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Brief History

The Republic of Cameroon, witnessed the arrival of Portuguese sailors in 1472. They noted an abundance of prawns and crayfish in the Wouri River and named it Rio dos Camarões, Portuguese for "River of Shrimp", and the phrase from which Cameroon is derived. Cameroon knew many settlers in the past. The German Empire claimed the territory as the colony of Kamerun in 1884, but with the defeat of Germany in World War I, it was split into a French Cameroon and an English Cameroon. On 1 January 1960, French Cameroun gained independence from France under President Ahmadou Ahidjo. On October 1, 1961, French Cameroon and part of the British Cameroon merged to form the present country. Despite slow movement toward democratic reform, ultimate political power remains, till today, in the hands of President Paul Biya.

Geography

Cameroon, capital Yaoundé, is located in Western Africa covering an area of 475,440 square kilometers. It is known as “Africa in miniature” due to its geological and cultural diversity. Cameroon 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. Its coastline lies on the Bight of Bonny, part of the Gulf of Guinea and the Atlantic Ocean. The climate varies with terrain, from tropical along coast to semiarid and hot in north. It is sometimes referred to as “The Hinge of Africa”. Mount Cameroon, the highest mountain in Sub-Saharan western Africa, is an active volcano. Some natural resources can be found in the country, such as petroleum, bauxite, iron ore, timber and hydropower.

People

Cameroon has a population of 19,294,149 (2010) of approximately 200 ethnic groups, such as the Cameroon Highlanders, Equatorial Bantu, Kirdi, etc… English and French are the official languages. However, there are 24 major African language groups, with some 270 indigenous dialects spoken. Most belong to the Bantu and Semi-Bantu (or Sudanic) language groups. The literacy rate is 67.9% and it has an unemployment rate of 30% (2001). Its religions are distributed among 40% Christians, 40% followers of indigenous beliefs and 20% Muslims.

Government

The government of Cameroon is subject to a republic system characterized by a multiparty presidential regime. Its legal system is based on French civil law system with common law influence. It accepts compulsory ICJ jurisdiction. Political power is in the hands of Cameroon’s chief of state President Paul Biya (since 6 November 1982). The Prime Minister Philemon Yang is its head of government (since 30 June 2009). The official currency is the Central African CFA franc, where 534 francs are equivalent to US$1.

Economy

Cameroon's economy is based on a diversified and self-sufficient agriculture supplemented by substantial petroleum production and a sizable manufacturing sector. Its natural resources are very well suited to agriculture and arboriculture. An estimated 70% of the population farms, and agriculture comprised an estimated 19.8% of its US$42.76 billion GDP in 2009. Most agriculture is done at the subsistence scale by local farmers using simple tools. Cameroon in 2002 stood as number six in the world among cocoa producers, and is the eighth largest producer of coffee. Other agricultural export products include cork, wood, coffee, tobacco, bananas and cotton. However, reliance on agricultural exports makes Cameroon vulnerable to shifts in their prices, since with the fall of the prices of coffee and cocoa in the eighties, the economy reached rock bottom.

Livestock are raised throughout the country. Fishing employs some 5,000 people and provides 20,000 tons of seafood each year.

The southern rainforest has vast timber reserves, which serve as major export products. 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.

Knowing that Cameroon has modest oil resources, petroleum products make up more than half of all exports. Oil exports reached 107,100 bbl/day in 2007. The prices of international oil have a significant impact on the economy, for when the prices of oil fell in 1986, as well as those of other commercial products as coffee, cocoa, and cotton, and with the appreciation of the CFA franc, there was an erosion of GDP by more than 60%. The government initiated some reform programs, but those did not reach the goal.

Since 1990, the government has embarked on various IMF and World Bank programs designed to spur business investment, increase efficiency in agriculture, improve trade, and recapitalize the nation's banks. The IMF is pressing for more reforms, including increased budget transparency, privatization, and poverty reduction programs (48% of the population lived below the poverty line in 2000).

Transport in Cameroon is often difficult. Except for the several relatively good toll roads which connect major cities (all of them one-lane) roads are poorly maintained and subject to inclement weather, since only 10% of the roadways are tarred.

Cameroon's per-capita GDP (PPP) was estimated as US $2,300 in 2008, one of the ten highest in sub-Saharan Africa. Its inflation rate is 2.5% (2009), and has a Gross National Income (GNI) per capita of US$1,152.54.


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