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Cameroon 2018 Crime & Safety Report

Africa > Cameroon

 

According to the current U.S. Department of State Travel Advisory at the date of this report’s publication, Cameroon has been assessed as Level 2: “Exercise increased caution” due to crime, terrorism, and civil unrest. 

Overall Crime and Safety Situation

U.S. Embassy Yaoundé does not assume responsibility for the professional ability or integrity of the persons or firms appearing in this report. The American Citizen Services (ACS) Unit cannot recommend a particular individual or location and assumes no responsibility for the quality of service provided.

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Yaoundé as being a CRITICAL-threat location for crime directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Please review OSAC’s Cameroon-specific webpage for original OSAC reports, consular alerts, and contact information, some of which may be available only to private-sector representatives with an OSAC password.

High unemployment and an under-equipped police force continue to fuel criminality in Yaoundé, Douala, and other towns. An influx of refugees fleeing conflicts in the Central African Republic (CAR) and Nigeria has strained Cameroon’s economy and added to already crowded urban areas. Cameroon’s borders remain porous, exacerbating the potential for spillover from neighboring countries.

Crime Threats

Criminal activity is a major concern for the official and private American communities in Cameroon. Most crime is economically motivated. Street crime is endemic in major metropolitan areas, and it ranges from opportunistic to violent crime. Wealthy Cameroonians, expatriates, and members of the diplomatic community continue to be heavily targeted by criminals. Persons have been robbed inside and outside their residences, on the street, in restaurants, and in shops. Victims are pickpocketed at virtually all large gatherings and soccer matches. Thieves often attempt to distract a victim by asking questions or bumping/jostling the victim, allowing an accomplice to snatch valuables.

Criminals may be armed. Often, the thieves use knives or razor blades to cut valuables out of pockets or handbags. 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 purse and valuable snatchings. Theft by intimidation or extortion is also popular.

Generally, November and December experience increases in street crime, thefts from occupied and unoccupied vehicles, residential break-ins, highway banditry, and armed robberies. These crimes often escalate to violence, especially when victims resist or fight back; victims should comply with the demands of criminals insofar as possible. Many crimes involve an “inside man” and target individuals or locations associated with payrolls, money transfers, or large sums of cash.

Home invasions by gangs are reported in upper-class neighborhoods, especially at locations without 24-hour guards and residential security enhancements (perimeter walls, window grilles, solid-core/metal doors).

Carjacking is less common than in other West African countries; however, it remains a concern and has led to deadly confrontations.

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 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 end up receiving little/nothing in return.

In the summer of 2016, the RSO was notified that an American citizen was being blackmailed by an individual that he had met via social media. During a number of video chat sessions, the American participated in consensual, sexually-explicit activity. The individual had recorded the activity and was threatening to turn the video over to the police as part of a criminal complaint unless the American met the individual’s demand for money.

Other Areas of Concern

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 personnel travel to the North, Far North, and East regions, including all travel to the north or east of Ngaoundere in the Adamoua region due to risk of violent crime and terrorism. Travel to the Far North, North, Adamawa, and East regions are restricted and require advance coordination with host-nation security forces due to threats of terrorist attacks, kidnappings, and other types of violence by extremist groups. Due to the evolving security situation resulting from an increasingly active separatist militancy and ongoing civil unrest, all but mission-essential travel by U.S. official personnel to Northwest and Southwest regions is prohibited.

The State Department warns U.S. citizens to avoid all travel to the North and Far North regions and parts of the East and Adamawa regions because of terrorist threats -- including kidnapping -- presented by ISIS-WA and Boko Haram. Both have actively targeted foreign residents, tourists, and government leaders in the North and Far North region and have reportedly kidnapped at least 37 foreigners since 2013. Since July 2015, these groups carry out dozens of suicide bombings a year in the North and Far North regions, including Maroua.

There has been an increase in unrest and separatist violence in the Northwest and Southwest regions. U.S. citizens should exercise caution when travelling to these regions and avoid all demonstrations. The conflict between residents of these regions, separatist militants, and the Government of Cameroon Security Forces has produced some violent clashes, targeted killings, and kidnappings.

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, namely Nigeria, Chad, and Central African Republic. Please see the U.S. Department of State Travel Advisories for Nigeria, Chad, and Central African Republic. Military operations sometimes cross into Cameroon. U.S. citizens should exercise extreme caution if traveling within 60 miles of many of Cameroon’s borders:

  • Cameroon’s border in the North and Adamawa regions, which abuts Nigeria’s Adamawa State, as Boko Haram and ISIS-WA elements are active in the area.

  • The border area with Chad due to terrorist activity.

  • The border areas with the Central Africa Republic due to criminality and activity of armed groups.

