solid black line
dotted black line
  About MAR
dotted black line
  MAR Data
dotted black line
  AMAR Project
dotted black line
solid black line
Contact Us     


Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Kirdi in Cameroon

View Group Chronology

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

The Kirdi are isolated and relatively impoverished, but do not have much interaction with the central government. Whether due to their isolation or governmental neglect, the Kirdi are rarely included in the Cameroonian political sphere. The Kirdi remained socially, educationally and economically disadvantaged relative to the Fulani in the three Northern provinces. Traditional Fulani rulers, called Lamibe, continued to wield great power over their subjects, often including Kirdi, sometimes subjecting them to tithing and forced labor. Isolated cases of slavery were reported, largely Fulani enslavement of Kirdi. Because the Kirdi remain mostly isolated in their own region(s) and have not engaged in protest against the government or state of Cameroon in the recent past, the Kirdi risk for protest is minimal. Also, the Kirdi peoples have not engaged in rebellion against the Cameroon government and thus have a minimal risk of increasing risk of rebellion.

The main political disputes in Cameroon exist between the Francophone community and the English-speakers of western Cameroon. While prior data indicates that the Kirdi would prefer a measure of autonomy, in essence their geographic position and lifestyle provides them this already, and the Kirdi political movement remains an extremely small component of President Biya's ruling coalition. Presumably, if the Kirdi continue to live in seclusion and maintain their comparatively minimal influence in central government, the Kirdi are likely to preserve their current lifestyle.


Analytic Summary

Established as a confederation between former French and British territories in 1922, Cameroon 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 Bamilekes maintained their dominance in the trading sectors. Cameroon became the Republic of Cameroon in 1960, was named a federation in 1961, and became a unified republic in 1972 (TRANSYR = 1960). 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 Bamilekes in south-western Cameroon.

The Kirdis, also known as the montagnards, of Cameroon consist of some 15 closely related, yet distinct tribes that live in northern Cameroon, as well as southeast Nigeria and southwest Chad (GROUPCON = 3). The term "Kirdi" literally means "pagan" in Fulani, and the Kirdi, neither Muslim nor Christian (although a very small number have converted to Islam), usually practice forms of animism and ancestor worship (BELIEF = 2). Each tribe speaks its own dialect of Biu-Mandara, a Chadic language, and few Kirdi speak Cameroon’s official languages of French and English (LANG = 1). The Kirdi, known for producing colorful glass beadwork, have maintained their relative isolation and social customs (CUSTOM = 1). For the most part, the Kirdi share historical animosities toward the Fulani, their traditional overlords who subjugated and attempted to Islamize them in the early 19th century.

The Kirdi economy and lifestyles remain relatively simple and are based on subsistence agriculture (growing mainly millet, maize, and peanuts) and barter trade. Due to historical neglect, economic development (ECDIS06 = 2), literacy, and life expectancy are lower among the Kirdi than among other groups in Cameroon, although these figures are not out of sorts with other tribal people in the region. Politically, the Kirdi have had little influence in Cameroon (POLDIS06 = 2), and do not show much interest in becoming involved in mainstream Cameroonian politics (e.g., the Movement for Democracy and the Republic (MDR) has only one seat in parliament). Because of this lack of political activism (PROT06 = 0; REB06 = 0), the Kirdi have been generally free from governmental repression (REPGENCIV06, REPNVIOL06, REPVIOL06 = 0), generally deferring to Cameroon’s majority (the Fulani), even after the dominant ethnic coalition in Cameroon changed in 1982 to favor the South.



CIA World Factbook. 2006. "Cameroon People - 2006."

Derrick, Jonathan 1992. "Cameroon: One Party, Many Parties, and the State." Africa Insight. 22:3.

Gros, Jean-Germain. 2003. “Cameroon: Politics and Society in Critical Perspectives.” Maryland: University Press of America, Inc.

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

Lexis-Nexis. Various news reports. 1990-2006.

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.

MacEachern, Scott. 1993. "Selling the Iron for Their Shackles: Wandala Montagnard Interactions in Northern Cameroon." The Journal of African History. 34:2. 247-270. Stable URL:

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. 23:2.

US Department of State/US Embassy to Cameroon. 2006. "Political and Economic Section Country Report on Human Rights Practices 2006 -- Cameroon."


© 2004 - 2023 • Minorities At Risk Project

Information current as of December 31, 2006