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Overseas Security Advisory Council
Bureau of Diplomatic Security
U.S. Department of State

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Cameroon 2020 Crime & Safety Report

This is an annual report produced in conjunction with the Regional Security Office at the U.S. Embassy in Yaoundé. OSAC encourages travelers to use this report to gain baseline knowledge of security conditions in Cameroon. For more in-depth information, review OSAC’s Cameroon country page for original OSAC reporting, consular messages, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

Travel Advisory

The current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication assesses Cameroon at Level 2, indicating travelers should indicating travelers should exercise increased caution throughout the country due to crime, kidnapping, terrorism, and civil unrest. Do not travel to North, Far North, Northwest and Southwest Regions, and Parts of East and Adamawa Regions due to crime and kidnapping; Far North Region due to terrorism; and Northwest and Southwest Regions due to armed conflict. Review OSAC’s report, Understanding the Consular Travel Advisory System.

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Yaoundé and Douala as being CRITICAL-threat locations for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. High unemployment and limitations caused by under-resourcing and overextending security forces continue to contribute to criminality in Yaoundé, Douala, and other cities. An influx of internally displaced persons and refugees fleeing conflicts in the Central African Republic (CAR) and Nigeria has strained Cameroon’s economy, putting pressure on already strained basic social services and exacerbating overcrowding in densely populated urban and peri-urban areas, especially in regions touched by the multiple conflicts confronting the country. Cameroon’s borders remain porous, exacerbating the potential for spillover from neighboring countries. At the same time, the ongoing unrest and resulting humanitarian crisis in the country’s Northwest and Southwest Regions has displaced more than half a million people, with many of those displaced finding refuge in the neighboring Littoral and West regions. Lack of access to basic services and livelihood opportunities have increased the vulnerability of displaced persons and led to negative coping mechanisms, including crime and armed banditry, particularly in areas where those fleeing instability have resettled.

Crime Threats

Criminal activity is a major concern for the official and private U.S. communities in Cameroon. Most crime is economically motivated. Street crime is endemic in major metropolitan areas, and ranges from opportunistic to violent in nature. Low-level and more sophisticated criminals alike continue to target relatively wealthy Cameroonians, expatriates, and members of the diplomatic community. Criminals have robbed expatriates as well as locals inside and outside their residences, on the street, and in restaurants, shops, and taxis. Pickpockets operate at large gatherings and soccer matches, as well as at airports. Thieves often attempt to distract a victim by asking questions or bumping/jostling them, allowing an accomplice to snatch valuables.

Criminals may be armed. Often, thieves use knives or razor blades to cut valuables out of pockets, handbags, or backpacks. Thieves may also draw victims in close and place the tip of a knife or other sharp object in the victim’s side, while leading the victim to an isolated location or crowd before taking or demanding money. Thieves routinely use motorcycles to conduct drive-by snatchings of purses and other valuables. Theft by intimidation or extortion is also a common tactic, with criminal groups brandishing machetes and using them in the face of resistance or non-compliance.

Generally, the holiday period from November through early January brings upticks in street crime, thefts from occupied and unoccupied vehicles, residential break-ins, highway banditry, and armed robberies. These crimes can escalate to violence, especially when victims resist or fight back; comply with the demands of criminals as much as possible. Many crimes involve an “inside man” and target individuals or locations associated with payrolls, money transfers, or large sums of cash. Review OSAC’s reports, All That You Should Leave Behind.

Theft of items from hotel rooms is common. Home invasions by gangs occur in wealthier neighborhoods, especially at locations without 24-hour guards and residential security enhancements (e.g., perimeter walls, window grilles, solid-core/metal doors). Review OSAC’s reports, Hotels: The Inns and Outs and Considerations for Hotel Security.

Carjacking is a concern throughout the country and has led to deadly confrontations.

Violent crime, including armed robbery, has increased around Douala and some towns in Littoral region. Internal displacement and economic desperation stemming from the Anglophone crisis are likely drivers of this trend.

Commercial scams targeting foreigners, including U.S. citizens, continue to be a problem. The scams generally involve phony offers of lucrative sales/business opportunities and requests for additional funds to pay for unforeseen airport and/or customs fees. 

Cybersecurity Issues

The Embassy and members of federal law enforcement have identified a wide range of internet-scams based in or involving Cameroon. These schemes cover a broad spectrum of bogus activities, including child adoptions, insurance claims, dating scams, real estate, and the offer of goods/services, such as domestic services, agricultural products, antiques, and exotic/domesticated animals. Often, these cyber scams involve “advance fee” requests; frequently, victims receive little/nothing in return. 

