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COUNTRY PROFILES


PROFILE

Country Profile

Area: 475,000 sq km (184,000 sq miles)
Population: (2010): 19.4million
Capital City: Yaoundé (population: 1.73 million). Douala is Cameroon's largest city (population 2.05 million. UN estimates).
People and languages: French and English are the official languages. There are about 250 different African languages spoken in Cameroon and a similar number of ethnic groups. Pidgin English is widely spoken especially in the North-West, South-West, West and Littoral provinces.
Religion(s): Christian, Muslim and indigenous African religions
Currency: CFA Franc (fixed to Euro). Pegged at FCFA 655.957=euro 1.00
Major political parties: Cameroon People's Democratic Movement (CPDM), Social Democratic Front (SDF), Union des Populations du Cameroun (UPC), National Union of Democracy and Progress (UNDP), the Cameroon Democratic Union (UDC)
Head of State: President Paul Biya
Prime Minister: Mr Philemon Yang
Political pressure groups and leaders: Human Rights Defence Group (Albert Mukong, president); Southern Cameroon National Council (Ayamba Etta Otun).
Membership of international groupings/organisations: African Development Bank (AfDB), African Union (AU), Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC), Commonwealth, International Organisation of the Francophonie (OIF), Economic Community of Central African States (CEEAC), International Monetary Fund (IMF), United Nations (UN).

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HEALTH

Health requirements: Travel Health Advice (http://www.fitfortravel.scot.nhs.uk/)

Policy

For parliamentary interest in Cameroon, see the Hansard website (http://www.parliament.uk/hansard/hansard.cfm) .

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ECONOMY

Basic Economic Facts

GDP: US$44.33bn (2010 est)
GDP growth: 3% (2010 est)
GDP per capita: US$2,300 (2010 est)
Inflation: 1.9% (2010 est)
Major Industries: Crude Oil, timber, cocoa, coffee, aluminium, rubber
Major trading partners: France, Italy, Nigeria, Spain, Germany, United States.
Exchange rate: 1 Euro = CFA 655.957 (fixed).
Cameroon has for decades relied on agriculture and timber for its export earnings, including extensive cocoa and rubber plantations in the south of the country. Petroleum has been exported since the 1970s and now accounts for much of the country’s export earnings. However, weak oil prices in 2010 led to a significant slowdown in growth. . Recent finds and more intensive exploration of marginal fields have slightly increased the country’s medium-term prospects, but unless new discoveries are made, current reserves could be depleted within a decade. Like many African countries, Cameroon still faces serious problems such as endemic corruption, relatively uneven distribution of income and a difficult climate for business.

While Cameroon’s agricultural exports are subject to the vagaries of the international market, exchange rate stability and manageable inflation rates are maintained through its membership of the Franc Zone. The country’s poverty reduction and growth facility (PRGF) with the IMF expired in January 2009, with Cameroon having brought external and public debt to manageable levels. On 2 June 2009, the IMF board approved roughly $144m in assistance to help protect the Cameroon economy from external shocks. The IMF is, however, pressing for more reforms, including increased budget transparency, privatisation and poverty reduction programmes.

Cameroon became heavily indebted in the 1980s. In October 2000 the country became eligible for debt relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries Initiative (HIPC). HIPC completion point was achieved in May 2006 after several lengthy delays. These delays were due to concerns over the Government of Cameroon’s financial management which have been partly addressed by a series of reform drives, including moves against corruption. Achievement of HIPC has led to significant debt relief, including £106m cancellation of bilateral debt from the UK Government.

International Monetary Fund (IMF) (http://www.imf.org/external/index.htm)

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HISTORY

Modern Cameroon was created as the German protectorate of Kamerun in 1884. After the First World War, under League of Nations mandates, France was awarded administration of Eastern Cameroon, and Britain Northern and Southern Cameroons. These mandates were converted in 1946 to UN Trusteeships. In 1960, French administered Cameroun became independent and Ahmadou Ahidjo elected President. In February 1961 the populations of British administered Cameroons were asked to decide their future in a UN organised plebiscite. Whilst the territory of Northern Cameroon voted to join Nigeria, the population of Southern Cameroon voted to join the newly independent Republic of Cameroon. Cameroon thereby became a federal republic encompassing East Cameroon (the former French territory) and West Cameroon (the former British territory). In 1972, following a referendum in West Cameroon, the Cameroons became a unitary state, the United Republic of Cameroon.

