Cameroon is a republic in central-western Africa, east of Nigeria and southwest of Chad. With over 230 distinct ethno-linguistic groups, and a stunning diversity of landscapes and wildlife, it has definitely earned its official nickname, “Africa in miniature”.
A huge number of civilizations and states have arisen in the territory of Cameroon over the centuries, including the Baka and Sao cultures, the Bornu Empire, and the Adamawa Emirate; many of their traditional power structures remain in place as local administrations within the modern republic. Portuguese sailors arrived in 1472, and European trade and missionary activities soon took off along the coast. The country was formally colonized by Germany in 1884, who extended control over the whole of Cameroon’s modern territory; however, following the redistribution of Germany’s colonial possessions in the aftermath of World War I, Cameroon was divided between France and Britain. French Cameroon achieved independence in 1960, and was joined by British Cameroon a year later. President Ahmadou Ahidjo ruled the fledgling nation until 1982, and although his rule saw a great deal of political and economic stability, he made few democratic concessions. His successor, Paul Biya, briefly attempted a move toward democracy, but the combined effects of a coup attempt and Cameroon’s economic crisis of the mid-1980s led him to continue governing in the style of Ahidjo. His ongoing leadership has seen the emergence of a secessionist movement in Anglophone Cameroon and deteriorating labor conditions, which erupted into violent protests in 2008.
Agriculture, forestry, and petroleum are the predominant industries of Cameroon, and while these commodities provide most of the country’s export revenue, reliance on them has naturally created an economy that fluctuates considerably with market prices. Although Cameroon has one of the ten highest GDP per capita figures in Sub-Saharan Africa, it still faces endemic poverty and unemployment, and a private sector whose growth is inhibited by high taxes and corruption. The government has seen some success in combating these problems, and has begun actively promoting tourism as an additional source of income.
Cameroon’s foreign population consists mostly of citizens of neighboring West African nations, including a large number of refugees and migrant workers. Visitors to Cameroon will find an almost unparalleled level of cultural variety, and environments ranging from remote mountains and deserts to tropical beaches and rainforests. Paid work is mostly limited to teaching, and wages are quite low, but there are several good study abroad options and many volunteer opportunities, from community development to environmental preservation. Homestays are often available…lucky volunteers may even be offered residence with the wives of a local king (ladies only, of course!).
English and French are both official, with English predominating in the western provinces and French in the rest of the country. A huge number of local languages are present; hence, Cameroonians have developed two Creole languages, Cameroonian Pidgin English and the French-based “Camfranglais”.