Reaching the Nations

Cameroon

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

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Geography

Area: square km.  Located in West Africa, Cameroon borders Nigeria, Chad, the Central African Republic, the Republic of the Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, and the Bight of Biafra.  A wide range of terrains and climates are found throughout the country, with southern areas consisting of flat terrain occupied by tropical rainforest, northwest highland areas comprised of mountains subject to tropical climate, and northern areas dominated by semiarid plains and plateaus.  Rivers in northern Cameroon drain into Lake Chad which forms the northern boundary.  Active volcanoes and the release of poisonous gases from lakes near active volcanoes are natural hazards.  Environmental issues include deforestation, overgrazing, desertification, poaching, overfishing, and waterborne diseases.  Cameroon is divided into ten administrative regions.

Population: 19,711,291 (July 2011)       

Annual Growth Rate: 2.121% (2011)    

Fertility Rate: 4.17 children born per woman (2011)    

Life Expectancy: 53.52 male, 55.28 female (2011)

Peoples

Cameroon highlanders: 38%

coastal tropical forest peoples: 12%

southern tropical forest peoples: 18%

predominantly Islamic peoples: 14%

Kirdi: 18%

There are an estimated 250 ethnic groups which pertain to five regional-cultural groups.  Including ethnic groups such as the Bamileke and Bamoun, Cameroon highlanders consist of the most populous regional-cultural group, reside in southwestern Cameroon near the Nigerian border, are usually Christian, and speak English as a second language.  Coastal and southern tropical forest peoples populate coastal and southern areas, speak French as a second language, are generally Christian, and consist of ethnic groups such as the Baka, Fang, Bulu, and Ewondo.  Predominantly Muslim peoples principally consist of the Fulani (Peulh) and reside in the central highlands and semi-arid north.  Kirdi ethnic groups that reside in northern and central Cameroon and often recently converted to Islam or have resisted outside efforts to convert to Islam for centuries.[1] 

Languages: Beti (10%), Bulu (4%), Fulani (3%), Yemba (1.5%), other indigenous languages or unknown (81.5%).   Approximately 270 indigenous languages are spoken.  English and French are the official languages and commonly spoken as second languages.  Beti (2.0 million) is the only indigenous language with over one million speakers.  

Literacy: 67.9%

History

Bantu African tribes have populated Cameroon for millennia.  The Portuguese were the first Europeans to pass by coastal areas and named the territory Cameroon from the Portuguese word Camarões due to the large amount of shrimp in the area.  The Portuguese and other Europeans later traded in these areas but disease prevented European exploration of the interior until the late nineteenth century.  In the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, the Muslim Fulani conquered northern regions of Cameroon and displaced the indigenous, non-Muslim population.  The slave trade prospered during the nineteenth century by the exploitation of the indigenous population from both the Muslim north and European-controlled coast.  Christian missionaries arrived in the late nineteenth century.  Germany established Cameroon (Kamerun) as a colonial possession in 1884.  Following World War I, the League of Nations partitioned Cameroon equally between France and the United Kingdom by population with France administering most of present-day Cameroon and the United Kingdom controlling densely-populated territory along the Nigerian border.  French Cameroon became independent as the Republic of Cameroon from France in 1960 following several years of armed conflict.  Predominantly Christian areas of the southern third of British Cameroon voted to join the Republic of Cameroon in 1961 after Muslim areas in the remainder of British Cameroon voted to join Nigeria.  Former British-held and French-held areas retained a high degree of autonomy after unification.  The first president was a French-educated Fulani named Ahmadou Ahidjo who prohibited multi-party politics in 1966.  In 1982, Ahidjo resigned and was replaced by a Bulu-Beti named Paul Miya who previously served as prime minister.  Miya has remained in power despite a coup attempt in 1984 and flawed multi-party presidential elections in the 1990s and 2000s.[2]  There has been little economic development since independence despite government efforts to reform the economy.

Culture 

With over 200 ethnic groups pertaining to five regional-cultural groups, Cameroon exhibits a high degree of cultural and ethnic diversity.  British influence is most apparent in the western highlands whereas French influence is most visible in southern areas.  Fulani culture and Islam are predominant influences on society in the north.  Christianity is the primary influence on culture in the south, especially in the western highlands.  Meat, fish, vegetables, fruit, cassava, yam, and potato are commonly eaten foods.[3]  Alcohol consumption rates are moderate compared to the world average whereas cigarette consumption rates are low.  Polygamy is widespread and over 50% of men are estimated to have more than one wife.[4] 

Economy

GDP per capita: $2,300 (2010) [4.85% of US]