“Sextortion” scams also take place. For example, in 2016, a U.S. citizen was the victim of attempted blackmail at the hands of an individual he had met via social media. During several video chat sessions, the victim participated in consensual, sexually explicit activity. The individual recorded the activity and threatened to turn the video over to the police as part of a criminal complaint unless the victim met the individual’s demand for money.

Cyber scams resulting from the crisis in the Northwest and Southwest region continue to plague the country, primarily targeting those with ties to the affected areas. This scam pattern involves sending threatening emails via text message, WhatsApp, or other social media, demanding that recipients demonstrate they have “chosen a side” in the Anglophone crisis – either the separatists’ or the government’s – by sending mobile funds to the scammer. Scammer affiliation with separatist elements or the government is immaterial; they may be unaffiliated criminals exploiting the crisis for financial gain. Confounding efforts to provide guidance on dealing with these scams is that in a minority of instances, the threats come from genuine armed non-state actors. Cameroonian law enforcement authorities are aware of this phenomenon and have demonstrated the will and capacity to deal with these incidents, when brought to their attention.

The Embassy has also identified an uptick in monetary scams via text message where a fraudulent text message is sent, notifying the recipient that money has been transferred to their mobile account. The scammer will then call the victim, asking that they return the amount of money that was never actually sent.

In 2019 and 2020, the Embassy has received reports of international visitors’ credit cards, bank accounts, and/or ATM cards locked out or frozen following use in Cameroon, often with no warning or explanation. Visitors should understand that Cameroon remains primarily a cash-based economy, and the higher rates of cybercrime and fraud could complicate the use of electronic forms of payment. Review OSAC’s reports, The Overseas Traveler’s Guide to ATM Skimmers & Fraud and Taking Credit.

Review OSAC’s reports, Cybersecurity Basics, Best Practices for Maximizing Security on Public Wi-Fi, Traveling with Mobile Devices: Trends & Best Practices, and Satellite Phones: Critical or Contraband?

Transportation-Safety Situation

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Most of Cameroon’s road network is poorly maintained and unsafe, including in parts of major cities. During the rainy season, many roads are barely passable, even with four-wheel drive vehicles. Livestock and pedestrians create constant road hazards, especially at night. There are few road and traffic signs. Most roadways are unlighted, making travel dangerous; there are few streetlights, even in major cities.

Drivers routinely disregard road safety rules. Enforcement of speed limits takes place primarily along the major routes between Yaoundé and Douala. Speed traps and checkpoints on highways catch unsuspecting motorists and result in fines of approximately US $50. The maximum national speed limit is 110 km/hour. Very serious, often fatal speed-related accidents are common. Drive defensively and be alert to the possibility of passing vehicles coming from the opposite direction.

Vehicles are generally in poor maintenance, and authorities enforce mechanisms or requirements to inspect vehicles for roadworthiness unevenly. In 2013, the government passed a law requiring that a basic safety kit should be in all vehicles; roadside checkpoints will stop and conduct vehicle inspections for these items. However, untrained, government-backed private safety associations staff these checkpoints, and in doing so, create road traffic and hazards by stopping vehicles at unsafe locations along major highways.

Cameroon has experienced a resurgence in road banditry throughout the country. Road bandits (coupeurs de route) have targeted public buses and have resorted to violence to control passengers. Attacks on public transportation and infrastructure have also taken place since 2018 in the Anglophone regions, including blocking of roads, destruction of bridges, stopping of vehicles, and even violence against motorists; at least one bus driver was murdered. The potential for armed confrontation over roads increases the risk of wrong place/wrong time violence to road travelers.

Avoid travel after dark throughout the country due to the heightened risk for traffic accidents and increased criminality at night.

The U.S. Embassy’s ability to provide consular services in remote and rural areas of Cameroon is extremely limited due to official travel restrictions and security concerns. The U.S. Embassy restricts U.S. official travel to the North and Far North regions, along with parts of the East and Adamawa Regions bordering CAR due to risk of violent crime and terrorism. All Embassy travel to these three regions requires advance coordination with host-nation security forces due to terrorist and criminal activities including attacks and kidnappings. Due to the increasingly violent conflict in the Anglophone regions, the Embassy also restricts mission-essential personnel travel to Northwest and Southwest Regions.

Review OSAC’s reports, Road Safety Abroad, Driving Overseas: Best Practices, and Evasive Driving Techniques; and read the State Department’s webpage on driving and road safety abroad.

