While unrest in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon threatens the economy of Central Africa's most diverse state, the nation prepares for an Oct. 7 general election after the final leg of campaigning ends Saturday.
Early in August, Cameroon's electoral body, Elecam, approved the presidential candidates to run in the elections to choose who will next govern the country's almost 24 million people. Three-quarters of the population of the African nation under the age of 25 in 2014, according to a census report at the time.
Cameroon is one of the African continent’s economic standard-bearer, with thriving industries that include oil, timber, minerals, coffee, cotton, cacao and cassava. It is the largest economy in the six-nations of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC).
Though both French and English are recognized as the official languages in the Central African state, only 20 percent of the country’s more than 23 million people speak the latter. The English-speaking demographic has sought over the years, to break away from the majority which has caused the northwest and southwest regions of the country to become embroiled in a major crisis since late 2016. Overall, Cameroon has about 200 different linguistic groups, BBC noted in a recent report.
Cameroon’s diverse system was “designed so that everyone polices themselves and maintained inter-generational and ethnic rivalries,” International Crisis Group’s (ICG) Hans de Marie Heungoup pointed out. “No one can move an active (security force) unit without the say-so of the president,” the crisis group official added, emphasizing the importance of the balance between the regular army, the rapid intervention force, and the presidential guard.
But over the years, clashes between Cameroonian troops and the separatists have led to dozens of deaths and the displacement of almost 200,000 people. In October 2017, separatist leaders issued a symbolic declaration of independence for a new republic called "Ambazonia".
Politics and Economy
The incumbent President Paul Biya is the second-longest serving leader in Africa - coming into power in 1982, after founding President Ahmadou Ahidjo stepped down - and is seeking a seventh term at Cameroon’s helm.
“Those who want power don’t last, it’s those who can (rule)” 85-year-old Biya famously told journalists, in a 2015 address. The president was allowed to first extend his rule following a 2008 constitutional amendment that removed presidential term limits.
According to a 2017 Forbes report, several Cameroonians have built multi-million and billion-dollar empires in industries such as agriculture, food, construction, energy and distribution, amassing large fortunes.
Cameroon’s main export is oil which brings in up to 40% of the nation's earnings.
The African nation is also constructing Central Africa’s only deep-sea port in Kribi, to tap into the hydropower potential of the Lom River.
Prior to becoming Cameroon, the country was a German protectorate called Kamerun which split into French- and British-mandated regions following World War I. The French region became known as independent Cameroon in 1960, and was later joined by a section of the British territory. The remainder joined Nigeria.
The country was named for one of its main rivers, which 15th-century Portuguese explorers called the Rio dos Camaroes (River of Prawns).