The first inhabitants of Cameroon were the Pygmy Baka people. They were largely replaced and absorbed by Bantu tribes during Bantu migrations.
The first European contact was in the 16th century with the Portuguese, but they did not stay. The first permanent colonial settlements were started in the late 1870s, with the German Empire emerging as the major European Power. With the defeat of Germany in World War I, Cameroon became a League of Nations Mandate territory split between French and British Cameroons in 1919.
These were merged in 1961 to form the present country which has generally enjoyed stability. Despite a slow movement toward democratic reform, political power remains firmly in the hands of an ethnic oligarchy headed by President Paul Biya. Traditional kings called "Sultans" or "Lamidos" enjoy considerable privileges and local influence. They have been integrated into the administration already burdened by nepotism and corruption. (Cameroon ranked 137 of 158 countries by Transparency International compared to 88 for Gabon).
Cameroon has one of the best-endowed primary commodity economies in sub-Saharan Africa thanks to its oil resources and favourable agricultural conditions. It exports crude oil and petroleum products, lumber, cocoa beans, aluminium, coffee and cotton. Despite a 1 900 $ per habitant GNP and 80% literacy, half of the population lives below the poverty line because of relatively high income inequalities ( Gini coefficient of 45) and 30% of unemployment.
|Atlapedia CIA Country Reports Lonely Planet Traveldocs Wikipedia|
I had no problem crossing the border but my minibus was stopped 9 times by police, gendarmes and customs agents along the 110 km distance to Ambam. Each time, the driver and sometimes the passengers had to pay 1000 Francs XAF (2 $US) to continue our journey. No wonder Transparency International gave the country a poor corruption score.
I had to wait two hours here to catch the regular afternoon bus to Yaoundé.
The Ambam bus station was clean and well run. I had an interesting conversation on feminine emancipation with Marie-Laure when she was not busy directing the passengers with a hand held loudspeaker to prevent shoving when boarding.
Here is a view of the lush vegetation encountered on the way to Yaoundé.
This is a Catholic church. About 40 % of Cameroonians are Animists, another 40 % are Christians and 20% are Muslim (mostly in the north).
This green landscape with great ceiba trees contrasts strongly with the barren quasi deserts in the north.
Yaoundé's streets, of which half are unpaved, snake over seven hills without order from carrefour to carrefour, making it easy to get lost.
Here is the entrance of the Ideal Hotel, located on Carrefour Nlongkak in the north part of town. The staff was friendly and my room with TV, ventilator, bathroom and balcony cost only 16 $US (below left).
On the right, Peter Njome, an enterprising internet acquaintance, on my balcony.
The Ideal Hotel was ideal for me and so was this cafe across the street where I took my meals and had beer with my internet contacts. You can tell it was a busy place from the piles of empty beer cases. The beer was excellent and less than a dollar for a big bottle. There even was an internet access next door.
This maquis in front sold tasty roasted beef, sliced into bite sized bits and well seasoned with spices, for a dollar a portion served on brown paper.
On the other side of the terrace two apparently competing cooks served boiled pork to the same beer drinking crowd.
I had met Peter through his aunt Margaret who ran an NGO called Sled Network out of Limbe (a resort town on the coast). One day, Peter invited me to visit his home a short distance from this street in a northern suburb.
Peter, on the left, complements his salary as a teacher by working for his aunt's NGO. He is now in the process of launching another NGO with his brother Peters who is a lawyer (on the right).
Here I am sampling traditional "ndole" served with manioc paste with the two brothers Peter and Peters.
Operating NGOs seems to be a popular activity for Cameroonians with international relations. Another of my contacts, that I did not meet, ran an NGO for the health and development of youth. Apparently the government encourages these initiatives for they bring in hard currency provided by foreign partners.
Taking pictures of public buildings is forbidden so you have to be careful to do it from a distance. Apparently the local people can do it without getting into trouble so I think that the interdiction is just a pretext to extract bribes from unsuspecting tourists.
This is the city centre.
The tall building is the ........... and the lower one is .....
Obviously this is the Hilton Hotel.
Here is the ... bank with the Hilton Hotel in the background.
I took this picture of the National Assembly building while looking over the sights with Georges Mben, another internet acquaintance. No sooner done, gendarmes forced us into their small guard house where we were held for more than an hour.
After a good verbal dressing down the pitch finally came. They would let us go if I left my camera with them. Georges, who as a local, was completely vulnerable to their arbitrary treatment said nothing and I praise his wisdom. One of the gendarmes went as far as to say "Terrorists take pictures and then they come back to plant bombs". It was quite ridiculous but they had the big end of the stick!
I had been through this before so I stood my ground pointing out that anyone could get free satellite photos from Google Earth on the Internet and that high resolution pictures. better than any that I could take, were also available at low cost. When that did not work, I asked to call the Canadian Embassy and suggested that canadian taxpayers who funded, amongst others, the project of a residence for handicapped people that I had seen in north Yaoundé, might not like to learn that a Canadian citizen had been harassed the way they were going at me. That brought results. They called their superior who arrived shortly. He praised them for being alert but let us go without a fuss.
I mention this as a useful suggestion to those of you who might be faced with a similar situation. Stand your ground if you are sure you are right.
Back to Carrefour Nlongkak I spotted evidence that the Bible thumping, hellfire and brimstone screaming variety of fundamentalist American evangelism had reached Africa. This one did not have to scream too much for he had a very powerful portable loudspeaker that allowed him to aggress our ears with minimum effort.
Georges Mben and Étienne Maemble are two young men whose world view does not contain supernatural elements. They are the exception in Cameroon.
The twin spirals of this beautiful monument symbolize the reunification of the French and British Cameroons in 1961.
Below, on the left, a monument to the Cameroon family on the same site and Georges Mben and I on the right.
Georges and Étienne accompanied me to the train station and we had a few beers together before I had to leave.
I stayed 10 days in Yaoundé and enjoyed it because I had the opportunity to meet a diverse range of people on a significant personal level.
Life here is difficult and people have to be innovative to survive while staying on the right side of the law.
I took these last two pictures from the train as it was moving through the suburbs on the way to N'Gaoundéré.
Yaoundé has a population of more than a million and unemployment here is higher than the national average of 30%.
Life is tough in Africa! Most of us don't realize how lucky we are to have been born in developped countries.