Cameroon // 54-project
I'm embarking on a 54-week project wherein I study one Africa country each week. No rules or limits on what I study or seek to learn, just trying my best to learn more about each country. I feel that in African studies the focus is usually placed on certain countries (Kenya, Ethiopia, Egypt, etc) or certain events (colonialism, the Rwandan genocide, apartheid, etc), so that people interested in Africa might know a lot about a specific region or time, but not have thorough knowledge of the continent. I am hoping to remedy this situation, that I have at least found in myself, by means of this project.
It has been brought to attention by my uncle that on my quest to learn more about each country in Africa I am completely skirting around the one area I really hate/know nothing about: economy! So here goes an attempt at learning about economics and Cameroon all in one. (But honestly, I didn't spend much time on this...so it will be back to language, history, and culture soon).
Cameroon is rich with significant natural resources: the coveted oil and gas, high value timber species, minerals, and agricultural products, such as coffee, cotton, cocoa, maize, and cassava. Although plentiful in natural resources, Cameroon ranks extremely low in exports and imports (113th and 117th, respectively). In 2016, there was a significant drop in the economy due to a flu epidemic, which damaged the poultry business, and the slower growth of oil production. Inflation is at about 1.6%. (And here's the fun BBC quick guide to inflation that helped me get through this).
The OEC provides awesome data charts on country economies. Here you can see the exports and imports of Cameroon, along with the top countries that they export to:
I'm still trying to figure out what's important to read on all these charts/what they can tell me, so I guess that's about it for this week's "learn about the economy" section!
Cameroon is situated against the Atlantic Ocean, in the crossroads of west and central Africa, giving it the nickname the “hinge of Africa”. It borders six other countries, Nigeria (not exactly best of friends), Chad, Central African Republic, Republic of Congo, Gabon, and Equatorial Guinea. The northern part of Cameroon is home to the largest portion of what is left of Lake Chad (which really isn't that much).
Cameroon during the colonial period was originally German, then given to the English, then became a French colony. Even the Portuguese decided to get in on the Cameroon action, the name 'Cameroon' comes from the Portuguese word “camarões”, which means shrimp, because they found shrimp there when first coming to the country. But alas, after WWI, Cameroon became a League of Nations mandate between the United Kingdom and France. At independence, the English-mandated area had to decide if it wanted to become a part of Nigeria or Cameroon. Northern English Cameroon chose Nigeria, the south decided to join Cameroon (and we will get more to the Anglophone/Francophone divide of present-day Cameroon shortly).
Cameroon is home to 279 different languages (and an additional 5 dead languages), with over 20 million people in the country. Since I'm into maps and charts this week, here is a map of the different linguistic groups of Cameroon and nearby areas, from World Atlas:
In terms of foreign languages, besides French and English, German still has a somewhat small role within the country. There are around 300,000 people that speak German, mainly students and teachers. But Cameroon actually has the largest number of German speakers in all of Africa (I would've thought Namibia had the highest, but I can't argue a World Atlas fact!). Of the 279 different languages, there are 55 Afro-Asiatic languages, 169 Niger-Congo languages, 4 Ubangian languages, and 2 Nilo-Saharan languages. The Niger-Congo languages 140 Benue-Congo languages, 28 Adamawa languages, and one Senegambian language.
With so many languages and a division in official language (the anglophone and francophone portions), many lingua franca's are used. Cameroonian Pidgin English is the lingua franca in the country’s Northwest and Southwest provinces. In the north, it is Fulfulde. The lingua franca in the East, South, and Center provinces of Cameroon is Ewondo. Camfranglais is a hybrid of the English and French languages and is prevalent in the locations where French-speaking and English-speaking Cameroonians meet.
The sign language in Cameroon is American Sign Language because of the deaf missionary, Andrew Foster, who brought it over.
Also coming from Cameroon is the Bamun script, which is one of the few African scripts invented in the 19th century. They were created by King Njoya for the Bamum language.
Today, there are a little over 400,000 speakers of the language. King Njoya set out to create a script for his people as a way to preserve oral history and culture, without the danger of facts being omitted or altered. In the beginning, Bamum script was a pictographic mnemonic aid with 500-600 glyphs. The king continued to revise the script and began to include word symbols. The sixth version, completed by 1910, was a semi-syllabary with 80 glyph, called a-ka-u-ku after its first four glyphs. In 1918 Njoya had copper sorts cast for printing, furthering the use of the script. Within the space of 14 years, the script evolved from a pictographic system to a partially alphabetical syllabic script. After Germany lost control of Cameroon, Njoya also lost the support and sympathy that the German government provided him. Opposition to his realm was strong within the French colonial rule, and in 1931 he was sent into exile. The French set a ban against the use of the Bamum script in schools, and without Njoya to promote it, it unfortunately fell into disuse, largely forgotten. Nowadays, there is an ongoing project to revive Njoya's Bamum script.