President Ahidjo made Cameroon a one-party state in 1966, following a major rebellion, and concentrated power in presidential hands. In 1982 he resigned on grounds of ill health, handing power over to his Prime Minister Paul Biya, but retaining chairmanship of the ruling party, the National Union of Cameroon. A power struggle ensued between the two men. In 1984, factions of the army seen as close to Ahidjo staged a coup. Biya survived, and later reasserted control over the army and ruling party, stating his intention to reform and reinvigorate Cameroonian politics and the omnipresent Cameroonian state. The ruling party’s name was changed to the Cameroonian People’s Democratic Movement. In 1990, in response to domestic and international pressure, Biya approved the introduction of a multi-party system. Multi-party presidential elections of varying quality have taken place in 1992, 1997 and 2004.

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INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS

Cameroon generally maintains good relations with its neighbours, but keeps a low profile on regional and international issues. Nigeria and Cameroon had a long-running dispute over their border, including the oil-rich Bakassi Peninsula. This occasionally escalated into armed clashes. The dispute was taken to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) which settled the case in October 2002, awarding sovereignty of the Bakassi peninsula to Cameroon. The territory was formally handed to Cameroon on 14 August 2008 as part of the Greentree Agreement which governs implementation of the ICJ judgement. The resolution of the conflict by Presidents Obasanjo and Biya was widely heralded as a model for Africa and the rest of the World. The Joint Commission of the Greentree Agreement undertake assessment missions several times a year to ensure that the conditions of the agreement are being met by both countries, and to give the opportunity for nationals to address any concerns. As an observer, the UK monitors the progress being made and raises any concerns at follow-up meetings.

Franc Zone (http://www.izf.net/)
African Union (http://www.africa-union.org/)
On the international stage, Cameroonian governments have traditionally enjoyed close relations with France, which remains a major trading partner. Cameroon joined La Francophonie in 1991 and joined the Commonwealth in November 1995. The Commonwealth has since expressed its concern at Cameroon’s record on human rights and good governance and has been in the forefront of moves to improve the electoral system.

Cameroon's Relations with the UK

Cameroon and the UK enjoy good relations. The UK has a High Commission in Yaoundé, which has provided funding to a number of projects including prison reform and media training. The British High Commissioner to Cameroon is Mr Bharat Joshi.

HRH Prince Edward visited Cameroon in June 2004 in his capacity as Patron of the International Award. Baroness Amos, as Minister for Africa, visited Cameroon twice in 2003. HRH Duke of Edinburgh visited Cameroon in March 1999 as part of a working visit in his capacity as Chairman of the Worldwide Fund for Nature. President Biya made an official visit to the UK in March 2004.The Cameroonian Prime Minister, Philemon Yang, visited the UK in July 2008 and June 2010. In July 2011, the Africa Minister, Henry Bellingham MP, made a bilateral visit to Cameroon where he had meetings with President Biya, Prime Minister Yang and the Acting Foreign Minister.

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GEOGRAPHY

Cameroon lies in the Gulf of Guinea and borders Nigeria, Chad, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, Gabon, and Equatorial Guinea. The country is a mixture of desert plains and savannah in the north, mountains in the central regions and tropical rainforest in the south and east.

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TRADE AND INVESTMENT

Trade and Investment with the UK

Several British firms are present in Cameroon, including Diageo (formerly Guinness), BAT, Standard Chartered and Shell. UK exports of goods to Cameroon were worth £40.4m in 2010 and UK imports from Cameroon over the same period were worth £90.4m.

Development

Cameroon faces significant development challenges. 50% of the population live on $2 a day or less and life expectancy at birth is 51.7. However, the UNDP Human Development Index shows a improvement in the development ranking. In 2007 Cameroon’s ranking was 153.Today Cameroon ranks 131 out of 182 countries. Crop failure, especially in the north, often leads to food shortages. The major urban centres, especially Douala, suffer from serious problems of overcrowding and poor sanitation. Cameroon is a major recipient of donor funds, from both multilateral and bilateral donors, of which the biggest is France. The UK contributes to Cameroon’s development through the European Union and UN agencies, and has also made £50m available for forestry projects in the region through the Congo Basin Forest Fund. Details of further UK-funded projects can be found on the High Commission website, the link to which is below.

http://ukincameroon.fco.gov.uk/en (http://ukincameroon.fco.gov.uk/en)
International Bank for Reconstruction and Development (IBRD) (http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/EXTABOUTUS/EXTIBRD/0,,menuPK:3046081~pagePK:64168427~piPK:64168435~theSitePK:3046012,00.html)
EU Commission Development website (http://europa.eu.int/comm/development/index.htm)

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POLITICS

The constitution which brought in a multi-party system was adopted in 1992, and substantially amended in 1996. It provides for a 180-member National Assembly, elected every five years, as well as an upper chamber, the Senate, which is still to be set up. The Constitution originally stipulated a maximum of two presidential terms of seven years each, though the Cameroon National Assembly controversially removed term limits in 2008. Cameroon has elected local councils, but constitutional provisions for Provinces to become Regions with their own elected regional councils have not been implemented.

