U.S. Department of State Background Note
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Cameroon's estimated 250 ethnic groups form five large regional-cultural groups: western highlanders (or grassfielders), including the Bamileke, Bamoun, and many smaller entities in the northwest (est. 38% of population); coastal tropical forest peoples, including the Bassa, Douala, and many smaller entities in the Southwest (12%); southern tropical forest peoples, including the Ewondo, Bulu, and Fang (all Beti subgroups), Maka and Pygmies (officially called Bakas) (18%); predominantly Islamic peoples of the northern semi-arid regions (the Sahel) and central highlands, including the Fulani, also known as Peuhl in French (14%); and the "Kirdi", non-Islamic or recently Islamic peoples of the northern desert and central highlands (18%).
The people concentrated in the southwest and northwest provinces--around Buea and Bamenda--use standard English and "pidgin," as well as their local languages. In the three northern provinces--Adamaoua, North, and Far North--French and Fulfulde, the language of the Fulani, are widely spoken. Elsewhere, French is the principal language, although pidgin and some local languages such as Ewondo, the dialect of a Beti clan from the Yaounde area, also are widely spoken. Although Yaounde is Cameroon's capital, Douala is the largest city, main seaport, and main industrial and commercial center.
The western highlands are the most fertile in Cameroon and have a relatively healthy environment in higher altitudes. This region is densely populated and has intensive agriculture, commerce, cohesive communities, and historical emigration pressures. From here, Bantu migrations into eastern, southern, and central Africa are believed to have originated about 2,000 years ago. Bamileke people from this area have in recent years migrated to towns elsewhere in Cameroon, such as the coastal provinces, where they form much of the business community. About 20,000 non-Africans, including more than 6,000 French and 2,400 U. S. citizens, reside in Cameroon.
The earliest inhabitants of Cameroon were probably the Bakas (Pygmies). They still inhabit the forests of the south and east provinces. Bantu speakers originating in the Cameroonian highlands were among the first groups to move out before other invaders. During the late 1770s and early 1800s, the Fulani, a pastoral Islamic people of the western Sahel, conquered most of what is now northern Cameroon, subjugating or displacing its largely non-Muslim inhabitants.
Although the Portuguese arrived on Cameroon's coast in the 1500s, malaria prevented significant European settlement and conquest of the interior until the late 1870s, when large supplies of the malaria suppressant, quinine, became available. The early European presence in Cameroon was primarily devoted to coastal trade and the acquisition of slaves. The northern part of Cameroon was an important part of the Muslim slave trade network. The slave trade was largely suppressed by the mid-19th century. Christian missions established a presence in the late 19th century and continue to play a role in Cameroonian life.
Beginning in 1884, all of present-day Cameroon and parts of several of its neighbors became the German colony of Kamerun, with a capital first at Buea and later at Yaounde. After World War I, this colony was partitioned between Britain and France under a June 28, 1919 League of Nations mandate. France gained the larger geographical share, transferred outlying regions to neighboring French colonies, and ruled the rest from Yaounde. Britain's territory--a strip bordering Nigeria from the sea to Lake Chad, with an equal population--was ruled from Lagos.
In 1955, the outlawed Union of the Peoples of Cameroon (UPC), based largely among the Bamileke and Bassa ethnic groups, began an armed struggle for independence in French Cameroon. This rebellion continued, with diminishing intensity, even after independence. Estimates of death from this conflict vary from tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands.
French Cameroon achieved independence in 1960 as the Republic of Cameroon. The following year the largely Muslim northern two-thirds of British Cameroon voted to join Nigeria; the largely Christian southern third voted to join with the Republic of Cameroon to form the Federal Republic of Cameroon. The formerly French and British regions each maintained substantial autonomy. Ahmadou Ahidjo, a French-educated Fulani, was chosen President of the federation in 1961. Ahidjo, relying on a pervasive internal security apparatus, outlawed all political parties but his own in 1966. He successfully suppressed the UPC rebellion, capturing the last important rebel leader in 1970. In 1972, a new constitution replaced the federation with a unitary state.
Ahidjo resigned as President in 1982 and was constitutionally succeeded by his Prime Minister, Paul Biya, a career official from the Bulu-Beti ethnic group. Ahidjo later regretted his choice of successors, but his supporters failed to overthrow Biya in a 1984 coup. Biya won single-candidate elections in 1984 and 1988 and flawed multiparty elections in 1992 and 1997. His Cameroon People's Democratic Movement (CPDM) party holds a sizeable majority in the legislature following 2002 elections--149 deputies out of a total of 180. Elections for the National Assembly and for local governments are scheduled for July 22, 2007, but preparations are not yet complete.
