The Republic of Cameroon is known as ‘Africa in Miniature’ because the country encompasses a diverse set of cultures as well as a variety of geological features. Within Cameroon’s 183,568 square miles (475,442 square kilometers), a visitor can find beaches, mountains, rainforests, savannas and deserts. Mount Cameroon, the highest point in the country at 13,255 feet (4,040 meters), is an active volcano. The Cameroon line of volcanic activity passes under several lakes, saturating them with carbon dioxide. Among lakes affected is Lake Nyos, the site of the 1986 Nyos disaster. A sudden outgassing of carbon dioxide at the lake suffocated approximately 1,800 villagers living in the area and 3,500 livestock, as well as injuring about 4,000 other people who managed to flee.
The largest city in Cameroon is Douala, followed by the capital, Yaoundé. However, many Cameroonians do not live in cities; rather, most of the population works as subsistence farmers. Agriculture and forestry are the main industries, and exports include coffee, sugar and tobacco. Tourism is also beginning to grow and the fishing industry is booming.
Cameroon’s population is booming, as well. Estimates put the population at 17,795,000 — 41 percent of which is under the age of 15. Around 250 distinct ethnic groups live in Cameroon, including Pygmies, Sudanese and Bantu groups. That number is rising as refugees pour into Cameroon from the Central African Republic. The diversity in Cameroon has created relatively high levels of tolerance, although there are regular reports of mobs attacking suspected witches.
Cameroon has been continuously settled since the Neolithic period (the New Stone Age), most notably by Pygmy groups, including the Baka. European interest in the area began in the fifteenth century. Germany claimed the region, known as Kamerun at the time, as a colony in 1884 and used forced labor to improve local infrastructure. After Germany’s defeat in World War I, the colony was split between France and Britain. In 1961, Cameroon was reunited as an independent nation.