Human Development Index: 0.460

Corruption Index: 2.2

Cameroon benefits from abundant natural resources, as sizeable population, and strategic location in Central Africa for trade.  Fertile soils in the country yield productive harvests.  Exports include fruit, coffee, lumber, cocoa, and rubber.  Oil reserves have been exploited for decades.  The wide range of climate in Cameroon has provided the opportunity for the country to capitalize on diversifying its economy in agriculture.   However the economy is very sensitive to the worldwide demand and prices for oil and agricultural products.  Potential for regional and international trade is not fully realized and corruption and poverty have limited economic growth for decades.  Half of the population lives below the poverty line and the distribution of wealth is highly uneven.  Government economic reforms have been largely unsuccessful.  Agriculture employs 70% of the work force whereas industry and services employ 13% and 17% of the work force, respectively.  Services generate approximately half of the GDP whereas industry and agriculture generate 31% and 20% of the GDP, respectively.  Common crops include coffee, cocoa, cotton, rubber, bananas, oilseed, and grains.  Livestock and lumber are additional agricultural products.  Oil extraction and refining, aluminum production, food processing, textiles, and ship repair are major industries.  Primary trade partners include France, China, Belgium, Nigeria, and the United States. 

Corruption in Cameroon is perceived at the highest levels among nations in sub-Saharan Africa and is present in all areas of society.  Human trafficking is a major concern as the government has failed to address trafficking issues regarding the forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation of women and children.  Cameroon is a transshipment point for trafficking children between Gabon and Nigeria and Nigeria to Saudi Arabia. 

Faiths

Christian: 69.2%

Muslim: 20.9%

traditional religions: 5.6%

nonreligious: 3.3%

other: 1%

Christians

Denominations  Members  Congregations

Catholic  13,640,213

Seventh Day Adventists  107,947

Orthodox  98,556

Jehovah's Witnesses  36,182  335

Latter-day Saints  1,003  6

Religion

Christians account for the majority of the population, reside in all regions of Cameroon, and are most heavily concentrated in the south and west.  Catholics comprise half the Christian population whereas Protestants constitute over a third of the population.  Western English-speaking regions tend to be Protestant whereas southern and western French-speaking regions tend to be Catholic.  Orthodox Christians and other Christian groups account for seven percent of the Christian population.  One-fifth of the population is Muslim.  Several ethnic groups are traditionally Muslim, such as the Fulani in the north and the Bamoun in the west.  There are sizeable Christian and Muslim populations in all major cities.  Indigenous religious beliefs are generally only practiced in rural areas.[5]

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index:

The constitution protects religious freedom which is upheld by the government.  Several Christian holidays are recognized national holidays.  Religious groups must be approved and registered through the Ministry of Territorial Administration and Decentralization (MINATD) to operate, but there are no specific penalties for unregistered groups which function in the country.  To register, a religious group must submit a list of the names of the group's officials and their roles, a charter summarizing the group's activities, and a request for authorization.  The president ultimately approves registration pending recommendation from MINATD.  Registration grants some privileges to religious groups, such as receiving real estate as tax-free gifts.  Indigenous religions are not mandated to register.  Practicing witchcraft is a criminal offense.  There have been no reported instances of societal abuse of religious freedom.[6]

Largest Cities

Urban: 58%

Douala, Yaoundé, Bamenda, Bafoussam, Garoua, Maroua, Ngaoundéré, Kumba, Nkongsamba, Buéa.

Cities listed in bold have no LDS congregations.

Two of the ten largest cities have an LDS congregation.  30% of the national population resides in the ten most populous cities.

LDS History

The first Latter-day Saints to live in Cameroon arrived in the 1980s and earlier on temporary assignment from various health organizations.[7]  The Cameroon Yaounde Mission was organized in 1992 and originally included Equatorial Guinea and Gabon, but the mission was relocated to Abidjan, Cote d'Ivoire in 1993.  The Church obtained legal status from the government in 1993.[8]  Seminary and institute were both functioning by 1995.  In 1998, Cameroon was assigned to the Africa West Area.[9]  Cameroon was reassigned from the Cote d'Ivoire Abidjan Mission to the newly created Ghana Cape Coast Mission in 2005.[10]  Sometime between 2005 and 2008 Cameroon was reassigned to the Democratic Republic of Congo Kinshasa Mission.  LDS apostle Elder Jeffrey R. Holland dedicated Cameroon for missionary work in 2009.

