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Cameroon - People

Cameroon likes to call itself 'Africa in miniature,' a place where the great ethnic groups of the Dark Continent come together. The situation is dictated by the country's history and geographical position. Cameroon's area of 183,500 square miles is nearly twice that of West Germany. Its triangular-shaped northern segment, extending up to Lake Chad not far from the Sahara, embraces savannah and steppe; in the south it borders the Atlantic Ocean, and between the two extremes are tropical forests and, in the west, high plateau country. Historically, this location on the transit routes between the Sahara and the Atlantic brought many outside influences into the land and many peoples: Arabs, Berbers, Ethiopians, Haussa, and Fulbe. In their migrations, these groups encountered the Bantu tribes of the south.

Cameroon's estimated 250 ethnic groups form five large regional-cultural groups: western highlanders (or grassfielders), including the Bamileke, Bamoun, and many smaller entities in the northwest (est. 38% of population); coastal tropical forest peoples, including the Bassa, Douala, and many smaller entities in the Southwest (12%); southern tropical forest peoples, including the Ewondo, Bulu, and Fang (all Beti subgroups), Maka and Pygmies (officially called Bakas) (18%); predominantly Islamic peoples of the northern semi-arid regions (the Sahel) and central highlands, including the Fulani, also known as Peuhl in French (14%); and the "Kirdi", non-Islamic or recently Islamic peoples of the northern desert and central highlands (18%).

Cameroon is the only country in Africa where both the French and English languages have been given official status. French, however, is the dominant language of government, education, and commerce. This is largely because 80 percent of the people and most of the administrative and economic centers are in former East Cameroon, which was for many years under French trusteeship. English is more widely spoken in the smaller area of former West Cameroon because of earlier British colonial influence.

A number of local languages, such as Fulfulde in the north and Pahouin languages in the south, serve as effective lingua francas between peoples of different ethnic affiliations. The people concentrated in the Southwest and Northwest regions--around Buea and Bamenda--use standard English and "pidgin," as well as their local languages. In the three northern regions--Adamawa, North, and Far North--French and Fulfulde, the language of the Fulani, are widely spoken. Elsewhere, French is the principal language, although pidgin and some local languages such as Ewondo, the dialect of a Beti clan from the Yaounde area, also are widely spoken. Although Yaounde is Cameroon's capital, Douala is the largest city, main seaport, and main industrial and commercial center.

The Cameroonian constitution states that the two official languages, English and French, are meant to be equal. It also says that the Republic "shall guarantee the promotion of bilingualism throughout the country". A 1998 law on education also assures that bilingualism is a fundamental part of the education system at all ages. The law states that the education system has two branches: one French-speaking and one English-speaking, and they work independently of one another with their own set of evaluation and means of testing.

Anglophone teachers think that they are increasingly required to teach according to the French system. The fact that French-speaking professors teach in English-speaking schools and universities is a huge problem because a lot of them have very bad English.

Demonstrations began on 21 November 2016 after teachers started protesting against a local education system that they say is too French-oriented and doesn’t provide for English speakers. But it’s not just a quibble with education – a large number of English speakers said that they are treated like “second-class citizens” in the predominantly French-speaking country. Some have called for the creation of a federal state system, which is one of the rallying points of the main opposition party, the Social Democratic Front.

The western highlands are among the most fertile regions in Cameroon and have a relatively healthy environment in higher altitudes. This region is densely populated and has intensive agriculture, commerce, cohesive communities, and historical emigration pressures. From here, Bantu migrations into eastern, southern, and central Africa are believed to have originated about 2,000 years ago. Bamileke people from this area have in recent years migrated to towns elsewhere in Cameroon, such as the coastal regions, where they form much of the business community. About 20,000 non-Africans, including more than 6,000 French and 2,400 US citizens, reside in Cameroon.

In 1973 Douala, on the coast, and Yaounde, the capital, were the largest towns. They were also the major nodes of the road, rail, and air transportation networks serving a rapidly growing population in Littoral and South Central provinces. Outside this area, only a skeleton network of mostly unsurfaced roads existed. The main line Trans-Cameroon Railroad had been completed as far inland as Belabo in 1969. In 1973 it was being extended northward to the high plateau town of Ngaoundere, as a step toward a modern railroad-road network connecting cities in northern Cameroon — and in neighboring countries — with the seaport of Douala.

Most lived in villages or unplanned agricultural settlements. In a few areas, such as parts of Northwestern Province, families lived in isolated homesteads on or near their land. By 1973 about half the people were concentrated on less than 10 percent of the land, primarily in two areas: an area extending northward from Douala and Victoria on the coast into Northwestern Province and estward to Yaounde; and a smaller area far to the north, in the Mandara Hills, between the towns of Garoua and Maroua. Elsewhere, throughout almost all of Northern and Eastern provinces, population densities were less than fifteen persons per square mile.

Living conditions vary considerably between rural and urban environments and among different regions of the country, chiefly because of marked disparities in income levels. The subsistence cultivators of the Adamaoua Plateau and the northern hills endure the lowest living standards, as exemplified by an extremely high rate of infant mortality and a frugal pattern of life in which all members contribute to the family's survival. By contrast, life for the cultivators in former West Cameroon is easier than for their northern counterparts, largely because of better soils and more favorable ecological conditions. In this area almost all agricultural work is performed by women. Life for the northern herders follows a typical pattern of nomadic or seminomadic activity. It offers the opportunity for occasional socioeconomic interchange with the cultivators but is frequently subject to the grim consequences of climatic adversities. For those herders on the fertile central plateau, life is comparatively easier.

In contrast with the general living standards of rural inhabitants, income levels are generally much higher in the urban centers, according to government statistics. Nonetheless, even here sharp contrasts exist between the educated and economic elite, who can rely on comfortable and well-paying jobs, and the migrants, who have abandoned their traditional existence in the search for a better way of life only to discover that their agrarian talents are seldom marketable. This fact of life often underlies the increasing crime rate in the larger cities.

The Penal Code had already penalized adultery as a crime for both men and women, responsibility was attached unevenly. Women were punishable for any form of adultery, but men only if they committed the crime in their homes or did so elsewhere “habitually.” The punishment in either case was two to six months in prison or a fine of from CFA25,000-CFA100,000 (about US$42-$168). Under the revised 2016 Code, anyone found guilty of adultery could be sentenced to two to six months of incarceration or a fine of up to the equivalent of about $175.

Cameroon’s population is young, 44% being under 15 years old. The population is growing at a rate of 2.6% and life expectancy at birth was approximately 51 years in 2011. Maternal and neonatal mortality remains high, and malaria is still the leading cause of morbidity and mortality, particularly in children under 5.

HIV prevalence is estimated to be 4.3% but exhibits considerable regional variation, and also according to age and sex. In 2012, the number of persons living with HIV was estimated at 550 000, including more than 43 000 children. There have been 32 000 deaths recorded since the beginning of the epidemic, and 320 000 children have been orphaned by AIDS. Tuberculosis is in partial decline: the number of declared cases fell from 6288 in 2001 to 24 589 in 2007, before increasing slightly to 25 100 in 2012. Communicable diseases continue to have a significant impact. Epidemic-prone diseases such as cholera, meningococcal cerebrospinal meningitis, yellow fever and measles occasionally increase morbidity and mortality in the population.

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