Cameroon is the largest economy in the central African region. It is also strategic, alongside Nigeria, Chad and Niger, in the fight against Boko Haram. Often understated, it also plays an active role in shepherding the waters of the gulf of Guinea. This is a special focus on arguably, central Africa’s most important country. Click here for more features.
Cameroon has a rich tradition, exporting the best of Africa to the world be it through its music with stars such as Manu Dibango and sports giants such as Roger Milla or Samuel Eto’o. Today some of Africa’s leading public intellectuals are from Cameroon, at the forefront of international institutions such as Vera Songwe who heads the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa or Célestin Monga, chief economist at the African Development Bank.
Its people have always been entrepreneurial and the country has been the agricultural and manufacturing hub for the region. The development of the deep sea port at Kribi in 2015 made Cameroon a true gateway for Central Africa, given its strategic location, its economic importance and its reputation for a peaceful and stable environment.
Economically, the country is bouncing back and showing resilience, with growth forecasts estimated at 4.2% for 2018 and a number of large public investment projects driving this growth. The country however has faced challenges during the past year, and the political agenda has been dominated most notably by what has been called the “Anglo-phone” problem.
Cameroon has always been known as a peaceful, united country. However, issues dating back to the legacy of colonisation have recently reared their head. Cameroon was originally colonised by the Germans in the late 19th century. Following the First World War and the Treaty of Versailles in 1919, German Kamerun was “awarded” to the French and the English. In 1961, as African countries sought independence, Southern Cameroons, under British rule, was united with the territory then under French rule to create what we know today as Cameroon.
Like many economies, the centre of economic power has been in its urban centres, namely Douala, and the leadership has been mainly “Francophone”. Despite the country being officially bilingual, the Anglophone regions have felt underrepresented, both in terms of political voice and economic power. This has led to frustrations in the areas of the country that felt marginalised, which developed into greater unrest from October 2016.
The Anglophone issue is a sensitive one because the Constitution enshrines the idea of a unitary state with equal rights for all citizens, not distinguishing between languages or race.
Since the unrest started, there have been many efforts to appease the concerns of the Anglophone regions and there seem to have been slow but positive developments. Concrete measures have been taken to improve representation in both the legislative and judiciary processes (the base of the initial complaints). There have been efforts by different parties within government – including the prime minister, himself an Anglophone from the Northwest – to reconcile the country.
In December of last year, the secretary general of the Commonwealth, Patricia Scotland, visited Cameroon, where she met the President and the Prime Minister as well as representatives of civil society and eight opposition parties.
She praised the country for its peaceful traditions and the spirit of cooperation and inclusivity she encountered. Following her visit political figures from across the spectrum agreed to engage in dialogue to resolve the challenges.
In this special report we look at the underlying causes of the Anglophone problem and the measures that have been taken to unite the country. The report also provides an economic overview, looks at the rejuvenation of the coffee industry and examines a thriving tech sector.