Cameroon's official name is the Republic of Cameroon. It's located on the western coast of Africa on the Bight of Biafra, which is part of the Gulf of Guinea. At 183,568 square miles, the country is a little larger than the state of California. It's been called "Africa in miniature" by the government due to its geological and cultural diversity, and within its borders one can find beaches, deserts, mountains, rainforests and savannas. The climate, too, is varied, ranging from tropical along its western coastline to semiarid and hot in the north. The country is also known as the "hinge of Africa," as a geologic fault line runs through it, and the area is, consequently, very seismically active. Mt. Cameroon, the highest mountain in sub-Saharan West Africa at 13,435 feet, is the most active volcano in West Africa and erupted as recently as 2000. Consequently, lakes in the Oku Volcanic Field have, on occasion, released fatal volcanic gases, which in 1986 were responsible for killing 1700 people.
Once a colony of France in the north and England in the south, Cameroon achieved independence in 1960 (from France) and 1961 (from England), and has been ruled by an authoritarian president, Paul Biya, since 1982. It is considered stable politically and socially, and its primary industries are petroleum and timber, although most (70%) of the country's 19.7 million residents practice subsistence farming. The official languages are French and English, although Cameroon is home to 24 other native language groups. Christians comprise 40% of those who profess a religion, with Muslims making up another 20%. The rest engage in indigenous beliefs and practices.
Equatorial Guinea is Cameroon's much smaller neighbor to the south. Officially the Republic of Equatorial Guinea, it is one of the smallest nations in Africa at 11,000 square miles - smaller than the state of Maryland. It is comprised of a mainland and five islands in the Bight of Biafra, including Bioko Island 25 miles off the coast of Cameroon, which hosts the nation's capital city Malabo. While the islands are volcanic, the mainland is primarily tropical rain forest, and is unrelentingly hot and humid; less than 5% of the land is arable.
Equatorial Guinea gained independence from Spain in 1968, and President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo has ruled since 1979. The region has become very wealthy over the past decade with the discovery of off-shore oil reserves; it is currently Sub-Saharan Africa's third largest oil exporter. However, this largesse has remained in the hands of the elite, and according to the
This article was originally published in April 2011, and has been updated for the
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