnes in Bangangté.

Health Edit

Hospitals and health clinics are fairly prevalent in the region. The area's pleasant climate keeps it largely mosquito-free, so malaria is not a problem as in much of the rest of Cameroon. Lack of sanitation is a serious issue, as this leads to outbreaks of dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid, and other ailments, especially in the more urbanised centres.

Cultural life Edit

The West has a lively traditional culture. The Bamum observe traditional Muslim holy days, such as Ramadan and the Feast of the Ram. They also hold an annual cultural festival called the Ngouon. Bamileke festivals vary from tribe to tribe, and most are held during the dry season or for special events such as funerals or the birth of twins. Some examples are the Macabo Festival of Bangoua, the Medumba Festival of Bangangté, and the Ben Skin Dance, a dance of female sensuality that has grown increasingly commercialised.

A number of museums celebrate the West's history and traditions. Among these are the Musée du Palais du Sultan Bamun, the Musée des Arts et des Traditions Bamoun, and the Musée Sacré Djissé, all in Foumban. The Musée de la Chefferie Bandjoun is the region's largest repository of Bamileke artifacts.

Early population movements Edit

Human beings have inhabited the West since prehistoric times, as evidenced by archaeological finds at Galima and Foumban. Bamileke groups likely entered the area from the Adamawa Plateau in the 17th century, probably fleeing Fulbe (Fula) slave raids. They originally settled in what is now Bamum territory, but the Bamum forced them across the Noun in a series of wars in the 18th century. Bamileke tradition states that they migrated in three major groups. The first consisted of the Baleng, Bapi, and Bafussam (who founded the settlement at Bafoussam along with the Bamougoum). Next came the Bagam, Bamendu, Bamsoa, Bazu, and Bangu. The final wave consisted of the Bati and Bafangwa. This period also saw the Bamileke assimilation of several older populations.

Bamum tradition claims their kingdom was founded when Ncharé Yen led them to settle at Foumban (Mfom-Ben) in the 15th century. However, most scholars today place this migration as late as the 19th century, likely the result of population pressures caused by the same Fulbe jihads that had earlier pushed the Bamileke south. The king Mbwe-Mbwe extended Bamum holdings from the Mbam to the Noun Rivers, subjugating numerous local rulers in the process. Mbwe-Mbwe also kept the Fulbe from encroaching further south and west.

The Bamum experienced a golden age of sorts under the leadership of Sultan Ibrahim Njoya (r. 1886-1933). Njoya was a patron of learning, and he converted to Islam under the tutelage of numerous Muslim scholars he had allowed into the kingdom. He developed an alphabet for the Bamum language (the Shumon script), and established schools to teach it. The Islamisation of the Bamum occurred during his reign.

The Bali-Chamba are the third major group to have pushed through the West Province territory in historical times. They came under the leadership of a warrior chief named Gawolbe and crossed the Noun around 1825. In 1830, they fought a war with the Bamileke Bafu-Fundong group near Dschang. Their leader, Gawolbe II died, and the tribe splintered as Gawolbe's seven sons fought for control. Most of these groups migrated further west into what is today the Northwest Province.

European contacts Edit

German administration Edit

The area had only indirect contact with European powers (mostly due to slave raids by tribes further south) before the German annexation of the Cameroons in 1884. The first Europeans to enter the territory were representatives of the Basel Mission in 1897. The Germans themselves did not move into the territory until 1899 (though they had signed treaties with Bamileke leaders as early as 1884). Governor Jesko Von Puttkamer established the Gesellschaft Nordwest-Kamerun to monopolise trade in the area, and he established the divisional capital at Dschang in 1903. The area's cool temperatures drew many German settlers, and the colonisers established great coffee plantations, which they forced the natives to work. Larger plantations were established further south, and many Bamileke were forced or encouraged to move out of their traditional territories to work them. The Germans also set up a puppet over-chief for all the Bamileke, who had never before considered themselves a single group. Catholic missionaries reached the grasslands area in 1910. By 1912, most of the Bamileke had converted to Christianity.

