The modern state of Cameroon was created in 1961 by the unification of two former colonies, one British and one French.
Since then it has struggled from one-party rule to a multi-party system in which the freedom of expression is severely limited.
Cameroon began its independence with a bloody insurrection which was suppressed only with the help of French forces.
There followed 20 years of repressive government under President Ahmadou Ahidjo. Nonetheless, Cameroon saw investment in agriculture, education, health care and transport.
In 1982 Mr Ahidjo was succeeded by his prime minister, Paul Biya. Faced with popular discontent, Mr Biya allowed multi-party presidential elections in 1992, which he won.
Fashion designers from Cameroon are making an impression abroad
He went on to win further presidential elections in 1997, 2004 and - after a clause in the constitution limiting the number of presidential terms was removed - 2011.
In 1994 and 1996 Cameroon and Nigeria fought over the disputed, oil-rich Bakassi peninsula. Nigeria withdrew its troops from the area in 2006 in line with an international court ruling which awarded sovereignty to Cameroon.
In November 2007 the Nigerian senate passed a motion declaring illegal the Nigeria-Cameroon agreement for the Bakassi Peninsula to be handed over to Cameroon.
Internally, there are tensions over the two mainly English-speaking southern provinces. A secessionist movement, the Southern Cameroon National Council (SCNC), emerged in the 1990s and has been banned.
More recently, the mainly-Muslim far north has been drawn into the regional Islamist insurgency of Boko Haram.
Cameroon has one of the highest literacy rates in Africa. However, the country's progress is hampered by persistent problems with corruption.