In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Cameroon

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African Studies Cameroon
Benedict Nantang Jua
  • LAST REVIEWED: 24 May 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 May 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846733-0123


The Republic of Cameroon, nested between West and Central Africa, covers an area of 183,520 square miles and shares borders with Chad, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, the Central African Republic, and Nigeria. Formed at the 1884 Congress of Berlin, which partitioned Africa, its name derives from the Wouri River, which Fernando Po, one of the first Europeans to reach the territory, in 1472 named Rio dos Camarões or the river of prawns. For the most part a hilly and mountainous country, its highest point is Mount Cameroon, which, it is claimed even in official narratives, may have been sighted by the Carthaginian explorer Hanno around 500 BCE. Since it straddles all of Africa’s ecological zones—that is, from the equatorial zone on the Atlantic coast, through the grasslands, to the Sahelian zone bordering on Lake Chad—it has been popularly dubbed “Africa in miniature.” Its geographical and cultural diversity justifies this moniker. With a population of over twenty million people, it is a mosaic of 250–300 ethnic groups speaking over three hundred languages that were cobbled together by a triple colonial experience—notably, German, British, and French, which were the main actors in the partitioning of Africa, a process that was consensual as well as conflictual. Initially a German colony known as Kamerun, it became a League of Nations mandate in 1922, following the defeat of the Germans in World War I, administered under the auspices of Britain and France as two separate mandates. Following the creation of the United Nations in the wake of World War II, the mandates were transformed into trust territories in 1946, administered by Britain and France as British Cameroons and French Cameroun, respectively. British Cameroons was later divided into Southern Cameroons and Northern Cameroons. French Cameroun acceded to independence on 1 January 1960. Following a United Nations plebiscite in British Cameroons in February 1961, Northern Cameroons opted for independence by joining with Nigeria, while Southern Cameroons opted for independence by joining with La Republique du Cameroun. Unification of these two territories gave birth to the Federal Republic of Cameroon, comprising two states—West Cameroon (Anglophone) and East Cameroon (Francophone). The federal republic morphed into the United Republic of Cameroon following a referendum in 1972, and to the Republic of Cameroon in 1984, by a presidential decree. Throughout the post-independence era, this state has been confronted by the twin challenges of imagining a nation and economic development. Elite bargains have been privileged in fostering a national imagining, and foreign exchange earnings, to a large extent, have underwritten its economic development. Though located in the Central African region, where conflict is endemic, it has not suffered from the neighborhood effect. Paramount to the challenges confronting it is a culture of corruption that is endemic to this patrimonial state.

General Overviews

Carved out at the 1884 Conference of Berlin, this colonial state is the only antecedent of the present-day Cameroon. Prior to this, the territory was occupied by diverse ethnic groups that had convivial as well as conflicting relations. Its history as well as political developments, unlike in the case of some other African states where colonization marked a historical continuity with precolonial formations, must be seen within the context of the colonizing project that created this artificial state. Its only antecedent therefore is the colonial state. And even this colonial state did not foster a national imagining as it morphed from German state to a British and French one, respectively, giving them different histories and trajectories. Unlike Europe, where state and society are coeval, this state has been superimposed on a society. Nelson 1974 presents basic facts about state construction, while DeLancey 1989 examines the development plans, reminiscent of command economies that it broached to foster growth and development. Critical analyses of these efforts are found in Geschiere and Konings 1989, the proceedings of a conference that examined various aspects of Cameroon politics, society, and economy. For those looking for a synopsis, Takougang 2005 and the articles in Middleton and Miller 2008 provide a brief discussion of the geography, history, society and culture, and politics.

  • DeLancey, Mark W. Cameroon: Dependence and Independence. Profiles: Nations of Contemporary Africa. Boulder, CO: Westview, 1989.

    A short introductory text for the uninitiated, it presents a brief overview of pre-independence history and postcolonial history. The government’s role in the economic sector is presented through summaries of its policies and development plans.

  • Geschiere, Peter, and Piet Konings, eds. Conference on the Political Economy of Cameroon: Historical Perspectives. 2 vols. Research Reports 35. Leiden, The Netherlands: African Studies Centre, 1989.

    These contributions are a tour de force on several topics such as state and civil society relations, political culture and national mobilization, political economy, the economy of labor and state intervention, and various aspects of agricultural development. It is an invaluable resource for students and scholars who want to undertake research on Cameroon.

  • Middleton, John, and Joseph C. Miller, eds. New Encyclopedia of Africa. 2d ed. 5 vols. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Detroit: Charles Scribner’s, 2008.

    Though covering all of Africa, see entries in Vol. 1 by Nantang Jua, “Cameroon; Geography and Economy” (pp. 298–301), “Cameroon: History and Politics” (pp. 304–307), and Philip Burnham, “Cameroon; Society and Cultures” (pp. 301–303). Since this encyclopedia uses a common template for the study of African countries, these entries would be useful for those engaged in comparative studies.

  • Nelson, Harold D. Area Handbook for the United Republic of Cameroon. Washington, DC: American University, 1974.

    It provides an overview of the dominant social, political, and economic forces in Cameroonian society, and the dynamics operating within the country that may help to bridge the divide between English-speaking and French-speaking Africa.

  • Takougang, Joseph. “Cameroon.” In Encyclopedia of the Developing World. Vol. 1, A–E: Index. Edited by Thomas M. Leonard, 217–219. London: Routledge, 2005.

    An encyclopedic entry that provides a brief overview of Cameroon history, politics, and economics that the uninitiated would find helpful.

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