Historical records indicate that in the 15th century, Portuguese explorers sailing along the coast of Cameroon were intrigued by an erupting Mt. Cameroon volcano. Curiosity got the better of them and they followed the Wouri River to sail inland. Following the abundant discovery of prawns at the mouth of the river, they named it Rio dos Camaroes (River of Prawns). From Camaroes in Portuguese, the country was designated Cameroon in English and Cameroun in French.
Cameroon, unlike most African colonies, did not attract much colonial interest until Germany, a latecomer in the colonial race colonised it in 1884. However, this was to be short-lived as the outbreak of WW1 saw the defeat of Germany in Cameroon by British, Belgian and French forces in 1916. Under the Treaty of Versailles, Cameroon was divided into two League of Nations Mandate under Britain and France.
French Cameroon became independent in 1960 as the Republic of Cameroon. The following year the southern portion of neighbouring British Cameroon voted to merge with the new country to form the Federal Republic of Cameroon. In 1972, a new constitution replaced the federation with a unitary state, the United Republic of Cameroon. The country has generally enjoyed stability under the leadership of H.E. President Paul Biya, which has enabled the development of agriculture, roads, and railways, as well as a petroleum industry.
Geography & Natural Environment
Cameroon is primarily located in Central Africa, bordering the Bight of Biafra, between Equatorial Guinea and Nigeria. The country covers a total area of 475,440 sq km of which the land mass is 472,710 sq km, with sea and water making up the rest at 2,730 sq km. Cameroon shares boundaries with the Central African Republic, Chad, Republic of the Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and Nigeria being the longest at 1,975 km. The country has a coastline that extends over 402 km.
Cameroon’s climatic conditions vary with terrain from tropical along the coast to semiarid and hot in the north. The terrain is diverse, with coastal plain in southwest, dissected plateau in centre, mountains in west, and plains in the north. Towering above all natural features is Mt. Cameroon, which is the highest mountain in West and Central Africa at over 4100 metres above sea level.
The country is endowed with natural resources such as petroleum, bauxite, iron ore, timber, hydropower, gold, diamond and more. Natural resources remain a key source of export revenue alongside agricultural products (cocoa, coffee, rubber, banana etc).
Like most countries, Cameroon has its fair share of natural hazards. Mount Cameroon is an active volcano that periodically erupts and spews out high viscous lava. The slow-moving nature of the lava is a major reason why fatalities are kept to a minimum during eruptions. The last eruption occurred in 2000.
However, not all natural hazards in the country have been kind to the human population within the vicinity. Lakes Nyos and Monoun can release poisonous gases that suffocate humans and livestock living nearby. In 1986, a limic eruption from Lake Nyos, saw the release of gases that left 1700 people dead within 25 km of the lake. Gaseous releases from these lakes are a rare occurrence and might become even rarer as scientists have since put degassing mechanisms in place.
The natural environment and climatic diversity of Cameroon is partly the reason the country is often dubbed ‘Africa in miniature’ or ‘the hinge of Africa’.
People & Society
The population of Cameroon is estimated at 23 million with 54% living in major urban areas like Yaoundé (capital) and Douala (economic capital).
The country has a relatively young population with the following age distribution as of 2015:
- 0-14 years: 78% (male 5,115,958/female 5,039,122)
- 15-24 years: 58% (male 2,337,061/female 2,310,178)
- 25-54 years: 53% (male 3,644,779/female 3,603,610)
- 55-64 years: 96% (male 458,001/female 481,717)
- 65 years and over: 15% (male 348,754/female 400,038)
There are also several ethnic groups within this population that are distributed as follows:
- Highlanders make up 31% of the population
- Equatorial Bantu 19%
- Kirdi 11%
- Fulani 10%
- North-western Bantu 8%
- Eastern Nigritic 7%
- Other African 13%
- Non-African less than 1%.
There are 24 major African language groups. However, English and French remain the official languages of the country.
The diverse nature of the population extends into the religious realm and is estimated (2015) as follows:
- Catholic 38.4%
- Protestant 26.3%
- Other Christian 4.5%
- Muslim 20.9%
- Animist 5.6%
- Other 1%
- Non-believers 3.2%
Owing to its favourable agricultural conditions, oil and natural resources, Cameroon is one of the best primary commodity economies in Sub-Saharan African. In spite of falling world prices, oil still accounts for 40% of Cameroon’s export earnings.
Since 1990, the government, in collaboration with world bodies and partners, has embarked on various initiatives. These initiatives have been designed to spur business investment, increase efficiency in agriculture, improve trade, and recapitalise the nation’s banks.
Cameroon allocates significant resources to several large infrastructure projects currently under construction, including a deep sea port in Kribi and the Lom Pangar Hydropower Project. Cameroon’s energy sector continues to diversify, lately opening a natural gas powered electricity generating plant. The country continues to seek foreign investment to improve its inadequate infrastructure, create jobs, and improve its economic footprint.
With 2015 GDP figures at over 76 billion US dollars, and growth rate of 5.9%, Cameroon continues to ride an upward and stable path to growth with several opportunities for foreign investment.