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Assessment for Bamileke in Cameroon

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Bamileke in Cameroon, 31 December 2003, available at: [accessed 25 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
Cameroon Facts
Area:    475,442 sq. km.
Capital:    Yaounde
Total Population:    15,029,000 (source: U.S. Census Bureau, 1998, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

Interestingly, Bamileke support of President Paul Biya has shifted greatly in recent years. In 1982, Biya came to power largely with the support of Christian people of southern Cameroon, but in supporting freedom, fairer policies, and less corrupt government than Ahidjo's regime (1958-82), Biya also had Bamileke support from the southwest. Despite some movement toward democratic reforms, Biya's Cameroon in practice has functioned as an ethnic oligarchy, and in the late 1990s many Bamileke have shifted allegiances towards the Anglophone SDF party (the main opposition party which boycotted the 1997 elections). Yet reports also show that Bamileke business elites remain key supporters of Biya, indicating a split between classes where economic success and prosperity seem to be enough power for richer Bamileke. It is likely that future relations between Biya's government and the Anglophone westerners will play a large role in determining the near-term prospects for Bamileke in Cameroon.

Analytic Summary

The Bamileke in Cameroon represent a conglomeration of numerous smaller tribes who are loosely affiliated and share many similarities while retaining separate identities. Bamileke are linked through their common language of Bamileke, a form of Macro-Bantu, but more than 17 languages and dialects are spoken by them (LANG = 2). Rural Bamileke usually practice forms of animism and ancestor worship (BELIEF = 3), and social organization centers mainly on more than 100 autonomous chiefdoms in western Cameroon, while other Bamileke have emigrated to towns (including Douala) due to overcrowding and because of expanding economic opportunities of the urban centers (GROUPCON = 3).

Established as a confederation between former French and British territories, the country was later consolidated under a strong executive during the term of President Ahidjo (1958-82). Ahidjo (a Fulani from the north) favored the northern minority by recruiting them for the civil service and security forces. Still, the Bassas remained prominent in the civil service, and the Bamileke maintained their dominance in the trading sectors. Paul Biya, a southerner of the Boulou tribe and party rival of Ahidjo, came to power in 1982 promising more freedom, fairer policies, and competent government. He gained much support from the Christian peoples of the South, including the Bulus (Boulou), Betis, and Bassas, and from the Bamileke in south-western Cameroon.

Urban Bamileke (who speak French and English) have managed to dominate local retailing and transport and are Cameroon's dominant merchant class (ECDIS03 = 0). Politically however, Bamileke are disenfranchised (POLDIS03 = 3), as members of President Biya's Bulu ethnic group and of closely related Beti groups of southern parts of the country are represented disproportionately and hold key positions in government, the civil service, state-owned businesses, the security forces, the military, and the ruling CPDM party. There have been no recent sources indicating governmental repression against the Bamileke (REP03 = 0 for all categories) or Bamileke protest and rebellion (PROT01-03 = 0; REB01-03 = 0).

In 1982, the Biya government pledged to resolve tension and reduced ethnic outbreaks. However, as political instability and ethno-linguistic strife have been increasing throughout the country, the Bamileke now join Anglophone westerners in increased mobilization, calling for greater political and social autonomy. Parliamentary elections in May 1997 were declared fraudulent by the opposition, and presidential elections in October 1997 were boycotted by the opposition for that reason. Biya is now struggling for survival against various ethnic/tribal groups and opposition parties which have been mobilizing against his regime for some time.


Derrick, Jonathan 1992. 'Cameroon: One Party, Many Parties, and the State,' Africa Insight. Vol 22. No 3.

Keesing's Contemporary Archive, Keesing's Record of World Events. Annual. London: Longman Group Ltd.

Lexis-Nexis news reports, 1990-2003.

Kofele-Kale, Ndiva. 1986. "Ethnicity, Regionalism, and Political Power: A Post-Mortrem of Ahidjo's Cameroon," in Michael Schatzberg and William Zartman eds. The Political Economy of Cameroon. New York: Prager Special Studies.

Minorities Rights Group. 1989. World Directory of Minorities, St. James International Reference. Chicago and London: St. James Press.

Murray, Jocelyn, ed. 1993. Cultural Atlas of Africa, New York: An Equinox Book

Takougang, Joseph. 1993. 'The Demise of Biya's New Deal in Cameroon, 1982-1992,' Africa Insight. Vol 23. No 2.

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