GOVERNMENT AND POLITICAL CONDITIONS
Cameroon maintains an embassy in the United States at 2349 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel.: 202-265-8790).
For a quarter-century following independence, Cameroon was one of the most prosperous countries in Africa. The drop in commodity prices for its principal exports--oil, cocoa, coffee, and cotton--in the mid-1980s, combined with an overvalued currency and economic mismanagement, led to a decade-long recession. Real per capita gross domestic product (GDP) fell by more than 60% from 1986 to 1994. The current account and fiscal deficits widened, and foreign debt grew.
The government embarked upon a series of economic reform programs supported by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF) beginning in the late 1980s. Many of these measures have been painful; the government slashed civil service salaries by 65% in 1993. The CFA franc--the common currency of Cameroon and 13 other African states--was devalued by 50% in January 1994. The government failed to meet the conditions of the first four IMF programs.
In December 2000, the IMF approved a 3-year Enhanced Structural Adjustment Facility (ESAF) program worth $133.7 million to reduce poverty and improve social services. The successful completion of the program will allow Cameroon to receive $2 billion in debt relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries (HIPC) Initiative. Pursuant to the initiative, the IMF is requiring the Cameroonian Government to enhance its macroeconomic planning and financial accountability; continue efforts to privatize the remaining non-financial parastatal enterprises; increase price competition in the banking sector; improve the judicial system; and implement good governance practices.
In late August 2003, the Board of Directors of both the IMF and World Bank approved Cameroon's Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) with high marks. The paper integrated the main points of the Millennium Development Goal, which outlined Cameroon's priorities in alleviating poverty and undertaking strong macroeconomic commitments in the short and long term. By late summer 2004 Cameroon had met most of its PRGF targets. A lackluster performance in the fiscal arena, however, led the country off track and resulted in Cameroon not achieving the HIPC completion point. Negotiations are currently underway to create a new program so Cameroon can eventually qualify for HIPC debt forgiveness.
The privatization program has lagged because of legal and political obstacles; difficult negotiations with the government on issues such as sale price, financial disclosure, tax arrears, and overlapping debts; and in some cases, a lack of willing buyers.
The most noticeable recent problem involves the privatization of CamAir, the government-owned airline. In the response to a public request for proposals, a willing buyer which met the published criteria was in fact available, but the government decided it wanted to adopt a totally different approach, and selected another firm which did not meet the original specifications. This new proposal, if ultimately adopted, might well result in better service and more revenue, but the procedures for changing the requested proposals were anything but transparent.
France is Cameroon's main trading partner and source of private investment and foreign aid. Cameroon has a bilateral investment treaty with the United States. In addition to existing investment in the oil sector, U.S. investment in Cameroon, estimated at over $1 million, is progressively growing due primarily to both construction of the Chad-Cameroon pipeline and cobalt and nickel mining.
For further information on Cameroon's economic trends, trade, or investment climate, contact the International Trade Administration, U.S. Department of Commerce, Washington, DC 20230 and/or the Commerce Department district office in any local federal building.
Cameroon's noncontentious, low-profile approach to foreign relations puts it squarely in the middle of other African and developing country states on major issues. It supports the principles of noninterference in the affairs of third countries and increased assistance to underdeveloped countries. Cameroon is an active participant in the United Nations, where its voting record demonstrates its commitment to causes that include international peacekeeping, the rule of law, environmental protection, and Third World economic development. In the UN and other human rights fora, Cameroon's nonconfrontational approach has generally led it to avoid criticizing other countries. Cameroon's position on the UN Security Council, in the Africa rotational seat since January 2002, ended December 2003.
Cameroon enjoys good relations with the United States and other developed countries. It has particularly close ties with France, with whom it has numerous military, economic, and cultural agreements. China has a number of health and infrastructure projects underway in Cameroon, and it has also pledged $1 million in military aid. Cameroon enjoys generally good relations with its African neighbors. Cameroon has successfully resolved its border dispute with Nigeria in the oil-rich Bakassi Peninsula through peaceful legal means after having submitted the case to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). With the support of the UN, both countries are working closely together to peacefully implement the ICJ ruling, and a genuine peaceful turnover of the peninsula by Nigeria has begun. Roughly 5,000 Nigerians have moved back into Nigeria thus far. Cameroon is a member of CEMAC (Economic and Monetary Community of Central Africa) and supports UN peacekeeping activities in Central Africa.
