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« No Single Ethnic Group can and will Carry Nigeria | Main | Un-sung Hero of Africa: Robert Mugabe »

March 05, 2006

Ozodi Osuji Weekly Lectures on African Countries #7 of 54: Cameroon

by Ozodi Thomas Osuji, Ph.D. (Seatle, Washington) --- 7. CAMEROON Flag of Cameroon

Formal Name: United Republic of Cameroon.

Term for Citizens: Cameroonians.

Capital: Yaounde. Population: 1, 480. 000.

Independence Achieved: January 1, 1960, from France.

Major Cities: Douala, Yaounde.


Cameroon is in West Africa. It is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean, Nigeria, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, Central African Republic and Chad. Cameroon encompasses 183, 568 square miles. The topography has four natural regions: northern plains, central and southern plateaus, western highlands and mountains, and coastal plains on the Gulf of Guinea. The climate is tropical with two distinct seasons, wet (April to October) and dry (November to March). Heavy rainfall at the coastal regions, tapering off inland and sub-arid north.


The population of Cameroon is estimated at 16, 018,000. The heaviest concentration is in the southwest. 40% urbanization.

Ethnic Groups: There is an estimated 200 ethnic groups.

Languages: French and English are the official languages.

Religion: Muslim North and Christian South and the rest of the population profess indigenous beliefs.

Education: Free primary education. Literacy rate estimated at 79%.

Economy: Small-scale crop production is rampant, especially cocoa, coffee, logs, cotton, rubber, palm products, and peanuts. Some light manufacturing activities exist. The economy is heavily dependent on France as destination of its exports. GDP estimate: $27 billion; Per Capita GDP: $800 US. Monetary Unit: CFA Franc BEAC (XAF).

History and Government:

Cameroon was colonized by Germany in the late 19th century. After the defeat of Germany in world-war I, the territory was taken away from Germany and divided between France and Britain; and ruled as trustee territories. In January 1, 1960 French Cameroon gained independence and a part of British Cameroon opted to join French Cameroon and another to join Nigeria. Cameroon established a unitary national government with highly centralized administration. A unicameral legislature dominated by the ruling party. The president is very powerful; he appoints the leaders of the various districts (departements). The country is divided into 10 provinces for administrative purposes.

In the 16th century the Portuguese came to the area now known as Cameroon. In fact, it was the Portuguese that named the country, Camarao, a place where prawns are found. Subsequently, nothing much was heard of the area until the 1870s when the newly unified Germany took interest in it.

Germany colonized Camarao but when Germany was defeated during the First World War her African colonies, including Camarao was given to the victorious countries. In 1919 Camarao was divided into two and one section was given to the British and the other to the French as League of Nation’s mandated territories.

At the end of the Second World War, The United Nations replaced the lackluster League of Nations and in 1946 took over Cameroon as a United Nations Trusteeship.

In 1960 France gave independence to its portion of Camarao. That same year the English section of Camarao held a plebiscite and the Southern part chose to join the French Cameroonians and the Northern part chose to join Nigeria. In 1961 Southern Cameroon merged with French Cameroon to form the Republic of Cameroon.

Ahmadou Ahidjo, a Muslim man from Northern Cameroon, became the president of Cameroon and was in power for over twenty years, until 1982 when he resigned and his prime minister, Paul Biya, became the president. Mr. Biya is still in power 24 years later.

Mr. Biya is from Southern Cameroon and is nominally a Christian. His first order of business was to clean house and replace the Northern oligarchy that was in places of authority with his Southern Christian henchmen. This house cleaning led to resentment and Ahidjo was said to have threatened the government and fled the country before he was apprehended by Mr. Biya’s police authorities. Thereafter, Mr. Biya consolidated power and since then has essentially established a one man rule in Cameroon.

In the early 1990s there was said to be a wave of democracy going through Africa. Mr. Biya, apparently, joined the wave and allowed a multiparty election in 1992. Mr. Biya won the election and has won every other election since then. These elections fairness has been a subject of contention.

Mr. Biya, the president, has executive powers and pretty much is the government. He calls the 180 members Parliament, the National Assembly, into session, three times a year, and determines what agenda the Parliament legislates into law.

The National Assembly essentially exists to enact into laws the president’s legislative desires and can hardly be said to have independent will of its own.

Indeed, the president, through his ministry of Justice, also controls the judiciary. On paper the Supreme Court has the powers of judicial review but may only review the constitutionality of a law with the approval of the president.

Cameroon is divided into ten provinces and these are directly and indirectly controlled by the president.

Regardless of how he won his elections, Mr. Paul Biya has managed to make Cameroon one of the well governed African countries. He has paid attention to economic activities particularly to the agricultural sector. Cameroon has one of the best managed agricultural economies in Africa.

Cameroon has free and compulsory elementary school for all its children. Just about every Cameroonian child goes to elementary school. Cameroon has one of the highest literacy rates in Africa, 79%.

The political cleavages in Cameroon are between the North and South and the English South and the French South. The North is Muslim and during the rule of Ahidjo dominated Cameroonian government. Under Mr. Biya, the Christian South dominates Cameroonian government. This has led to resentment in the North.

In the South itself the English speaking part formed Southern Cameroon National Council, SCNC, to work towards seceding from what it perceives as French speaking dominated Cameroon. This secessionist movement is still active despite clamp downs by the central government.

With the discovery of oil in Bakassi peninsula, a section of Nigeria claimed by Cameroon, conflict has raged between Nigeria and Cameroon. In 1994 and 1996 there were brief military skirmishes between the two countries. Cameroon was no match for the Nigerian army and took its claims to the world court. The Court appeared to have awarded Cameroon the oil rich peninsular but Nigeria has not relinquished its claims to the area.

Considering that Bakassi is part of the English speaking Cameroon that wants to separate from French dominated Cameroon, it would seem that the indigenes of Bakassi are not exactly too eager to rejoin French speaking dominated Cameroon.

Mr. Paul Biya appears to have his hands already full trying to keep Cameroon together, working against the Northern Muslims and English speaking Southern agitators for separation to effectively take on its next door colossus, Nigeria.

To keep his country from fragmenting, Mr. Biya resorted to suppression of freedom of the press. Newspapers are closely monitored by the government and journalists that print material that seem to oppose the government often go missing or jailed by the government. The government owns the only national television, CRTV in the country and essentially controls what is broadcast by the TV and radio networks.

(There are now an independent TV, TV Max and some independent radio stations but these are closely monitored by the government and reporters are harassed should they say anything Mr. Biya does not find to his taste; at least, so said Reporters Without Borders, an international Media rights group.

There are no two ways of saying it: Cameroon appears to have a one man rule with all the attendant dictatorial tendencies. Every now and then, shows of democracy are made but those are exactly that: shows, not substance.

The good news is that despite his high handed rule, Mr. Biya seems to have managed to contribute to economic development in Cameroon. By African standards, Cameroon can be considered to be doing well even though its income par capita is only $800 US. And because of the poor standard of living and other factors, professional Cameroonians are increasingly fleeing to the West. This brain drain impoverishes the country further.

On the whole, Cameroon appears a fairly stable African country, it is yet to be seen whether power can be successfully transferred in a democratic manner? Like most African countries, given its multiethnic make up and consequent conflicts, breakup of the country seems a possibility for Cameroon. Perhaps, it is as well that a strong hand maintains the country’s fragile unity?

AIS African Countries
Ozodi Thomas Osuji, PhD

Posted by Administrator at March 5, 2006 10:40 AM


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