Membership Growth

LDS Membership: 1,003 (2010)

There were fewer than 100 Latter-day Saints in 1993.  Membership increased to 200 in 1997 and totaled 155 by year-end 2000.  Slow membership growth occurred during the first half of the 2000s as membership numbered 181 in 2002 and 278 in 2004.  Rapid membership growth occurred during the remainder of the 2000s as membership reached 492 in 2006, 727 in 2008, and 1,003 in 2010.  Annual membership growth rates during the 2000s ranged from a high of 35% in 2005 to a low of -2% in 2001 but were generally between 14% and 30%.  In 2010, one in 19,652 was LDS. 

Congregational Growth

Wards: 0 Branches: 6

The first branch was organized in Yaounde in the early 1990s.  A group began meeting in Douala in the mid-1990s and became a branch in 2004.  Three additional branches were organized in Yaounde in 2006 (Bastos 2nd), 2009 (Ekounou 1st), and 2010 (Ekounou 2nd).  In 2011, the Bonaberri Group in the Douala area became a branch.

Activity and Retention

In early 1994, there were approximately 100 attending church meetings a week; more than half of which were not members.[11]  In 2009, approximately 400 members attended a special meeting with Elder Holland in Yaounde.  The average number of members per congregation increased from 155 in 2000 to 211 in 2009.  192 were enrolled in seminary and institute during the 2009-2010 school year.  Most branches appear to have approximately 100 active members.  Nationwide active membership is estimated at 500, or 50% of total church membership.

Language Materials

Languages with LDS Scripture: French, English 

All LDS scriptures and most church materials are available in French.  The Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith and Gospel Principles are translated into Fulani.  Only the Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith is translated into Fang. 

Meetinghouses

LDS meetinghouses consist of rented spaces and renovated buildings.  In 2009, church leaders reported that land was secured in Yaounde for the construction of the first church-built meetinghouse in Cameroon.    

Health and Safety

The risk of infectious disease is very high for hepatitis, typhoid fever, bacterial and protozoal diarrhea, malaria, yellow fever, meningococcal meningitis, rabies, and schistosomiasis.  Civil unrest has occurred periodically.

Humanitarian and Development Work

As of early 2011, LDS humanitarian and development work has been limited to a clean water project in Ngambe and Pong.[12]  Prospects for additional clean water projects appear high.

 

Opportunities, Challenges and Prospects

Religious Freedom

The LDS Church and its members benefits from full religious freedom in Cameroon to proselyte, assemble, and worship.  Foreign full-time missionaries from Africa and North America regularly serve in Cameroon with no reported challenges obtaining needed visas or documentation. 

Cultural Issues

High levels of interest in Christianity have contributed to strong receptivity to the LDS Church in recent years.  Poverty and modest literacy rates create economic challenges for the Church to develop self-sustaining leadership and for local members to provide for themselves financially.  The common practice of polygamy is a major cultural barrier to LDS mission outreach as those engaged in polygamous relationships must ends these relations in divorce and be interviewed by a member of the mission presidency to be considered for baptism.  Higher rates of alcohol consumption in the general population may create challenges for some to completely end their alcohol use before and after baptism in accordance with LDS teachings.  LDS missionaries serving in Yaounde and Douala in early 2011 did not report that polygamy and alcohol use were regular challenges that impacted church growth and member activity. 

Cameroon is one of the most politically and socially stable Central African nations but does experience periodic states of unrest.  President and Sister Livingston of the Democratic Republic of Congo Kinshasa Mission reported in March of 2008 of a four day civil disturbance which left areas of the largest cities of Douala and Yaounde ransacked.  Similar civil unrest in the future could create challenges for stationing larger numbers of foreign full-time missionaries. 

National Outreach

24% of the national population is reached by LDS mission outreach in the most populous cities of Douala (2.4 million) and Yaounde (2.3 million).  The remainder of the population is totally unreached by the Church.  Vast areas of Douala and Yaounde are lesser-reached or unreached by LDS missionaries at present as only two congregations operate in Douala and four congregations operate in Yaounde.  Notwithstanding an LDS presence since the early 1990s, a second branch was not organized in Yaounde until 2006.  Overall LDS outreach in Cameroon has been extremely limited as proselytizing full-time missionaries were not permanently assigned until the 2000s, currently extended outreach is restricted to only a handful of congregations, and most the general population has no awareness of an LDS presence in Douala and Yaounde at present.  

