Country in west Africa, bounded northwest by Nigeria, northeast by Chad, east by the Central African Republic, south by the Republic of the Congo, Gabon, and Equatorial Guinea, and west by the Atlantic.
Cameroon was a federal state until 1972 when a new constitution, last revised in 1996, made it unitary. It has a single-chamber legislature, the national assembly, with 180 members elected by universal suffrage for a five-year term. It has a presidential executive. The president, who is head of state and government, is directly elected for a seven-year term and chooses the cabinet, headed by a prime minister, judges, generals, and provincial governors, and can lengthen or shorten the life of the assembly. There is provision in the constitution for the creation of a second chamber (senate) and councils for its ten regions, but these have not been established. Since 1992, there have been multiparty elections and the establishment of some independent newspapers, but a number of opposition parties have boycotted elections claiming that they have not been fair, with meetings disrupted and opposition leaders and journalists sometimes arrested.
The area was first visited by Europeans in 1472, when the Portuguese began slave trading in the area. In 1884 Cameroon became a German protectorate, known as Kamerun. After World War I, France governed about 80% of the area under a League of Nations mandate, with Britain administering the remainder, from neighbouring Nigeria. The French area saw investment in the infrastructure, but also continued forced labour. In 1946 both areas became United Nations trust territories.
In French Cameroon the outlawed radical Union of the Cameroon People (UPC), led a guerrilla war for independence after 1946, but France resisted this. In 1957 French Cameroon became a state within the French Community, but on 1 January 1960 achieved full independence as the Republic of Cameroon. After a plebiscite in 1961, the northern part of British Cameroon merged with Nigeria, and the southern part joined the Republic of Cameroon to form the Federal Republic of Cameroon. The French zone became East Cameroon and the British part West Cameroon.
One-party state introduced by Ahidjo in 1966
Ahmadou Ahidjo, who had been the first president of the republic in 1960, became president of the federal republic and was re-elected in 1965. In 1966 the two government parties and most of the opposition parties merged into the Cameroon National Union (UNC)to form a one-party state. The government faced a continuing guerrilla war from the extreme left-wing UPC, which was not crushed until 1971. This, and fears of ethnic conflict, led to a concentration of power in the hands of the executive president and, in 1972, to abolition of the federal system, with the country renamed the United Republic of Cameroon.
Biya becomes president in 1982
Ahidjo encouraged development of agricultural cash crops for export and exploitation of the country's petroleum resources to fund development projects. In 1982 Ahidjo stepped down as president, handing over power to Paul Biya, his nominated successor. Initially, Ahidjo continued to influence policy until, in 1983, he was persuaded to resign the presidency of the UNC. Biya was re-elected in 1984, while Ahidjo went into exile in France. Biya strengthened his position by abolishing the post of prime minister and reshuffling his cabinet. He also changed the nation's name from the United Republic of Cameroon to the Republic of Cameroon. Many of Ahidjo's supporters were executed after a failed attempt to overthrow Biya. In 1985 the UNC changed its name to the Rassemblement Démocratique du Peuple Camerounais (RDPC; Cameroon People's Democratic Movement), and Biya tightened his control with further cabinet changes. He was re-elected president in 1988 with 99% of the vote.
Re-introduction of multiparty politics in 1992
From the late 1980s, because of an unfavourable international economy, drought, falling oil prices, and problems caused by government corruption, Cameroon's economy deteriorated. The government faced mounting popular opposition and public disorder, leading to arrests of lawyers, lecturers, and students. In response, public spending was cut, industries privatized, and constitutional changes introduced. Biya granted amnesty to political prisoners in 1990 and multiparty politics were introduced and the voting age lowered to 20. The first multiparty assembly elections in 28 years were held in 1992; the RDPC secured a small majority. Biya won the 1992 presidential election, attracting 40% of the vote against 36% for John Fru Ndi, leader of the Social Democratic Front (SDF), based in the Anglophone region of the country. His victory was challenged by the opposition after widespread arrests of their supporters, and from 1993 opposition leaders demanded radical constitutional reforms.
The three main opposition parties boycotted the 1997 presidential election, won by Biya with 93% of the vote. The RDPC easily won National Assembly elections in 2002, winning 133 of the 163 seats whose results were accepted by the Supreme Court. Although the court ruled that the ballot for 17 seats must be rerun, opposition parties complained of more widespread electoral irregularities. Biya was re-elected, for a seven-year term, in 2004, winning 71% of the vote, but the opposition alleged electoral fraud. Biya's strongest opposition comes from Anglophone pressure groups, who seek greater autonomy for the parts of Cameroon which used to be under British rule, with some advocating complete secession as the Republic of Ambazonia, in western Cameroon.
Cameroon is a member of both La Francophonie and the Commonwealth of Nations which it joined in 1995. It relies heavily on France for its defence.
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