Cameroon /ˌkæməˈruːn/, officially the Republic of Cameroon (French: République du Cameroun), (German: Republik Kamerun), is a country in Central Africa. It is bordered by Nigeria to the west; Chad to the northeast; the Central African Republic to the east; and Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, and the Republic of the Congo to the south. Cameroon’s coastline lies on the Bight of Bonny, part of the Gulf of Guinea and the Atlantic Ocean. The country is often referred to as “Africa in miniature” for its geological and cultural diversity. Natural features include beaches, deserts, mountains, rainforests, and savannas. The highest point is Mount Cameroon in the southwest, and the largest cities are Douala, Yaoundé, and Garoua. Cameroon is home to over 200 different linguistic groups. The country is well known for its native styles of music, particularly makossa and bikutsi, and for its successful national football team. French and English are the official languages. After independence, the newly united nation joined the Commonwealth of Nations, although the vast majority of its territories had previously been a German colony and, after World War I, a French mandate.
Early inhabitants of the territory included the Sao civilisation around Lake Chad and the Baka hunter-gatherers in the southeastern rainforest. Portuguese explorers reached the coast in the 15th century and named the area Rio dos Camarões (Shrimp River), which became Cameroon in English. Fulani soldiers founded the Adamawa Emirate in the north in the 19th century, and various ethnic groups of the west and northwest established powerful chiefdoms and fondoms. Cameroon became a German colony in 1884 known as Kamerun.
After World War I, the territory was divided between France and Britain as League of Nations mandates. The Union des Populations du Cameroun (UPC) political party advocated independence, but was outlawed by France in the 1950s. It waged war on French and UPC militant forces until 1971. In 1960, the French-administered part of Cameroon became independent as the Republic of Cameroun under President Ahmadou Ahidjo. The southern part of British Cameroons merged with it in 1961 to form the Federal Republic of Cameroon. The country was renamed the United Republic of Cameroon in 1972 and the Republic of Cameroon in 1984.
Cameroon enjoys relatively high political and social stability. This has permitted the development of agriculture, roads, railways, and large petroleum and timber industries. Nevertheless, large numbers of Cameroonians live in poverty as subsistence farmers.
Tourist literature describes Cameroon as “Africa in miniature” because it exhibits all major climates and vegetation of the continent: coast, desert, mountains, rainforest, and savanna. The country’s neighbours are Nigeria to the west; Chad to the northeast; the Central African Republic to the east; and Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and the Republic of the Congo to the south.
Cameroon is divided into five major geographic zones distinguished by dominant physical, climatic, and vegetative features. The coastal plain extends 15 to 150 kilometres (9 to 93 mi) inland from the Gulf of Guinea and has an average elevation of 90 metres (295 ft). Exceedingly hot and humid with a short dry season, this belt is densely forested and includes some of the wettest places on earth, part of the Cross-Sanaga-Bioko coastal forests.]
The South Cameroon Plateau rises from the coastal plain to an average elevation of 650 metres (2,133 ft). Equatorial rainforest dominates this region, although its alternation between wet and dry seasons makes it is less humid than the coast. This area is part of the Atlantic Equatorial coastal forests ecoregion.
Countryside near Ngaoundal in Cameroon’s Adamawa Region.
An irregular chain of mountains, hills, and plateaus known as the Cameroon range extends from Mount Cameroon on the coast—Cameroon’s highest point at 4,095 metres (13,435 ft)—almost to Lake Chad at Cameroon’s northern border at 13°05’N. This region has a mild climate, particularly on the Western High Plateau, although rainfall is high. Its soils are among Cameroon’s most fertile, especially around volcanic Mount Cameroon. Volcanism here has created crater lakes. On 21 August 1986, one of these, Lake Nyos, belched carbon dioxide and killed between 1,700 and 2,000 people. This area has been delineated by the World Wildlife Fund as the Cameroonian Highlands forests ecoregion.
The southern plateau rises northward to the grassy, rugged Adamawa Plateau. This feature stretches from the western mountain area and forms a barrier between the country’s north and south. Its average elevation is 1,100 metres (3,609 ft), and its average temperature ranges from 22 °C (71.6 °F) to 25 °C (77 °F) with high rainfall between April and October peaking in July and August. The northern lowland region extends from the edge of the Adamawa to Lake Chad with an average elevation of 300 to 350 metres (984 to 1,148 ft). Its characteristic vegetation is savanna scrub and grass. This is an arid region with sparse rainfall and high median temperatures.
Cameroon has four patterns of drainage. In the south, the principal rivers are the Ntem, Nyong, Sanaga, and Wouri. These flow southwestward or westward directly into the Gulf of Guinea. The Dja and Kadéï drain southeastward into the Congo River. In northern Cameroon, the Bénoué River runs north and west and empties into the Niger. The Logone flows northward into Lake Chad, which Cameroon shares with three neighbouring countries.