LDS missionary activity and outreach expansion has been delayed in Cameroon notwithstanding widespread religious freedom and a highly receptive population to LDS mission efforts largely due to other African nations taking greater priority for limited mission resources dedicated to the region, the lack of French-speaking senior missionary couples, low standards of living, distance from other established mission outreach centers, and several mission boundary realignments over the past two decades.  Past missions which have administered Cameroon have included three or more nations within their boundaries and most mission resources were dedicated to the nation in which the mission was based.  It is likely that information about local membership and leadership in Cameroon has not been properly passed on to succeeding or newly transferred missionaries, mission presidents, and regional leaders.  It is not entirely clear why the Church relocated the Cameroon Yaounde Mission to Cote d'Ivoire in 1993,  but higher receptivity and closer proximity to LDS Church centers in Ghana likely influenced the decision.  Cameroon's geographic separation from missions it has pertained to over the years has likely resulted in inadequate training and lower emphasis placed on the retention of converts.  Furthermore when Cameroon was under the jurisdiction of the Ghana Cape Coast Mission, missionaries would have to learn French if transferred to the country.  This would complicate mission presidency members travelling to Cameroon and providing training and assistance if they did not know French.  Greater numbers of full-time missionaries and mission resources have been dedicated to Cameroon since reassignment to the Democratic Republic of Congo Kinshasa Mission, which has contributed in the increase in LDS congregations from one in early 2006 to six by 2010.

Cameroon is highly likely to become its own LDS mission in the immediate future and a center of strength in Central Africa due to its large population, high receptivity to the LDS Church in recent years, moderately high rates of convert retention, high rates of member activity, increasing numbers of local members serving full-time missions, distance from the highly productive, self-sufficient Democratic Republic of Congo Kinshasa Mission headquarters, and widespread religious freedom.  A prospective LDS mission in Cameroon could potentially administer other Central African nations which remain poorly reached or unreached by the Church, such as the Central African Republic, Equatorial Guinea, and Gabon.  Widespread use of French in the region will greatly simplify language issues when initially establishing the Church in additional nations in the region.  The establishment of additional LDS congregations in currently unreached cities will most likely depend on local member-missionary work among relatives and friends outside of Douala and Yaounde and the organization of an LDS mission.  At present no additional cities appear likely to open for missionary work.

Member Activity and Convert Retention

Member activity and convert retention rates in Cameroon are among the highest in the world for the LDS Church.  Commensurate increases in the number of full-time missionaries and congregations has been a major contributor to high member activity rates.  Adequate prebaptismal preparation has been another contributor to high convert retention rates.  Cultural emphasis on church attendance and personal religious practice have also likely influenced high rates of church attendance for many Cameroonian Latter-day Saints.  LDS missionaries serving in Yaounde report that some sectors of the city experience member activity challenges and if more members were active additional congregations would likely be organized.  Member activity problems may have also prevented the organization of additional branches in Douala.  Active members have demonstrated a strong conviction to the Church and living its teachings nonetheless.  A group of local members traveled to the Aba Nigeria Temple to perform temple ordinances shortly after the dedication of the temple in the mid-2000s.  The journey was long and difficult on poorly maintained roads by bus, but provided an important testimony-building experience for those participating.  Increasing numbers of youth and young adults enrolling in seminary and institute, commensurate membership and congregational growth, and high rates of attendance for church meetings indicate continued high rates of member activity and convert retention.

Ethnic Issues and Integration

LDS missionaries have reported no major ethnic integration issues at church notwithstanding extreme ethnic diversity in Cameroon.  The relatively peaceful coexistence of differing ethnicities in the same regions has likely contributed to the lack of ethnic tensions manifested in the LDS Church.  The Church may experience ethnic integration challenges if it expands its presence into currently unreached regions of the country.

Language Issues

Full-time missionaries speak English and French and church services are generally conducted in French.  One branch in Yaounde translated sacrament talks and held segregated Sunday school and elder's quorum and Relief Society in French and English in 2010.  The mission president requested that translation no longer take place due to logistical challenges and church services lasting longer than allocated times.  There are more indigenous languages spoken in Cameroon than languages into which the Church translates materials into; utilizing English and French will likely be most beneficial for church growth prospects in order to unify differing ethnic groups and provide training and gospel teaching in languages spoken by missionaries.  Only Beti appears to have any realistic prospects of future LDS translations of materials and scriptures as it is the only language with over one million speakers and is spoken in southern areas near LDS mission outreach centers.

Missionary Service

Two senior missionary couples were assigned to Cameroon in the early 1990s, but the Church struggled to replace couples completing their missions due to a lack of French-speaking senior missionary couples.[13]  In March of 2008 there were ten full-time missionaries assigned to Cameroon with four in Douala and six in Yaounde.  Two senior missionary couples were also serving in Cameroon with one in each city.  At the beginning of 2009, a senior missionary couple was assigned to Cameroon and authorized to give Patriarchal blessings to local members.  A number of Church members in Cameroon had served missions, some of whom had served in their home country.  In early 2011, only Cameroon and the Republic of Congo had non-African missionaries serving among nations in the Democratic Republic of Congo Kinshasa Mission.