Travel after dark is strongly discouraged throughout the country due to the heightened risk for traffic accidents and increased criminality at night.

Transportation-Safety Situation

For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Security in Transit: Airplanes, Public Transport, and Overnights.”

Road Safety and Road Conditions

Cameroon’s road networks (both paved and unpaved) are poorly maintained and unsafe, even in 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. Roadways are often unilluminated, making travel dangerous; there are few street lights even in major cities.

Drivers frequently disregard road safety rules. Speed limits are minimally enforced, with the exception of the major routes between Yaoundé, Douala, and Bamenda. 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. Gruesome speed-related accidents are common on the major highways.

Vehicles are poorly maintained, and there is no mechanism or requirement to inspect vehicles for roadworthiness. 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. For more information on self-driving, please review OSAC’s Report, “Driving Overseas: Best Practices.”

Cameroon has experienced resurgence in road banditry in the East, Adamoua, North, and Far North regions. Road bandits (coupeurs de route) have targeted public buses and have resorted to violence to control passengers. More recent attacks have also been attributed to Boko Haram-affiliated groups in these regions.

Public Transportation Conditions

Using public transportation is dangerous, as vehicles do not meet Western safety standards, are poorly maintained, and often overcrowded.

Bus accidents are frequent and result in thousands of fatalities every year. Buses are always overcrowded, often poorly maintained, and are driven in an unsafe manner at dangerous speeds.

Trains are also unsafe; the most recent major train derailment occurred in October 2016, killing 70 people and injuring more than 500.

Aviation/Airport Conditions

Cameroon has experienced three air transport-related accidents in the past two decades. Temporary airport closures have occurred due to poor illumination and/or lack of electricity. The U.S. Embassy recommends avoiding flights to Cameroon that transit Bangui M’Poko Airport in the CAR due to potential unrest in Bangui.

Terrorism Threat

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Yaoundé as being a MEDIUM-threat location for terrorist activity directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Local, Regional, and International Terrorism Threats/Concerns

Boko Haram and a Nigeria-based affiliate called ISIS-WA are active in the North and Far North regions of Cameroon. Since 2015, there have been over 100 documented and reported detonations of improvised explosive devices (IEDs) along roadways, in villages, and in local markets. Kidnappings of Cameroonian nationals by terrorist groups and suicide bombing attacks have also occurred in these regions.

Anti-American/Anti-Western Sentiment

There have been no reports of any widespread anti-American or anti-Western incidents or sentiment since 2015. However, the potential for lone wolf attacks motivated by anti-Western or anti-American sentiment remains.

In December 2016, a Cameroonian male approached the U.S. Embassy and requested to speak with the Ambassador. The individual became agitated when told that the Ambassador was not available and brandished a long knife, stating that he was there to kill Americans. Ultimately, the situation was resolved by the local Gendarmes, with no injury to any Embassy personnel.

Political, Economic, Religious, and Ethnic Violence

The U.S. Department of State has assessed Yaoundé as being a MEDIUM-threat location for political violence directed at or affecting official U.S. government interests.

Civil Unrest

Demonstrations, ranging from workers strikes to political rallies and protests, are common in many major cities in Cameroon, including Yaoundé. Demonstrations may increase in frequency in the lead-up and aftermath of Cameroon’s presidential elections, which are slated for late 2018. Clashes have occurred between demonstrators and security forces, leading to bloodshed and several deaths in some cases. Travelers should avoid large gatherings as even peaceful demonstrations can escalate to violence.

For the past several years, there has been an ongoing secessionist movement in Northwest and Southwest regions. This movement is associated with the Anglophone/Francophone divide.

In November 2016, the area experienced widespread civil unrest that included lawyers and teachers staging walkouts and work stoppages that shuttered schools for several weeks. Owners of stores and markets staged organized closures of storefronts, disrupting services.

More recently, the secessionist movement has executed attacks on Government of Cameroon security forces and government officials, resulting in the death of over a dozen police and gendarmes in 2017 and multiple kidnappings of Cameroonian officials. Some of these attacks have involved the use of small-scale, makeshift bombs. Suspected separatist militants have also demanded that schools remain shuttered and have allegedly attacked educational buildings that have reopened.

Military operations are ongoing in some parts of the Northwest and Southwest regions. Travelers should closely monitor local media reports and U.S. Embassy messaging for updates.

Post-specific Concerns

Critical Infrastructure

There is a serious lack of infrastructure in most of the country, even in parts of major cities. The power grid is unreliable, and wide-scale blackouts are common. Many neighborhoods lack running or potable water.

There is a noticeable lack of Western-branded, service industry-oriented businesses. In the major cities, there are only a handful of hotels that would be considered acceptable by Western standards.

