Cameroon is an L-shaped nation in western Africa, roughly the size of California. It’s connected to the Atlantic by a small band of coastline. For years, the writers of travel brochures have described the diverse geography and culture of Cameroon with the epithet “Africa in miniature.” Within its borders Cameroon holds the five major climate types of Africa. There are hot wet coastal plains, southern rainforest plateaus still inhabited by pygmies, highlands in the west with fertile soil, and vast savannahs shading to desert in the northeast, where Islam has long colored the traditions of pastoral herders.
Cameroon is diverse because its various peoples have little to no shared history. Even the name Cameroon is foreign, derived from what the Portuguese called the coastal delta, Rio dos Camarões, “River of Prawns”, when they landed in the 1500’s. “Cameroon” didn’t exist until 1884 when it was carved out of the sub-Saharan landmass by the Germans. When Germany lost World War I, the territory was divided between France and Britain. While few native Cameroonians had learned German during the thirty year colonial period, English and French flourished. By the time Cameroon gained independence and reunited in 1960 and 1961, a major schism in language and custom separated the English-speaking western third from the francophones in the east. The rift is still obvious in national politics today.