Public Transportation Conditions

Avoid public transportation; hire private transport from a reliable source. Using public transportation is dangerous; vehicles do not meet international safety standards, are poorly maintained, and often overcrowded. Minibuses, buses, trains, and ferries are in poor mechanical condition and often seat well beyond their intended capacity. Make sure any car you hire has adequate insurance, preferably by written confirmation from the insurance company (rather than the car hire firm). If you are hiring a driver and car, make sure you are not liable for any accident or damage.

Serious bus accidents caused by high speeds and reckless maneuvering are frequent and often result fatalities. Most buses are usually overcrowded and often lack proper maintenance. 

The Hilton and Mont Fébé hotels offer a shuttle service from Yaoundé Airport (NSI) to downtown Yaoundé. Use this service or retain the services of a reputable private transport company.

Trains are also unsafe; a major train derailment occurred in 2016 on the route connecting Douala to Yaoundé. The accident killed 70 passengers and injured more than 500 others. Passenger service has not yet restarted between the two cities.

Review OSAC’s report, Security In Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Cameroon has experienced four major air transport-related accidents in the past two decades. Temporary airport closures have occurred due to poor illumination and/or lack of electricity. The state-owned airline, Camair-Co, has had multiple safety incidents in the past two years, including a tailstrike at Bafoussam Airport (BFX) in March 2019 and a forced landing in Garoua (GOU) in April 2019. In December 2019, separatists fired upon a Camair-Co civilian flight during its final approach into Bamenda (BPC), damaging the fuselage but with no injuries. All mishaps involved Camair-Co’s Chinese-built Xian MA-60 aircraft. It may also be prudent to avoid flights to Cameroon that transit Bangui M’Poko Airport (BGF) in CAR, due to potential unrest in Bangui.

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Yaoundé and Douala as being MEDIUM-threat locations for terrorism directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Two Nigeria-based terrorist groups operate in Cameroon: Boko Haram and the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham in West Africa (ISIS-WA). ISIS-WA, which initially emerged as a splinter group from Boko Haram, is an ISIS-recognized regional affiliate; it has become increasingly active in northeastern Nigeria and neighboring areas of Lake Chad Basin countries. Since 2015, there have been over 100 documented and reported detonations of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) along roadways, in villages, and in local markets in Cameroon by Nigeria-based terrorist groups. IED incidents are ongoing. Kidnappings of Cameroonian nationals by terrorist groups and suicide bombing attacks have also occurred in the Far North region during the last year. Boko Haram and ISIS-WA each likely aspire to target Westerners for kidnapping and attack.

The State Department warns U.S. citizens to avoid all travel to the North and Far North Regions because of terrorist threats – including kidnapping – presented by ISIS-WA and Boko Haram. Each group has actively targeted foreign residents, tourists, and government leaders in the North and Far North regions, and has demonstrated a continuing capacity and interest in kidnapping foreigners since 2013. Since 2015, these groups have conducted dozens of suicide bombings in the North and Far North Regions, including in Maroua. In recent years, successful attacks have been limited to the border areas with Nigeria. 

Anti-U.S./Anti-Western Sentiment

There have been no reports of any widespread anti-U.S. or anti-Western incidents or sentiment in Cameroon. However, the potential for lone wolf attacks motivated by anti-Western or anti-U.S. sentiment remains.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Yaoundé and Douala as being HIGH-threat locations for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests. There has been a significant escalation in violence in the Northwest and Southwest Regions by both the government and separatist parties to the conflict over the last 18 months; avoid travel to these regions. In late 2018, a U.S. citizen traveling by road in the Northwest Region died by gunfire in armed conflict. Reports indicate that in 2019, a U.S. citizen traveling in the region was in crossfire, but unharmed. Travelers visiting these regions, particularly those of Cameroonian origin, have been victims of kidnapping for ransom or unlawful detention in the past 12 months.

Civil Unrest 

Demonstrations, ranging from workers’ strikes to political rallies and protests, are common in many major cities in Cameroon, particularly Douala and some cities in the West Region, with less frequent of major protests in Yaoundé. Opposition parties have occasionally called for demonstrations. The government usually bans these protests and quickly arrests those attempting to assemble. A large-scale protest in Douala led to police-involved non-lethal shooting of members of the opposition leadership with rubber projectiles. Political disputes, including the government’s detention of senior opposition leaders, increase the potential for violence. Government-aligned groups may assemble in large number, and during 2019 and 2020, have on occasion selected foreign embassies and official residences as demonstration sites. Avoid large gatherings; even peaceful demonstrations can escalate to violence. Review OSAC’s report, Surviving a Protest.

