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History & Background

The Republic of Cameroon (République de Cameroun) is a unitary, constitutional democracy located in western Central Africa. Bordered by the Atlantic Ocean's Bight (bay) of Biafra to the southwest, Lake Chad to the northwest, Nigeria and Chad to the northeast, the Central African Republic to the east, and Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and Congo (Brazzaville) to the south, Cameroon measures about 475,440 square kilometers in area, 6,000 square kilometers of which is water. Slightly larger than the U.S. state of California, Cameroon's terrain is composed of coastal and inland plains, mountains, and high plateaus. Cameroon's climate also is varied, ranging from hot and semi-arid in the north to tropical along the Atlantic coast. Sometimes referred to as "the hinge of Africa," the country sits between the first and thirteenth latitudes, just north of the equator.

Falling under colonial control in the second half of the nineteenth century during the Europeans' "scramble for Africa," Cameroon was governed by the Germans from 1884 until the end of World War I. When Germany lost the war in Europe, Cameroon was divided between the French and the British in 1918. On January 1, 1960 the French-speaking provinces of Cameroon declared their independence from the French-administered United Nations trusteeship, whereas the British-speaking provinces became independent of the British-supervised United Nations trusteeship in October 1961. Northern Cameroons, the northernmost British province, voted to become part of Nigeria at independence while Southern Cameroons, the English-speaking southwestern highlands area, chose to follow a separate course of development before joining the French-speaking provinces in the Republic of Cameroon in 1972. Today, Cameroon is composed of eight Francophone and two Anglophone provinces.

By the year 2000 Cameroon's population had grown to about 15.4 million and comprised about 130 different ethnic groups, with most of the population belonging to a handful of groups. At the close of the twentieth century Cameroon's population was composed primarily of Cameroon Highlanders (31 percent of the population), Equatorial Bantu (19 percent), Kirdi (11 percent), Fulani (10 percent), Northwestern Bantu (8 percent), and Eastern Negritic (7 percent). Thirteen percent of the country's population belonged to other African ethnic groups, and less than one percent of the population was non-African in ethnic origin. Twenty-four indigenous African language groups are represented among the languages spoken in Cameroon, along with French and English. In terms of religious affiliation, Cameroon's population is similarly diverse, with about 40 percent of the people in Cameroon being Christian, 20 percent being Muslim, and another 40 percent practicing indigenous African religions.

Approximately half of Cameroonians lived in urban areas in 1999. Yaoundé itself, the national capital, had about 730,000 inhabitants in the 1990s, although Douala, the economic capital of the country, was the country's largest city. The population of Cameroon was growing at a rate of 2.47 percent in the year 2000. That year, the total fertility rate was measured as 4.88, with approximately 43 percent of Cameroon's population 14-years-old or younger, 54 percent 15 to 64 years of age, and only about 3 percent 65 or older, due to the low life expectancy in Cameroon (54.82 years at birth in the year 2000—54.01 for men and 55.64 for women). In 1999 Cameroon had an infant-mortality rate of 77.2 per thousand live births and an under-five-years child-mortality rate of 154 per thousand.

Cameroon's GDP was US$8.8 billion in 1999, with a real growth rate of 5.2 percent. GNP per capita that year was only about US$580; the country had recorded more than double that amount in earlier years when the economy was performing significantly better, before the January 1994 structural adjustment measures were taken. In 1997, about 42 percent of the GDP was derived from agriculture, 22 percent from industry, and 36 percent from services. Considering that the economy grew by about 3 to 5 percent of the GDP in each of the last three years of the 1990s, the potential for an economic upturn at the start of the new millennium was good. However, widespread corruption in the business and government sectors made it next to impossible to predict how the economy would fare as Cameroon entered the twenty-first century. Corruption interfered significantly with economic growth, since fraudulent business activity and bribes served to undercut the economic gains made. Cameroon's external debt was US$11.5 billion in 1999. With rich petroleum reserves and many natural resources, Cameroon has the potential to shine economically. However, continuing controversy over the placement of an oil pipeline running through Chad and Cameroon and contested parts of Nigeria due to the displacement of indigenous minorities living in the path of the pipeline and the possible environmental degradation to be caused by the offshore drilling and onshore transmission of petroleum resources were producing significant social and political upheaval in some parts of Cameroon around the year 2000 that was likely to impede the flow of petroleum through the region and into the national treasury.

About 13 percent of Cameroon was arable in 1993 and 38 percent of the country was covered by forests and woodlands in the late 1990s. About 60 to 75 percent of the population worked in the agricultural sector by the late 1990s, though most farmers practiced subsistence agriculture using traditional farming methods and their individual yields were relatively small. Unemployment in Cameroon measured about 30 percent in 1998. Cameroon received approximately US$606.1 million in international development assistance in 1995. In 1999, about US$14 million worth of active development projects coordinated by the World Bank were being implemented in the country, with US$12 million of these project funds coming from the International Development Association.

In 2001 Cameroon and several West-African countries came into the spotlight of international attention for the extensive use of slave laborers, including thousands of children, by large plantation owners growing cash crops such as coffee and cocoa for export. This problem of child abduction and forced child labor in this region of Africa had gone on for years but did not attract any serious outcries for reform until a few youths managed to escape from their captors early in 2001 and expressed their plight to a BBC news team. Only at this point did the international news media seemingly become aware of the massive scale of the interrelated problems of child abductions, the selling of children by impoverished parents, and forced child labor in the plantations regions of West and Central Africa.

Additional topics

Education Encyclopedia - StateUniversity.comGlobal Education ReferenceCameroon - History Background, Constitutional Legal Foundations, Educational System—overview, Preprimary Primary Education, Secondary Education