And if you're curious to hear Bamum, I was informed that the musician Claude Ndam is a native speaker and sings in the language. I enjoyed this song:
The linguistic tensions in Cameroon have recently begun to explode; historically, Anglophones have seen themselves as the losers in the national distribution of resources and in language resources. English speaking Cameroon makes up about 20% of the population and those in the region often do not have access to courts, hospitals, etc. Within Anglophone Cameroon, British common law should be in effect, yet many courts are run by French-educated judges. Of the 36 government ministers who control departmental budgets, only one is an Anglophone. Despite constitutional stipulations, the use of English barely exists in government administration. French-speaking teachers are sent to the Anglophone region. The occasional protests that started in 2016 have led into a steady momentum of peaceful protests and opposition. Which, under Paul Biya's dinosaur ruling, has led to complete repression of the Anglophone protest movement. Many leaders have been arrested, many protesters have been killed, and many more have fled the country. At the beginning of the year, Biya ordered a 93-day internet shutdown. Right before the blackout, the Ministry of Posts and Telecommunications warned social media users of criminal penalties if they were to "issue or spread information, including by way of electronic communications or information technology systems, without any evidence".
One awesome thing that occurred during the blackout though was the first African to win Google's global youth coding challenge. A teenager in northwestern Cameroon won the challenge in February, despite being in the midst of an internet blackout.
Looking at language from a different perspective, here's a list of the top 10 books every Cameroonian should read. I read some poetry from Anglophone Cameroon during this week:
Mbuh Tennu Mbuh, "Chopstick Diplomacy"
Such dragon embraces
of a postcolonial scam that insult
the memory of a people under twenty-first century noon,
and our leaders soiling their sleek, designer lapels
at staged photo show of Beijing's epicurean farce;
backward pedagogy and the glee
of new imperialism, our woe. We've survived, you may say,
on American crumbs from gilded table of the lucky
one percent in Wall Street paradise, but Beijing
preys even on the maggots from our pit latrines,
and shocks legendary Parisian greed for equatorial teats.
What blindness drags us along China's blood-builded Wall then,
when her Old Guards rehearse Wall Street
superlatives but not as Democrat or Capitalist?
Confused Politburo landlords, seeding confusion into new enclaves,
and ours a juicy chunk, blind to imminent Beijing Bubble
because China's new taste buds are conceptualised at Cambridge,
designed by General Motors, and served
in Disneyland elixir with reeded Coke at the manager's Easter discount.
Tiananmen Square was a nursery, Beijing's
dread and lie, and every tropical dictator's April fool,
when the whitewash cannot fool her formatted billions forever,
because the Tank Man, O lone Warrior against the billion Red Guards,
dared the bloody bluff like a Robin Hood shoot sprouting
on Nottingham campuses in Chinaland.
We don't need Beijing's weevilled goodwill,
her doomed messianism not defined,
a forgery of ideology forging newer chains
and the prospection of blood and more blood
after Gorbachev's feelers, ridiculed.
Castro tried but failed to conjure eternity in the shadow of a sickle and hammer,
because self-interest, even poorly nurtured, overwrites
glossy communal overtures patterned as brain-drilled
testaments of good faith for a neutered humanity;
so this hybrid pedagogy in political science
from Beijing's coney-eyed pedagogues
makes me sick with funereal
prophecy in 2035.
Nanche Billa Robert, "the inferior"
we bounced out of the egg
in a minuscule zone
in a miniature of Africa
the depth by pied tongues
and see fly away our timbers
and dig deep
and see everything
worth us worsen
and perceive no trappings of innovation
just the vanishing of our opulence
in this darkest
in a large mighty world
created by jehovah
from far across
the sea two fair men
came saw and conquered
but from same
womb we drove them
after they dropped
carved us into
French and English
from the same womb we
were given life
yet I'm an inferior
From the Cameroonian diaspora, I read Behold the Dreamers, by Imbolo Mbue, who lives in the United States. The book, centered around class divide, is a novel following an immigrant family surrounded by the 1% of America.
The Cameroonian flag is made up of three colors (and if you get it confused with the Senegalese flag, you're not the only one). Green, red, and yellow, based on the pan-Africanist movement colors. Cameroon is often called a "little Africa" because it contains virtually every climate and ecoregion found in Africa: coasts, desert, savannah, mountains, jungles & rainforests. It still has active volcanoes, Mt Cameroon last erupted in 2000. It is also home to two of the only three known exploding lakes in the world. The lakes have magma under them which emit huge puffs of carbon dioxide. In 1986, one of the lakes exploded and killed about 1700 people.
And back to a happier note, after looking at these 21 traditional dishes of Cameroon, I will be googling Cameroonian restaurants in every single city I go to from now on. Seriously. I am dead set at tasting some Ndole and kondres.
And to close this week out, here is a travel video I found of the country!