Situated in central West Africa, Cameroon has a population of around 19 million people. Its unique culture, brought about by the rich mix of migrating peoples and overlain by the European influences of the Portuguese, the French, and the British, make this a fascinating country.
Cameroon's major cities are growing rapidly and are home to many international oil companies, whose personnel make up a large part of the expatriate population. City dwellers are becoming increasingly westernized and accepting of the foreigners that live there.
The Republic of Cameroon is a multiparty state with executive power vested in the president as head of state. Presidential elections take place every seven years.
The president appoints the cabinet and the governors of the ten provinces. Legislative power rests with a 180-member unicameral National Assembly comprised of an Assembly and a Senate, elected by popular vote every four years. Each province of the country has ten members in the Senate. Seven are elected from the province and the president appoints the remaining three members.
The French-speaking majority holds most of the political power. Most of this power is wielded by the largest political party in the country, The Cameroon People's Democratic Movement, CPDM, which has dominated Cameroonian politics since the country's independence. Opposition parties exist, but have little chance of gaining any real power.
The Southern Cameroon National Council, SCNC, continues to campaign for independence of English-speaking provinces, creating political tension within the country. The non-violent secessionist organization has been declared illegal by the government.
International observers have claimed widespread electoral irregularities and human rights abuses. Freedom of the press also has been curtailed as a result of the political turmoil.
The economy of Cameroon is dependent primarily on agriculture. Agricultural production, principally bananas, cocoa, coffee, cotton, and tobacco account for approaching half of gross domestic product. Oil and gas reserves are also a major revenue earner. Petroleum products are one of the country's major exports.
In common with many developing nations, the country has international debts and other fiscal problems, preventing it from competing internationally. There is also concern that the valuable oil reserves, a mainstay of the economy, are in decline. Political and economic liberalization is required for Cameroon to achieve its potential: it has an under-employed pool of skilled and semi-skilled labor, low population density, and abundant underdeveloped agricultural, hydroelectric, and natural gas resources.
The Chad-Cameroon pipeline, a 1070 km/665 mi project to transport oil from Chad to the coast of Cameroon for export, was completed in 2003. The project, funded largely by the World Bank, provides local jobs and generates oil revenues in Cameroon and Chad, but continues to cause political controversy and environmental concerns.
Political tensions, allegations of corruption and human rights abuses have limited foreign assistance and investment. The government is working to restructure the economy, privatize government-owned industries and provide incentives for foreign investment.