Cameroon, in West Africa, is a mixture of desert plains in the north, mountains in the central regions, and tropical rain forests in the south. Along its western border with Nigeria are mountains, which include the volcanic Cameroon Mountain—the highest point in West Africa at 13,451 feet (4,100 meters).
Cameroon is triangular in shape and is bordered by Nigeria to the northwest, Chad to the northeast, the Central African Republic to the east, the Republic of the Congo to the southeast, Gabon and Equatorial Guinea to the south, and the Atlantic Ocean to the southwest.
Map created by National Geographic Maps
PEOPLE & CULTURE
Approximately 250 ethnic groups speaking about 270 languages and dialects make Cameroon a remarkably diverse country.
The Republic of Cameroon is a union of two former United Nations trust territories—French Cameroon, which became independent in 1960, and southern British Cameroons, which joined it after a 1961 UN-sponsored referendum.
The rain forests in the south of Cameroon are home to screaming red and green monkeys, chimpanzees, and gorillas, as well as rodents, bats, and a great diversity of birds—from tiny sunbirds to giant hawks and eagles.
A few elephants can be found in the forest and in the grassy woodlands, where baboons and several types of antelope are the most common animals.
Waza National Park in the north, which was originally created for the protection of elephants, giraffes, and antelope, is full of forest and savanna animals, including monkeys, baboons, lions, leopards, and birds.
GOVERNMENT & ECONOMY
After Cameroon became independent in 1960, the country began to prosper and the government built schools, helped farmers diversify their crops, and encouraged new types of businesses. The global sale of products, such as cocoa, coffee, and oil, helped boost the economy.
This period of growth lasted for 20 years until corruption and the decline in the value of exports caused the economy to go into a recession. Now Cameroon relies on international aid organizations, as well as the sale of petroleum and cocoa to keep its economy stable.
People with professional jobs usually grow and sell small amounts of crops. The economy depends a lot on the amount of money people can get from selling oil, tea, coffee, and cocoa. Because oil reserves may run out in the future, Cameroon is working to come up with other ways to make money.
Tribes lived in Cameroon's highlands more than 1,500 years ago and began spreading south as they cleared forests for new farms.
Cameroon's colonial name comes from the cameros, or prawns, that 15th-century explorers found in the Wouri River.
Between 1884 and 1916, Germany united the southern and northern areas into a colony. Germany's defeat in World War I led to Cameroon's separation between France and Britain. The French tightly ruled the east from the capital, Yaoundé. The smaller British area to the west was ruled more loosely from Nigeria.
Independence was achieved in French Cameroon in 1960. In 1961, voters in the southern portion of British Cameroon chose to join in a federation with the new republic; those in the north chose to unite with Nigeria. Cameroon's former French and British areas kept separate educational, legal, civil service, and legislative structures until a 1972 referendum adopted a national, one-party system along French lines.