In the early days of multiparty democracy the regime was seriously shaken by widespread protest and an emboldened opposition lead by the SDF. The first presidential election under a multi-party system in October 1992 was fiercely contested and controversial. President Biya was elected by a narrow margin (39-36%) over the leading opposition candidate, John Fru Ndi of the Social Democratic Front (SDF). However, since then, the CPDM and President Biya have managed to reassert their dominance over the Cameroonian political scene. The legislative elections of May 1997 were won by the CPDM and presidential elections of October 1997 were won by Biya with 81% of the vote according to the official results. Again the electoral process was denounced by the opposition.

Legislative elections of 2002 and Presidential elections of 2004 followed a similar pattern - the CPDM consolidated its grip on the national assembly and Biya won the Presidential elections of 2004 with 75% of the vote according to the official result. Legislative and local elections were held on 22 July 2007. The CPDM further consolidated its grip on power, eventually gaining 153 out of 180 parliamentary seats once elections were re-run in five districts in September. The SDF won 16 seats. The electoral roll was computerised which aided transparency but there remained widespread concerns about the low turnout. Voter apathy had been exacerbated by the difficulty of registering. The results of a 2005 census had not been published, contributing to concerns about registration and irregularities in the electoral system.

Under pressure from the international community to separate electoral organisation from the highly partisan administration, the government, on 29 December 2006 established a body to supervise elections (ELECAM). After lengthy delays, the members of ELECAM’s management board were announced by President Biya on 30 December 2008, a move which prompted the European Union to reiterate the need for ELECAM’s independence, given the overwhelming affiliation of the members to the ruling CPDM party. ELECAM has since replaced the National Elections Observatory (NEO) as the body responsible for organising elections in Cameroon.

The results of the 2005 population census were finally released in January 2010. The figures show a population of 19,406,100 as of 1 January 2010 and based on an estimated national growth rate of 2.6%. This has raised concerns on the possibility of manipulation of vote figures in the 2011 presidential elections, as it shows a drop in population in some key areas considered as opposition strongholds.

BBC News Country Profile: Cameroon (http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/africa/country_profiles/1042937.stm)
BBC News: Africa (http://news.bbc.co.uk/hi/english/world/africa/)

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HUMAN RIGHTS

Cameroon's human rights record has been poor but has shown steady improvement over most of the past decade. NGOs and the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture have highlighted extra-judicial executions, protracted detention without trial, torture of detainees and appalling prison conditions in recent years. In some rare cases the victims are political activists, but many more are victims of racketeering by the security forces. An Amnesty International report in January 2009 highlighted several other problems including in the areas of: gay and lesbian rights, retention of the death penalty, and violence against women (including female genital mutilation). The report raised concerns about the restriction of freedom of expression, particularly against opposition members. 2011 has seen an increase in such restrictions, especially in the run up to the presidential elections later in the year.

In February 2008, economic pressures combined with a controversy over the removal of presidential term limits to produce widespread civil unrest. The government reportedly responded with repression and arbitrary detention of protestors, and the closure of some media outlets. In February 2011 there were efforts to mark the third anniversary of this event. While there were reports of security forces using water cannons and some arrests, there ware no claims that the response was disproportionate.

Although there is a reasonably free press, journalists are often harassed. Control of the media is exerted through overly bureaucratic application procedures for licences and the disproportionately high licence fees.

The international community (through the European Union, the Commonwealth, the United Nations, and bilaterally) has been pressing the Government of Cameroon to implement reforms of the judicial system and put an end to the culture of impunity in the security forces. The government set up a Human Rights Commission in 1992. In 2007 the government made other moves to improve the human rights situation, for example starting building new prisons to relieve overcrowding and implementing a new Criminal Procedure Code which enshrines key legal principles such as habeas corpus and the presumption of innocence. Over time, one of the effects should be to bear down on the prison population since less people will be held on remand for such long periods. However, the Code needs more intensive implementation.

The Cameroon Government made some human rights pledges during the UN Universal Periodic Review Process in 2009 which has been useful as a basis for international engagement. Whilst the UK Government continues to closely monitor development on human rights in Cameroon, the country has not been considered a ‘major country for concern’ for the past few years. The last FCO human rights report can be found at this here. (http://centralcontent.fco.gov.uk/resources/en/pdf/human-rights-reports/accessible-hrd-report-2010)

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Last Updated: August 2011

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