Cameroon is sometimes known as Miniature Africa – a sample of all that Africa has to offer in one bite sized piece. Be it different cultures or languages, beaches, deserts, mountains, rainforests or savannah, Cameroon has a little bit of all of it.
Unfortunately it also presents a pretty fair sample of all the hazards facing travelers in West Africa.
Like most countries in West Africa, Cameroon's road networks, both paved and unpaved, are poorly maintained, poorly lit and unsafe to drive. During the rainy season, many roads are barely passable, even with four-wheel-drive vehicles.
There are few road and traffic signs; speed limits are neither posted nor enforced and buses and logging trucks travel at excessive speed creating a constant threat to other road traffic.
Other common road hazards include (but are not limited to):
Local law states that vehicles involved in an accident should not be moved until the police arrive and a police report can be made. However, if an accident results in injury, be aware that a "village justice" mentality may develop. If an angry crowd forms, drive directly to your Embassy or another location where you can receive assistance.
Bandit attacks and car accidents are most common outside major towns, especially in the regions bordering Chad and the Central African Republic, but occur in all areas of the country.
Armed bandits have erected road barricades on major routes that link rural towns to provincial headquarters, and have taken as many as 100 cars in a single attack. To curb banditry, security personnel may request persons to show their passport, residence card, driver's license, and/or vehicle registration at random checkpoints. Certified copies of these important documents should be kept in a secure location separate from the originals.
Security personnel have been known to ask for bribes but normally allow expatriate travellers to continue after delaying them for a period of time
Visitors who are not in possession of a valid passport and a visa may experience difficulties at police roadblocks or other security checkpoints. It is not uncommon for a uniformed member of the security forces to stop motorists on the pretext of a minor or non-existent violation of vehicle regulations in order to extort small bribes.
You are encouraged not to pay bribes, and to request that police officers provide a citation to be paid at the local court.
Overland travel out of Cameroon can be difficult. Travel by road north of Maroua is dangerous because of carjackers.?Gendarmerie (rural police) detachments are posted along the road between Maroua and the Chadian border.
Travellers on roads near the borders with the Central African Republic and Chad should ensure that they have adequate vehicle fuel, cooking fuel, food, and water for several days, as well as a reliable means of communication, such as a satellite or cell phone, or radio.?
Two separate train accidents occurred in Yaound? in August 2009, which resulted in twelve deaths and over three hundred people injured. While some parts of the Cameroonian railroads are being overhauled, much of the track and many of the trains remain in poor condition.
Piracy off the coast remains a problem - if you are caught in such an attack, you should comply immediately with any demands made by the aggressors and avoid any action that could be interpreted as an attempt to escape.
Africa in Miniature is also a pretty apt description for the political situation in Cameroon. Like many of its neighbors, it can be unstable at best.
In 2008 civil unrest flared up across literally half of the country. This is expected to occur again in October 2011, in the lead up to the Presidential elections. Use your common sense and avoid any demonstrations or rallies as these can quickly turn violent.
Most of Cameroon's border areas are unstable and unsafe. Avoid traveling overland to neighboring Central African Republic as conflicts between insurgents and government security forces have spilled across the border into Cameroon, affecting the Adamawa and East Provinces.
Cameroon assumed control of the Bakassi peninsula in August 2008. Over the last few years, there have been attacks on Cameroonian military forces and clashes between armed groups and Cameroonian security forces. You should avoid this area altogether.
If you intend to visit the Lake Chad area in the Far North Province you should report to the local authorities (the Prefet or Sous-Prefet) on arrival. The local authorities advise visitors to engage a reliable guide, such as those offered by the larger hotels in Maroua.
How would you know you were in West Africa if it was crime free? Like many of its neighbors, crime is a serious problem throughout Cameroon. Having said that if you are sensible, i.e. don't flash your cash around, avoid dangerous areas and be a bit inconspicuous you should have a trouble free stay.
Muggings and robberies have been reported in Douala, Yaound, Limb and other major towns. Avoid isolated or poorer areas of town (notably in Yaound, La Briquetterie and Mokolo), take personal security precautions and maintain a high level of vigilance in public places.
There have been attacks in Yaound where gangs of armed men have held up tourists near to where they are staying. Western tourists present rich pickings for poor locals, leave your valuables out of sight and try not to attract attention to yourself.
Petty theft is common on trains, coaches and in bush taxis.
Carjackings and robberies, often armed and accompanied by violent acts have occurred along roads close to Cameroon's eastern border with Central African Republic and Chad, as well as in Limb, Douala, Yaound, Kribi, and Maroua.
There have been serious incidents of car hijacking and robbery, resulting in deaths, along the Bamenda-Banyo and Bafoussam-Banyo roads in the north-west. Attacks have also occurred on the Bafoussam-Douala and Bafoussam-Yaounde roads.
In August 2009, bandits accosted a group of Spanish tourists traveling between Bertoua and Ngaoundere and shot one member of the group.
The level of internet crime and scams is escalating rapidly. The scope for fraud is huge encompassing: adoptions, insurance claims, dating, real estate, the provision of domestic services, agricultural products, antiques, and exotic and domesticated animals. If the deal is too good to be true, it generally is.
Taxis can be very dangerous. Taxis in Cameroon function more like a bus system, with drivers stopping along the road to pick up additional passengers as long as there is space left in the vehicle (and by space think any spare slither of space). Taxi drivers and accomplices posing as passengers often conspire to commit serious crimes including rape, assaults and robberies. If you must use a taxi, it is better to hire a private taxi, ideally a driver who you know, for your exclusive use for a particular trip, rather than share a taxi. Taxi passengers should be particularly vigilant at night.
One thing that Cameroon doesn't share with the rest of West Africa is a poisonous lake.
Lake Nyos is a crater lake in the Northwest Region of Cameroon. A natural dam of volcanic rock contains the lake waters and a pocket of magma lies beneath the lake and leaks carbon dioxide into the water, changing it into carbonic acid.
In August 1986 possibly triggered by a landslide, Lake Nyos suddenly emitted a large cloud of CO2 which suffocated 1,700 people and 3,500 livestock in nearby towns and villages. To prevent a recurrence, a degassing tube that syphons water from the bottom layers of water to the top allowing the carbon dioxide to leak in safe quantities was installed in 2001.
Today, the lake also poses a threat due to its weakening natural wall. A geological tremor could cause this natural dike to give way, allowing water to rush into downstream villages all the way into Nigeria and allowing the carbon dioxide to escape into the atmosphere unchecked.
Africa in Miniature, Cameroon has a little bit of everything and a poison Lake!
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