Armed groups in Cameroon’s Northwest and Southwest Regions continue to carry out lethal attacks and kidnappings of Cameroonian government security forces and officials. They have also used IEDs in the Anglophone regions. Separatists continue to use threats and violence to enforce “Ghost Town” days, barring free movement and economic activity. Separatists continue to demand that schools remain shuttered; they have a history of attacking educators who have opened schools. 

Following a 2019 uptick in violence and a number of incidents of separatist-related attacks emanating into towns in Littoral and West regions that border the conflict areas, and despite a “Grand National Dialogue” aimed at resolving the conflict, Cameroon security forces stepped up operations in the Anglophone regions during the latter parts of 2019 and early 2020, resulting in increased violence, civilian casualties, and internal displacement.  The conflict continues to increase in intensity, and has taken on an added dimension of violence, with the razing of villages, hospitals, and capital infrastructure, as well as attacks on civilians by both parties to the conflict.

The likelihood of becoming involved in a wrong place / wrong time crossfire incident between the military and armed groups, kidnapped by separatists or opportunistic criminals, retaliated against for violating a “Ghost Town,” or encountering an IED or other artisanal anti-vehicle weapon has increased over the past 12 months. Avoid any activity or visits to Cameroon’s Northwest and Southwest Regions.  

Post-specific Concerns

Critical Infrastructure Concerns

There is a serious lack of infrastructure throughout the country, even in major cities. Power grids are unreliable, power surges and wide-scale blackouts are common. Many neighborhoods lack running or potable water.

There is a noticeable lack of service industry-oriented businesses. In the major cities, only a handful of hotels meet international standards.

In addition to the baseline lack of reliable telecommunications, the Government of Cameroon routinely restricts access to internet and mobile communications during periods of civil unrest and in advance of major anniversaries or political events. Affected communication methods include SMS, image sharing, and social media access. Restrictions normally affect localized areas, including in major cities. Due to Cameroon’s limited telecommunications infrastructure, the quality of voice calls may degrade during communications restrictions, and increased user volume may overwhelm capacity. Travelers should ensure they have redundant communications systems and sufficient training to use these systems.

Personal Identity Concerns

Consensual same-sex sexual activity is illegal and punishable by a prison sentence of six months to five years and a fine ranging from 20,000 to 200,000 CFA francs ($35-$353). Cameroon’s rate of enforcement of laws targeting the LGBTI+ community is among the highest in the world. Over the past few years, authorities have brought charges against scores of LGBTI+ people under the Criminal Code. Cameroonian society includes a strongly homophobic current; not only does the public and media condemn homosexuality, but religious figures also strongly oppose it. The misconception that members of the LGBTI+ community do not have civil or human rights because homosexuality is against the law is prevalent, and has prompted police officers and civilians to stigmatize, harass, and oppress LGBTI+ people. Police and civilians may extort money from presumed LGBTI+ individuals with the threat of exposure or arrest. Members and suspected members of the LGBTI+ community have received anonymous threats by phone, text, and email. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for LGBTI+ travelers.

Persons with disabilities face challenges accessing transportation, public buildings, hotels, and communication accommodations. There are few sidewalks and no curb cuts, and most buildings lack elevators. Review the State Department’s webpage on security for travelers with disabilities.

Review the State Department’s webpage on security for female travelers.

Review OSAC’s report, Freedom to Practice, and the State Department’s webpage on security for faith-based travelers.

Piracy and Maritime Security

Piracy emanating from Nigeria presents an ongoing challenge for regional maritime security in the Gulf of Guinea (GoG). The majority of GoG piracy events in the last year occurred in or near Nigerian waters; however, dozens of incidents occurred in international waters or off the coasts of other GoG countries, including Cameroon. Vessels reported boardings, armed robberies, and crew kidnappings near Douala – Cameroon’s main port. Pirates have targeted foreign – and particularly Western – personnel for kidnapping for ransom, likely due to kidnappers’ perceptions that they can exact higher ransoms for their release. In such cases, they have transferred victims to other vessels or even taken them ashore, primarily to hideouts in Nigeria’s Niger River delta areas; Nigerian pirates are generally involved in such events.

Kidnapping Threat

Kidnapping and kidnap-for-ransom are serious security concerns, especially in the Northwest and Southwest Regions, as well as areas bordering northern Nigeria and CAR. Boko Haram and ISIS-WA historically engage in this tactic to raise money for their causes. Criminal elements may also engage in this activity for financial gain. Militants and criminals taking advantage of the conflict in Northwest and Southwest Regions have kidnapped Cameroonian government officials, local security force members, and foreigners. Kidnappers – criminal or political in nature – frequently employ brutal force against victims, and have increasingly targeted locals of all backgrounds. Review OSAC’s report, Kidnapping: The Basics.

