Cameroon: what to know?

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Cameroon is known as “Africa in miniature” due to its diverse cultures and geological features. It has beaches, mountains, rainforests, savannas, and deserts, including Mount Cameroon, an active volcano. The largest city is Douala, but most Cameroonians work as subsistence farmers. Cameroon’s population is booming, with 250 ethnic groups, and refugees from the Central African Republic. Cameroon was a German colony and was divided between France and Great Britain after World War I before reuniting as an independent nation in 1961.

The Republic of Cameroon is known as “Africa in miniature” because the country encompasses a diverse set of cultures and a variety of geological features. Within Cameroon’s 183,568 square miles (475,442 square kilometers), a visitor can find beaches, mountains, rainforests, savannas, and deserts. Mount Cameroon, the highest point in the country at 13,255 feet (4,040 meters), is an active volcano. The Cameroon line of volcanic activity passes under several lakes, saturating them with carbon dioxide. Among the affected lakes is Lake Nyos, the site of the 1986 Nyos disaster. A sudden outgassing of carbon dioxide in the lake suffocated an estimated 1,800 villagers living in the area and 3,500 livestock, as well as injuring an estimated 4,000 others people who managed to escape.

The largest city in Cameroon is Douala, followed by the capital, Yaoundé. However, many Cameroonians do not live in cities; rather, most of the population work as subsistence farmers. Agriculture and forestry are the main industries and exports include coffee, sugar and tobacco. Tourism is also starting to grow and the fishing industry is booming.

Cameroon’s population is also booming. Estimates speak of 17,795,000 inhabitants, of which 41 percent are under 15 years old. About 250 distinct ethnic groups live in Cameroon, including Pygmies, Sudanese and Bantu. That number is rising as refugees pour into Cameroon from the Central African Republic. Diversity in Cameroon has created relatively high levels of tolerance, although there are regular reports of mobs attacking suspected witches.

Cameroon has been inhabited continuously since the Neolithic period (the New Stone Age), particularly by pygmy groups, including the Baka. European interest in the area began in the 15th century. Germany claimed the region, known at the time as Kamerun, as a colony in 1884 and used forced labor to improve local infrastructure. After Germany’s defeat in World War I, the colony was divided between France and Great Britain. In 1961, Cameroon was reunited as an independent nation.

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