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Cameroon

Updated on January 16, 2012

A republic on the west coast of Africa, lying at the northeast corner of the Gulf of Guinea. The United Republic of Cameroon is the product of a complex historical evolution.

As Kamerun it was a German protectorate from 1884 until 1916, when British, French and Belgian forces ousted the Germans. After World War I, the League of Nations gave mandates to France and Britain.

The French mandate covered the larger part of the territory, while the British mandate covered two separate areas adjoining Nigeria, lying north and south of the Benue River valley. After World War II, these mandates were re-established as UN trusteeships. The British areas, the Northern and Southern Cameroons, were administratively joined to Nigeria. With strong pressure from the United Nations, French Cameroon progressed toward independence in 1960. In a UN plebiscite (1961) Northern Cameroon voted to remain with Nigeria, while Southern Cameroon opted for reunification with the young republic (the former French Cameroon). This was achieved with the federal constitution of 1961. In 1972, following a referendum, the federal system was abandoned and Cameroon became a unitary republic.

The Land

Cameroon is roughly triangular in shape, and from its 124 mile coastline on the Gulf of Guinea tapers northeastward for nearly 800 miles to Lake Chad. Most of the country is a low plateau of Precambrian rocks that rises northward to the Adamaoua escarpment. But the most outstanding feature is volcanic, cloudcapped Mt Cameroon (13,350 feet) dominating the marsh and mangroves of the coastal plain, and with lesser hills and heights stretching northeastward. Much of the country is drained directly to the Atlantic Ocean by the Sanaga and Nyong rivers. In the west, the area around Mamfe drains to the Cross River. Further north is a broad belt drained by the Benue, the chief tributary of the Niger River, while the extreme north is part of the inland drainage basin of Lake Chad.

Climate and Vegetation

Most of the country has an average annual rainfall of between 1,000 and 1,800 mm. North of the Benue River, rainfall is much lower (about 10 inches). By contrast the coastal area, especially around Mt Cameroon, receives more than 4,000 mm annually.

Debundja, on the lower southwestern slopes of the mountain, has an annual average of nearly 10,000 mm. Rainfall is seasonal everywhere. The south has two rainy seasons, the drier north only one. Temperatures are high, except in the highlands of the southwest.

The rainfall pattern is reflected in the vegetation. The south has dense of climate and vegetation. like Garoua and Ngaoundere, and tropical rain forest that yields

Population and Religion

There may well be about 200 tribal groups. British traditions in the west and French influences in the remainder of the country add to the contrasts. At least five major and many minor African languages are in use, though the official languages are French and English. Education has still to reach the masses; more than 80% of the people are illiterate. There is a national university at Yaounde.

Religious beliefs are also diverse. Christians (about 33%), mostly Roman Catholics, are found mainly in the south and west; Muslims (19%), mainly in the north. The remainder follow animist cults.

Government is headed by an executive President elected for a 5-year term, assisted by a Cabinet which he appoints. All seats in 120-member National Assembly are held by the Union nationale camerounaise, the republic's only political party.

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