U.S.-Cameroonian relations are close, although from time to time they have been affected by concerns over human rights abuses and the pace of political and economic liberalization. The bilateral U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) program in Cameroon closed for budgetary reasons in 1994.
However, approximately 140 Peace Corps volunteers continue to work successfully in agroforestry, community development, education, and health. The Public Affairs section of the U.S. Embassy in Yaounde organizes and funds diverse cultural, educational, and information exchanges. It maintains a library and helps foster the development of Cameroon's independent press by providing information in a number of areas, including U.S. human rights and democratization policies. The Embassy's Self-help and Democracy and Human Rights Funds are some of the largest in Africa.
Through several State Department and USAID regional funds, the Embassy also provides funds for: refugees, HIV/AIDS, democratization and girl's scholarships. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) provided a commodity grant valued at $6 million in 2003 to fund agricultural development projects in the North and Far North provinces. A similar program for $4 million was approved in 2004. The program will fund an agricultural development and nutrition enhancement project in the East and Adamawa provinces.
The United States and Cameroon work together in the United Nations and a number of other multilateral organizations. While in the UN Security Council in 2002, Cameroon worked closely with the United States on a number of initiatives. The U.S. Government continues to provide substantial funding for international financial institutions, such as the World Bank, IMF, and African Development Bank, that provide financial and other assistance to Cameroon.
Principal U.S. Officials
The U.S. Embassy in Cameroon has moved from its previous downtown Yaounde location to a New Embassy Compound adjacent to the golf course at the base of the Mont Fébé. The new Embassy Chancery contacts are: Tel: (237) 220 15 00/Fax: (237) 220 16 20 while the Consular Section can be reached directly at Tel: (237) 220 16 03/Fax: (237) 220 1752. The mailing address is: B.P. 817, Yaounde, Cameroon. The U.S. mailing address is American Embassy Yaounde, Department of State, Washington, DC 20521-2520.
TRAVEL AND BUSINESS INFORMATION
For the latest security information, Americans living and traveling abroad should regularly monitor the Department's Bureau of Consular Affairs Internet web site at http://www.travel.state.gov, where the current Worldwide Caution, Public Announcements, and Travel Warnings can be found. Consular Affairs Publications, which contain information on obtaining passports and planning a safe trip abroad, are also available at http://www.travel.state.gov. For additional information on international travel, see http://www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/Travel/International.shtml.
The Department of State encourages all U.S citizens traveling or residing abroad to register via the State Department's travel registration website or at the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. Registration will make your presence and whereabouts known in case it is necessary to contact you in an emergency and will enable you to receive up-to-date information on security conditions.
Emergency information concerning Americans traveling abroad may be obtained by calling 1-888-407-4747 toll free in the U.S. and Canada or the regular toll line 1-202-501-4444 for callers outside the U.S. and Canada.
The National Passport Information Center (NPIC) is the U.S. Department of State's single, centralized public contact center for U.S. passport information. Telephone: 1-877-4USA-PPT (1-877-487-2778). Customer service representatives and operators for TDD/TTY are available Monday-Friday, 7:00 a.m. to 12:00 midnight, Eastern Time, excluding federal holidays.
Travelers can check the latest health information with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia. A hotline at 877-FYI-TRIP (877-394-8747) and a web site at http://www.cdc.gov/travel/index.htm give the most recent health advisories, immunization recommendations or requirements, and advice on food and drinking water safety for regions and countries. A booklet entitled "Health Information for International Travel" (HHS publication number CDC-95-8280) is available from the U.S. Government Printing Office, Washington, DC 20402, tel. (202) 512-1800.
Further Electronic Information
Export.gov provides a portal to all export-related assistance and market information offered by the federal government and provides trade leads, free export counseling, help with the export process, and more.STAT-USA/Internet, a service of the U.S. Department of Commerce, provides authoritative economic, business, and international trade information from the Federal government. The site includes current and historical trade-related releases, international market research, trade opportunities, and country analysis and provides access to the National Trade Data Bank.
Revised: Jun. 2007