Sultan Njoya welcomed the first German emissary to the Bamum kingdom in 1902 after hearing of the ruthless treatment given rebellious tribes further to the northwest. He even lent military support for the German campaign against the Nso near Bamenda in 1906. The Bamum soldiers, eager for revenge for an earlier defeat to the Nso in 1888, committed such atrocities that the Germans sent them back. Njoya also ordered the building of a palace at Foumban in 1917, which he modeled after that of the German governor.

French administration Edit

Bamileke and Bamum territory fell to the French in 1916 after the Germans' defeat in World War I. The territory became part of the Baré-Foumban-Nkongsamba administrative area, and the capital was moved to Foumban. Dschang served as the seat of a French-run school for the sons of chiefs, which the French used to indoctrinate as well as instruct. The French maintained German plantations and labour sources, and new operations sprung up, such as a palm plantation at Dschang. The new colonial overlords made improvements to the region's infrastructure, as well, especially to the road network.

The French continued Germany's policy of propping up sympathetic chiefs and deposing recalcitrant ones. They sought some sort of administrative centre amid the Bamileke domains, and in 1926, Fotso II of the Bandjoun people offered the site of Bafoussam, neighbouring his domains but not actually part of them. Mambou, chief of the area, opposed the colonials, but he was defeated, and the foundations of modern Bafoussam were laid. The Bamum did not escape the French sphere, either, as sultan Ibrahim Njoya was deposed in 1931 due to his pro-German views. Njoya died in a Yaoundé prison two years later.

After World War II, the West was a centre of political pressure and protest against colonial rule. Other groups came into being to combat these (usually with France's blessing), including the Union Bamiléké in 1948. In 1956, France granted self-rule to its colony, and the West proved one of Cameroon's more politically influential areas due to groups such as Paysans Independants and the Assemblée Traditionnale Bamoun. The population boomed between 1958 and 1965, a period of high urbanisation in Cameroon.

In 1958, Ahmadou Ahidjo became prime minister of French Cameroon with a pro-independence platform. The powerful Union des Populations du Cameroun (UPC) party, including many Bamileke, considered him a French puppet and opposed him. On 27 June 1959, several Bamileke areas were struck in what were later labeled terrorist strikes. Ahidjo declared martial law. His later attitudes toward the Bamileke likely were strongly influenced by their opposition to him. [5]

Post-independence Edit

Under Ahidjo, the current West Province was known as the Administrative Inspectorate of the West. He named Bafoussam the capital and set the province's current boundaries after union of British and French Cameroon in 1972.

Ahidjo's battles with the UPC continued past Cameroon's independence on 1 January 1960. He outlawed the party's "terrorist" wing on 30 October 1963, leading to more strikes in Bamileke population centres and subsequent military retribution.

What support Ahidjo did enjoy among the Bamileke largely came from his pro-business policies. When the president resigned in 1982, his replacement, Paul Biya, sent his representative, Moussa Yaya, to reassure the West's businessmen that he would not prove unfriendly to their interests. Yaya mistrusted Biya, however, and only exacerbated Bamileke reservations. The Bamum, as well, were reluctant to see Cameroon's presidency change from a Muslim to a Christian. Much Bamileke and Bamum resentment for the Biya administration dates to this period.

In 2008, the President of the Republic of Cameroon, Paul Biya, signed decrees abolishing "Provinces" and replacing them with "Regions". Hence, all of the country's ten provinces are now known as Regions.

Cameroon: colonial past and present frictions

In Cameroon, there has been a surge in protests by the English speaking minority against the dominance of the francophone majority. Understanding the country's colonial past helps explain the depth of this animosity.

The area around Mount Cameroon, an active volcano some 4,000 meters (13,000 feet ) above sea level, was known to the Cartharginians - the foes of ancient Rome - long before Portuguese explorers navigated the estuary of the Wouri river in 1472. Spotting mud lobsters in the waters, the explorers named them Rio dos Camaroes, Portuguese for River of Prawns. The name Cameroon was born.

The Portuguese were followed by Dutch, French, Spanish and British explorers who traded salt, fabrics, liquor and firearms in exchange for palm oil, fish and slaves. German traders first arrived 1862 and in 1884 the German Empire signed an agreement with Kings Bell and Akwa under which Kamerun - German for Cameroon - became a German protectorate.