Leadership

Local members served as branch presidents for all five branches in early 2011.     Notwithstanding a thousand members and six congregations in 2010, there was no LDS district operating at the time, which may indicate local leadership challenges and inadequate numbers of active priesthood holders capable of holding administrative positions.  Increasing the number of local members serving missions and returning to Cameroon after their missions will provide a major source of local leadership for years to come.

Temple

Cameroon is assigned to the Johannesburg South Africa Temple district.  Following the completion of the Aba Nigeria Temple, Cameroon was assigned to the temple district.[14]  Travel to the temple is difficult, time consuming, and costly which has reduced the number of local members who have attended the temple before.  There are no realistic prospects for a future LDS temple to be built closer to Cameroon for the foreseeable future.

Comparative Growth

LDS membership growth rates in Cameroon have been among the highest in the world since the mid-2000s.  No other country had fewer than 300 members in 2004 and in 2010 had over 1,000 members.  Congregational growth rates in Cameroon have been among the most rapid for countries with two or fewer branches in 2004 as there were five branches and one group in 2010.  Convert retention rates have been among the highest in the world.  The percentage of Latter-day Saints in the general population is among the lowest in Africa among nations which have had an LDS presence since 2000 or earlier.  The percentage of members enrolled in seminary and institute is among the highest in the world (19%). 

Most missionary-minded Christian groups have operated in Cameroon for decades longer than the LDS Church, have a presence in most areas of the country, and report tens of thousands to hundreds of thousands of adherence.  The Seventh Day Adventist Church reported 105,656 members meeting in 825 churches in 2008.  About half of these members were in northern Cameroon where there is no LDS presence  Jehovah's Witnesses claimed 33,287 members organized in 546 congregations in 2008.  Most Christian denominations place greater emphasis and greater application of member missionary work programs than the LDS Church, as evidenced by flat LDS membership and congregational growth during most of the 1990s and the first-half of the 2000s.

Future Prospects

With a highly receptive population to the LDS Church, strong member activity, a population of nearly 20 million, and increasing numbers of active members and congregations, the outlook for future LDS Church growth in Cameroon is favorable but will likely be confined to Douala and Yaounde for many years to come.  Opportunities to expand outreach in both cities are abundant and each city is in need of dozens of mission outreach centers.  A district will likely  be organized in the immediate future in Yaounde for the four branches in the city.  A second district may be organized in the near future in Douala pending the organization of additional branches.  The creation of a separate mission for Cameroon is highly likely in the near future and a future mission may administer surrounding Central African nations. 


[1]  "Background Note: Cameroon," Bureau of African Affairs, 28 December 2010.  http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/26431.htm

[2]  "Background Note: Cameroon," Bureau of African Affairs, 28 December 2010.  http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/26431.htm

[3]  "Cameroonian cuisine," Wikipedia.org, retrieved 16 April 2011.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cuisine_of_Cameroon

[4]  "Cameroon," Social Institutions and Gender Index, retrieved 16 April 2011.  http://genderindex.org/country/cameroon

[5]  "Cameroon," International Religious Freedom Report 2010, 17 November 2010.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2010/148669.htm

[6]  "Cameroon," International Religious Freedom Report 2010, 17 November 2010.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2010/148669.htm

[7]  "Cameroon," Country Profile, 10 June 2010.  http://newsroom.lds.org/country/cameroon

[8]  "From the world," LDS Church News, 22 January 1994.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/24203/From-the-world.html

[9]  "5 new areas announced worldwide," LDS Church News, 4 July 1998.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/31389/5-new-areas-announced-worldwide.html

[10]  Stahle, Shaun D.  "Missions created on opposite sides of Africa," LDS Church News, 11 June 2005.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/47427/Missions-created-on-opposite-sides-of-Africa.html

[11]  "From the world," LDS Church News, 22 January 1994.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/24203/From-the-world.html

[12]  "Projects - Cameroon," Humanitarian Activities Worldwide, retrieved 7 April 2011.  http://www.providentliving.org/project/0,13501,4607-1-2008-105,00.html

[13]  "From the world," LDS Church News, 22 January 1994.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/24203/From-the-world.html

[14]  "Aba Temple facts," LDS Church News, 13 August 2005.  http://www.ldschurchnews.com/articles/47690/Aba-Temple-facts.html