The Republic of Cameroon is a unitary republic of central and western Africa. It is bordered by Nigeria 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. Cameroon’s coastline lies on the Bight of Bonny, part of the Gulf of Guinea and the Atlantic Ocean. The country is called “Africa in miniature” for its geological and cultural diversity. Natural features include beaches, deserts, mountains, rain forests, and savannas. The highest point is Mount Cameroon in the southwest, and the largest cities are Douala, Yaoundé, and Garoua. Cameroon is home to over 200 different ethnic and linguistic groups. The country is well known for its native styles of music, particularly makossa and bikutsi, and for its successful national football team. English and French are the official languages.
Cameroon has been recognized as an independent state since 1961, following the integration of separate French and British colonies into one united, bilingual country. Cameroon is improving its governance by adopting a new national governance program and an anti-corruption program. Cameroon’s per capita GDP (PPP) was estimated as US$2,421 in 2005, one of the 10 highest in sub-Saharan Africa. Major export markets include France, Italy, South Korea, Spain, and the United Kingdom. Cameroon is part of the Bank of Central African States (of which it is the dominant economy) and the Customs and Economic Union of Central Africa (UDEAC). Its currency is the CFA franc.
Red tape, high taxes, and endemic corruption have impeded growth of the private sector. Unemployment was estimated at 30 percent in 2001, and about 48 percent of the population was living below the poverty threshold in 2000. Since the late 1980s, Cameroon has been following programs advocated by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) to reduce poverty, privatize industries, and increase economic growth. Tourism is a growing sector, particularly in the coastal area, around Mount Cameroon, and in the north.
Resources And Infrastructure
Cameroon’s natural resources are better suited to agriculture and forestry than to industry. An estimated 70 percent of the population farms, and agriculture comprised an estimated 45.2 percent of GDP in 2006. 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 centers 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 favor crops such as cotton, groundnuts, and rice. Reliance on agricultural exports makes Cameroon vulnerable to shifts in their prices. Livestock are raised throughout the country. Fishing employs some 5,000 people and provides 20,000 tons of seafood each year. Bushmeat, long a staple food for rural Cameroonians, is today a delicacy in the country’s urban centers. The commercial bushmeat trade has now surpassed deforestation as the main threat to wildlife in Cameroon.
The southern rain forest has vast timber reserves, estimated to cover 37 percent of Cameroon’s total land area. However, large areas of the forest are difficult to reach. Logging, largely handled by foreign-owned firms, provides the government US$60 million a year, and laws mandate the safe and sustainable exploitation of timber. Nevertheless, in practice, the industry is one of the least regulated in Cameroon.
Factory-based industry accounted for an estimated 16.1 percent of GDP in 2006. More than 75 percent of Cameroon’s industrial strength is located in Douala and Bonabéri. Cameroon possesses substantial mineral resources, but these are not extensively mined. Petroleum exploitation has fallen since 1985, but this is still a substantial sector, such that dips in prices have a strong effect on the economy. 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.
Transport in Cameroon is often difficult. Roads are poorly maintained and subject to inclement weather, since only 10 percent of the roadways are tarred. Roadblocks often serve little other purpose than to allow police and gendarmes to collect bribes from travelers. 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 destabilized. Rail service runs from Kumba in the west to Bélabo in the east and north to Ngaoundéré. International airports are located in Douala and Garoua with a smaller facility at Yaoundé. The Wouri River estuary provides a harbor for Douala, the country’s principal seaport. In the north, the Bénoué River is seasonally navigable from Garoua across into Nigeria.
The major radio and television stations are state run, and other communications, such as land-based telephones and telegraphs, are largely under government control. However, cell phone networks and internet providers have increased dramatically since the early 2000s and are largely unregulated. Although press freedoms have also improved since the early 2000s, the press is corrupt and beholden to special interests and political groups.
Cameroon has demonstrated its commitment to improving its economy through its participation in the Economic Community of Central African States, whose 11 members aim to secure economic partnership with the European Union. In April 2003 Cameroon adopted its own poverty reduction program that outlines seven country-led areas of focus: (1) controlling inflation and promoting tax and budget stability; (2) diversifying the economy; (3) revitalizing the private sector’s ability to deliver social services; (4) developing basic infrastructure and natural resources, while protecting the environment; (5) creating closer ties with other central African countries on matters of trade, finance, transportation, forestry, education, tourism, and other policies; (6) strengthening human resources and the social sector, and facilitating the integration of vulnerable groups into the economy; and (7) good governance.
This strategy aims to support the government of Cameroon’s objective of significantly reducing poverty among Cameroonians. Cameroon is now developing its second poverty reduction strategy paper. The Canadian International Development Agency is increasingly working with the government of Cameroon on matters of economic governance.
- CIA, “Cameroon,” The World Factbook, www.cia.gov (cited March 2009);
- Igor Oleynik and Natasha Alexander, Cameroon: Country Study Guide (International Business Pub., 2005);
- S. Department of State, “Background Note: Cameroon,” www.state.gov (cited March 2009).
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