Lost territories

Germany lost her colonies during the First World War (1914-1918) and Cameroon ceased to be a German possession in 1916. In 1919, the country was given the status of a League of Nations mandate administered by Britain and France.

"The switch between colonial powers has consequences to this day," Professor Bea Lundt, an historian with Berlin's Free University told DW.

There were also differences between the two new colonial powers themselves. "The British colonial system was what they call indirect rule, the French system was more direct rule," Lundt said.

The colonial structures in the French part were - and still are - perceived as "harder" than those in the English part.

English and French are both official languages in Cameroon as seen here above the entrance to the country's electoral commission

By the time independence arrived for British Cameroons and French Cameroun in 1961, the French territory was more economically developed than its British counterpart. Two unequal former colonies became a single federal state the disparities between the two were not addressed.

Anglophone Cameroonians felt they were politically and economically at a disadvantage, and the tensions with their francophone compatriots rose during the 1990s.


There are two English-speaking regions in Cameroon, but eight French-speaking ones. Anglophone Cameroonians complain to this day that English speakers are underrepresented in key government positions and that ordinary people are marginalized because they lack a good command of the French language.

In 1995, the Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC) came to fore with the demand for the creation of an independent state called Southern Cameroons. That was the term for the southern part of British Cameroons. A government crackdown on the SCNC ensued. In one incident, Amnesty International reported in 2002 that six members of the SCNC had been detained without charge at Mamfe Gendarmerie station in South West Cameroon and were at risk of being tortured or ill-treated.

A memorial in Yaounde marking the reunification of the two Cameroons at the end of colonial rule.

In 2017, some firebrands are agitating for secession from francophone Camerooon, but more moderate Anglophones favor the federalism that existed from 1961 to 1972 when Ahmadou Ahidjo was president.

The government of 83-year-old President Paul Biya is not prepared to countenance the one nor the other. Biya, who has been in power since 1982, has declared the SCNC an illegal organization.

Cameroon's two English speaking regions - South West and North West in today's parlance - are longtime bastions of opposition to Biya.

The surge in protests by the anglophone minority, which began as lawyers and teachers strikes in October 2016, is an expression of perceived economic injustice as well ass cultural and linguistic discrimination. Cameroon is rich in oil and is among the most prosperous countries in sub-Saharan Africa, but the English-speaking community complains that the wealth hasn't been shared out fairly.

This adds to the volatility engulfing Cameroon as the country gears up for a presidential election in 2018.

"We have not been aware enough of the persistent colonial problems which still produce escalation on the African continent," Lundt said.

DW recommends

Who are Cameroon's self-named Ambazonia secessionists?

Two years ago secessionists earmarked Cameroon's English-speaking regions for a new African nation, they named Ambazonia. But their pursuit for self-rule has led to death and destruction of civilians in the crosshairs.

October 1 this year will mark the second anniversary since separatists in Cameroon's northwest and southwest regions proclaimed a so-called independent state "Ambazonia." It is a symbolic date: on the very same day in 1961, the East, which was then administered by the French, and the West, administered by the British, were united to form Cameroon. Something, the "Ambazonians" want to reverse. This year, the day will be under close watch: Cameroon's President Paul Biya has announced plans to hold a "national dialogue" with the aim of ending the conflict.

It is a conflict which is scarred by violence and severe human rights violations from both security forces and armed groups, Amnesty International reported. 3,000 people have died and close to half a million have been displaced. Multiple separatists groups have formed in the southwest and northwest of the country.

Who are the 'Amba-boys'?

Agbor Balla, an Anglophone human rights lawyer, tells DW: " I think each county or each community is coming up with its own groups. There are about 10 groups, including the Ambazonia Defense Forces, the Tigers, and groups working for the interim government of Ambazonia." All of these groups serve one purpose: the fight for independence. It is a struggle that has a long history.