Other Issues

Cameroon’s borders with many of its neighbors remain porous, allowing the activities of criminals, terrorist groups, political militants and other armed actors to spill over into Cameroonian territory from other countries, especially Nigeria, Chad, and CAR. In addition, cross-border migration occurs frequently between Cameroon and its neighbors due to normal commercial activities or instability-driven humanitarian flight. Military operations sometimes cross into Cameroon. Exercise heightened caution near the following border regions: 

  • The northern borders with Nigeria, particularly in the Far North, as Boko Haram and ISIS-WA activities in the area have increased in the past 12 months; 
  • The border area with Chad due to potential terrorist activity;
  • The border areas with the Central Africa Republic due to criminality and the possibility of encountering armed groups; and
  • The Bakassi Peninsula, to which Cameroon's military authorities restrict access.

It is illegal to take pictures of government buildings, military installations, and other public facilities, many of which are unmarked. Authorities could confiscate your photographic equipment, or fine, detain, or arrest you. Do not take photos of people without their permission. Review OSAC’s report, Picture This: Dos and Don’ts for Photography.

Read the State Department’s webpage on customs and import restrictions for information on what you cannot take into or out of other countries.

Police Response

The emergency line in Cameroon is 17 on landlines or 117 on cell phones for the police and 18 on landlines or 118 on cell phones for the fire service. Law enforcement and security personnel struggle to deter and respond to criminal activities. Police response is often slow, and may be non-existent in some areas; perpetrators of crimes are rarely caught. Police and security forces lack training and equipment. In some cases, police and security force members have colluded with criminal elements and/or perpetrated criminal acts. In others, law enforcement authorities have required victims to provide payment to ensure or to expedite investigation or other appropriate police action. Checkpoints and roadblocks often serve as a venue for authorities to extort bribes from travelers.

U.S. citizens encountering difficulties should contact local authorities and the U.S. Embassy. Any U.S. citizens detained by local authorities should remain calm, be non-confrontational, and request to contact the U.S. Embassy immediately. You may need to repeat these requests.

The Government of Cameroon does not in theory recognize the dual citizenship of Cameroonian nationals. Cameroonians who naturalize in other countries automatically lose Cameroonian citizenship. Therefore, U.S. citizens of Cameroonian descent should not use Cameroonian passports. In some cases, however, authorities have detained U.S. citizens of Cameroonian descent for prolonged periods, attempting to treat them as Cameroonian, and the Embassy’s Consular Affairs Section has encountered difficulties in gaining access to them. The expression of anti-government sentiment has led to the detention of U.S. citizens of Cameroonian descent.

Download the State Department’s Crime Victims Assistance brochure.

Medical Emergencies

Medical and life safety services are limited in Cameroon. Medical facilities in Cameroon do not approach U.S. standards. Services may be nonexistent in many rural areas. A lack of trained specialists, outdated diagnostic equipment, poor sanitation, and medications in short supply hamper emergency care and hospitalization. These issues are more severe in rural areas. Non-French speakers will face language barriers at health facilities in most parts of the country. Find contact information for available medical services and available air ambulance services on the U.S. Embassy website.

The U.S. Department of State strongly recommends purchasing international health insurance before traveling internationally. Review the State Departments webpage on insurance overseas.

The following diseases are prevalent: Malaria, Schistosomiasis, Cholera, Dengue, Yellow fever, Meningococcal meningitis, Polio, Tuberculosis, and HIV. Malaria is endemic; travelers should consult their physician for anti-malaria medication prior to travel.

All travelers must have up-to-date immunizations and a yellow fever vaccination in their shot record. Enforcement takes places prior to boarding outbound flights, as well as prior to passing through immigration on inbound flights. Travelers without documented immunization may receive a mandatory vaccine at the airport.

The CDC offers additional information on vaccines and health guidance for Cameroon.

Review OSAC’s reports, The Healthy Way, Traveling with Medication, I’m Drinking What in My Water?, Shaken: The Don’ts of Alcohol Abroad, Health 101: How to Prepare for Travel, and Fire Safety Abroad.

OSAC Country Council Information

The Douala and Yaoundé Country Councils meet regularly. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Africa team with any questions or to join.

U.S. Embassy Contact Information

Avenue Rosa Parks (in the Mbankolo Quartier, adjacent to the Mont Fébé Golf Club), Yaoundé  

Normal Business Hours: Monday-Thursday 0730-1700; Friday 0730-1230 

Switchboard: +237 22220-1500

Marine Post 1: Ext. 4040 

Website: https://cm.usembassy.gov/

Helpful Information

Before you travel, consider the following resources:

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