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. SMS, image sharing, and social media access have been affected. Restrictions are normally localized to major cities and certain areas. Due to Cameroon’s limited telecommunications infrastructure, the quality of voice calls may be degraded during communications restrictions as increased user volume may overwhelm capacity. Travelers should ensure they have redundant communications systems and sufficient training to use these systems.

Personal Identity Concerns

Cameroon’s rate of enforcement of anti-homosexual laws is among the highest in the world. Over the past few years, charges have been brought against scores of LGBTI people under the Criminal Code. Cameroonian society is characterized by a strongly homophobic current; homosexuality is not only condemned by the media but is also strongly opposed by religious figures. The misconception that members of the LGBTI community do not hold legal rights because homosexuality is against the law is prevalent and has prompted police officers and civilians stigmatize and oppress LGBTI people. 

Kidnapping Threat

Kidnapping and kidnapping-for-ransom are serious security concerns, especially in areas bordering northern Nigeria and CAR. Boko Haram and ISIS-WA have several years of history engaging in this tactic to raise money for their causes. Criminal elements may also engage in this activity for financial gain. Increasingly, separatist militants in Northwest and Southwest Cameroon have reportedly kidnapped Cameroonian government officials, local security force members, and foreigners. For more information, please review OSAC’s Report, “Kidnapping: The Basics.”

Police Response

Local law enforcement and security personnel struggle to deter and respond to criminal activities. Police response is often delayed and 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. Checkpoints and roadblocks often serve as a venue for police, military forces, and gendarmes to extort bribes from travelers.

How to Handle Incidents of Police Detention or Harassment

If U.S. citizens encounter difficulties, they should contact the local authorities and the U.S. Embassy. Any American detained by local authorities should remain calm, be non-confrontational, and request to contact the U.S. Embassy immediately. These requests may need to be repeated.

The Government of Cameroon does not recognize the dual citizenship of Cameroonian nationals, even if they hold U.S. passports. As a result, dual Cameroonian nationals have been detained for prolonged periods, and U.S. Consular Affairs has encountered difficulties in accessing dual U.S.-Cameroonian nationals in custody. The expression of anti-government sentiments has led to the detention of dual Cameroonian nationals.

Crime Victim Assistance

Embassy Yaoundé switchboard: +237 22220-1500

American Citizen Services: Ext. 4341

Regional Security Office: Ext. 4014 / 4185 / 4017

Police: Dial 17 on landlines or 117 on cell phones

Fire: Dial 18 on landlines or 118 on cell phones

Medical Emergencies

Medical and life safety services are limited in Cameroon.

Contact Information for Available Medical Services

For medical assistance, please refer to the Embassy’s Medical Assistance page.

Available Air Ambulance Services

Cameroon Assistance Sanitaire, Douala Tel: +237 23342-4891, +237 23342-7037 Fax: +237 23342-0079. Contact: Mr. Soussie + 237 23330-9020

Missionary Medevac Helicopter in Bamenda (Northwest Region) Tel: + 237 23336-1285 Contact: Pilot David Carmen or Baptist Mission

SOS Assistance SA of Geneva Tel:  +41 22 785-6464

Telex medical evacuation from Cameroon to Europe Tel: + 41 22 785-6424

Insurance Guidance

Anyone should ensure that their health insurance covers medical evacuation via air ambulance.

Country-specific Vaccination and Health Guidance

Malaria is endemic, and travelers should consult their physician for anti-malaria medication prior to traveling.

All travelers must have up-to-date immunizations and a yellow fever vaccination in their shot record.

Water-borne illnesses are also a concern. For more information, please refer to OSAC’s Report, “I’m Drinking What in My Water?.”

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

OSAC Country Council Information

The Yaoundé Country Council meets twice a month. Interested private-sector security managers should contact OSAC’s Africa team with any questions.  

U.S. Embassy Location & Contact Information

Embassy Address and Hours of Operation

The United States Embassy

Avenue Rosa Parks (in the Mbankolo Quartier, adjacent to the Mount Febe Golf Club)

Yaoundé, Cameroon

Normal Business Hours: Mon-Thurs 0730-1700; Fri 0730-1230

Embassy Contact Numbers

Embassy Yaoundé switchboard: +237 22220-1500

Marine Post 1: Ext. 4040

Website: https://cm.usembassy.gov/  

Consular coverage for multi-post countries

The U.S. Embassy in Yaoundé also provides consular services for U.S. citizens in Central African Republic (CAR). 

Embassy Guidance

All American citizens living in or traveling to Cameroon are encouraged to enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive security messages and make it easier to locate you in an emergency.

Additional Resources

Cameroon Country Information Sheet