The conflict is scarred by violence between seperatists and security forces

In the run-up to their independence, residents of British-administered Southern Cameroon, which included the northwest and southwest regions, held a referendum on 30 September 1961 under the auspices of the United Nation. The question was whether they wanted to belong to the newly Independent Federal Republic of Nigeria or to French-administered Cameroon. Under promises of a federal state and English as the official language, English-speaking Southern Cameroon joined the majority French-speaking East. Despite the agreement, Cameroon became a unitary state in 1972. "Many think that if we had remained faithful to the Federal Republic of Cameroon we would not have had the problems we have now," Cardinal Christian Tumi tells DW.

Marginalizing Cameroon's Anglophone regions

In the 1990s, Anglophone parties issued threats of declaring independence unless the old constitution was re-instated. They felt marginalized by the majority francophone government. Joseph Wirba, self-exiled Cameroonian MP, told DW: "We joined a nation that did not want our freedom and they presumed that they had to eliminate our culture gradually, to reduce us to second class citizens. That neglect pushed people gradually over the years to that extreme to say: no, we can not continue to be treated that way."

On 12 October 2016, lawyers and teachers started demonstrating peacefully. Schools were closed and the ‘ghost town' strikes started – for several days each week, shops and institutions closed their doors. The government responded by shutting down the internet, arresting and intimidating protestors.

Independence of 'Ambazonia'

On 1 October 2017, separatists declared an independent state, which they named Ambazonia. The government sent in forces, and large-scale fighting broke out. Bullets and tear gas were unleashed onto civilian population the cross-hairs. According to Amnesty International, 17 people were killed and hundreds more were wounded.

The southwest has been torn by two years of clashes

Reverend Thomas Mokoko Mbue, from the Presbyterian Church in Cameroon, says in a DW interview: "It was the beginning of a radical movement towards armed struggle. The argument was that the government had attacked their people who were unarmed and that they needed to defend them, so armed groups were formed."

No chain of command

Freedom fighters, radicals, or Amba-boys – nowadays, the separatists have many names. Mark Bareta, a Cameroonian activist in the diaspora fighting for Ambazonia, explains: "At the moment we have different groups, different structures: Those who decided to pick up arms and are fighting the republic, those doing diplomacy and those providing support to those in the bushes."

The groups don't have a chain of command. "You cannot really identify how they operate," Balla says. People like Sisiku Ayuk Tabe, one of the imprisoned Cameroon Anglophone separatist leaders, would not be controlling the movement. Tabe and nine of his followers were convicted of charges including terrorism and secession. However, "the ones acting on behalf of Sisiku are very important, some take orders from them," Balla says. "Some leaders of the groups are in contact, they make joint statements."

The lines between good and evil

Some of the armed groups are led and funded by Cameroonians living in the diaspora, Balla says. "The diaspora, these are Cameroonians. Some want to see things changed, some of them want to have an independent state, some of them might have had their issues with the government. Some of them might have been blacklisted and they cannot come back to the country. So some hope to come back to an independent state." However, most groups survive through kidnappings and ransom.

Many separatist leaders and followers have been imprisoned

The fights have become increasingly brutal, schools, hospitals and whole villages are burned down, people murdered and intimidated. "At the beginning, abuses were mostly and largely committed by government forces. Now the line between the bad and the good is really blurred and we see these separatist groups attacking and targeting civilians," explains Ilaria Allegrozzi from Human Rights Watch. "Civilians are really being caught in the middle of this crisis and paying the highest price."

A lost generation

Another worrying phenomenon stresses the severity of the conflict. "Armed robbers have re-branded themselves, calling themselves Amba-Groups," Mbue says. They recruit young men and profit out of the situation: "Kidnappings, ransom taking, breaking into homes. They loot whatever they want to loot."

Mbue is worried: If the conflict continues, the young generation of "Ambazonia" will be lost. "There are kids of eight years who have never seen a school. Young men dropped out of secondary school and have become barbarians of their community, they lost their basic sense of civilization and only see the option of carrying guns. A whole generation is going down." Some of the fighters are as young as 15 years, Mbue says. "It is heartbreaking to see those who are to build our community dying because of a senseless war."

Dirke Köpp contributed to this article.

DW recommends

Watch the video: History of Cameroon (June 2022).


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