The Culture, Traditions, and Heritage of Cameroon
Cameroon, officially the Republic of Cameroon, is a country in Central Africa. Cameroon is bordered by the Central African Republic to the east; Chad to the northeast; Nigeria to the west and north; and Equatorial Guinea, Gabon and the Republic of the Congo to the south. Cameroon's coastline sits on the Bight of Biafra, which is part of the Gulf of Guinea and the Atlantic Ocean. Cameroon is geographically and historically in West Africa with the Northwest and Southwest Regions having a strong West African history. Sometimes it is identified as West African and other times as Central African because its strategic position at the crossroads between the two.
French and English are Cameroon’s official languages and its natural landscapes include beaches, deserts, mountains, rainforests, and savannas. Mount Cameroon in the Southwest Region of the country is the highest point, reaching almost 4,100 metres. In terms of population, the largest cities are Douala on the Wouri river, Yaoundé and Garoua.
Early residents of the country included the Sao civilisation around Lake Chad and in the southeastern rainforest, the Baka hunter-gatherers. In the 15th century Portuguese explorers reached Cameroon’s coast and named the area Rio dos Camarões, which became Cameroon in English. Cameroon became a German colony in 1884 known as Kamerun. After World War I, as League of Nations mandates, the country was split between France and the UK. In 1960, the French-administered part of the country became independent as the Republic of Cameroun. The southern part of British Cameroons merged with it in 1961 to form the Federal Republic of Cameroon. In 1972 the country was renamed the United Republic of Cameroon and then in 1984 it became the Republic of Cameroon.
Political Culture in CameroonCameroon’s President commands the armed forces, negotiates and ratifies treaties, creates policy, administers government agencies and declares a state of emergency. Once elected, the president appoints government officials at all levels, from the prime minister to the provincial governors and divisional officers. Presidential elections are decided by popular vote every seven years and there have been two presidents since independence.
Cameroon’s National Assembly makes legislation. The Assembly is made up of 180 members who are elected for a five-year term and meet three times a year. Laws are passed by majority vote. It is very rare that the assembly has changed or blocked legislation proposed by the president.
The 1996 constitution establishes a second parliamentary house called the Senate. The 100-seat Senate was created in April 2013 and is headed by the ‘President of the Senate’ who is the constitutional successor to the President. The government acknowledges the authority of traditional chiefs, fons and lamibe to govern at the district level and to settle disputes as long as these rulings do not conflict with national law.
Cameroon's legal system is mostly based on French civil law with a mix of common law influences. Even though technically independent, the judiciary falls under the authority of the Ministry of Justice. The president appoints all judges. The judiciary is made up of tribunals, the court of appeal and the supreme court. Members of a nine-member High Court of Justice are elected by The National Assembly, this body judges high-ranking members of government if they are charged with harming national security or high treason.
Cameroon is considered to be rife with corruption at all levels of government. Cameroon established anti-corruption bureaus in 29 ministries in 1997 but only a quarter became operational. In 2012, Transparency International rated Cameroon as 144 on a list of 176 countries ranked from least to most corrupt. There are several high corruption risk areas in Cameroon, such as customs, public health sector and public procurement. However, corruption has worsened, regardless of the existing anti-corruption bureaus and in 2017, Transparency International ranked Cameroon 153 on their list of 180 countries. Freedom House ranks Cameroon as "not free" in terms of political rights and civil liberties.
Until December 1990, President Biya's Cameroon People's Democratic Movement (CPDM) was the only legal political party. Many regional political groups have formed since and the main opposition is the Social Democratic Front (SDF), based mostly in the Anglophone region of the country.
Biya and the CPDM party have retained control of the presidency and the National Assembly in state elections however, rivals claim these were unfair. Human rights organisations allege the government suppresses the freedoms of opposing groups by stopping demonstrations, disrupting meetings and arresting leaders and journalists. In particular, English-speaking people are discriminated against; protests often intensify into violent and fatal clashes. In 2017, President Biya closed down the Internet in the English-speaking province for 94 days, at the cost of hindering five million people, including Silicon Mountain start-ups.
Human Rights in CameroonThe Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has reported that Cameroon Government forces are responsible for burning down of houses, arbitrary detentions, killings, the excessive use of force and torture. UN figures suggest that over 21,000 people have fled Cameroon, whilst 160,000 have been internally displaced by the violence. On 25 July 2018, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed great concern over reports of abuses and violations in the English-speaking Northwest and Southwest regions.
Media in CameroonCameroon only has one national newspaper, which is state owned however, the media of Cameroon includes independent outlets. Cameroon's media comprises of a public television station and privately-owned channels; radio stations that are public, privately owned and foreign; print publications that are both public and privately owned and the Internet. Cameroon’s constitution guarantees freedom of the press but in practise the threat of government censorship mostly prevents adverse opinions from appearing in print, especially in the state-owned press.
Harassment and censorship of journalists is common in Cameroon. The government has been connected in recent attempts to block access to Twitter inside the country. In 2011, a newspaper editor was arrested for allegedly receiving confidential government documents from a former finance minister, Reporters Without Borders condemned the incident as arbitrary intimidation. Other reporters have also been subject to arrest and incarceration without being charged.
Music and Dance in CamerooneMusic and dance are a vital part of Cameroonian festivals, social gatherings, ceremonies and storytelling. Traditional dances are hugely choreographed and separate men and women; some even forbid participation of one sex altogether. The aims of dance vary from religious devotion to pure entertainment and traditionally, music is transmitted orally. In a classic performance, a chorus of singers echo a soloist.
Traditional instruments include bells worn by dancers, clappers, flutes, horns, rattles, scrapers, stringed instruments, whistles, drums and talking drums and xylophones; however, musical accompaniment may be as simple as clapping hands and stomping feet. Some performers may sing complete songs by themselves, accompanied by only a harp-like instrument.
Ambasse bey of the coast, assiko of the Bassa, mangambeu of the Bangangte and tsamassi of the Bamileke are all popular music styles. The two most popular styles of music are makossa and bikutsi. Developed in Douala, Makossa mixes folk music, high-life, soul and Congo music and performers popularised the style worldwide in the 1970s and 1980s. Bikutsi started as war music among the Ewondo. Since the 1940s, artists have developed it into a well-liked dance music and performers have made it popular around the world.
Local Arts and Crafts in CameroonTraditional arts and crafts are practiced right the way through the country for decorative, commercial and religious uses. The most common are woodcarvings and sculptures. The high-quality clay that can be found in the western highlands is suitable for pottery and ceramics. Other crafts popular in Cameroon include brass and bronze working, calabash carving and painting, basket weaving, bead-working, embroidery and leather working. Contemporary art is primarily promoted by independent cultural organizations such as Doual'art and Africréa and artist-run initiatives like Art Wash, Atelier Viking and ArtBakery.
Films and Literatures in CameroonCameroon became independent in 1960 and the history of Cameroonian cinema started shortly after in 1962. Thérèse Sita Bella and Jean Pierre Dikonguè Pipa were the first Cameroonian movie producers. During the 1960s, writers explored subject matter such as post-colonialism, problems of African development and the recovery of African identity. Meanwhile, in the mid-1970s, filmmakers dealt with the differences between traditional and post-colonial society. Literature and films during the next two decades tended to concentrate more on Cameroonian themes.
Cameroonian literature has focussed on both European and African themes. Colonial-era writers were educated by European missionary institutions and supported assimilation into European culture as a way to bring Cameroon into the modern world. After World War II, writers analysed and criticised colonialism and spurned assimilation.