Historical Context

  • A map of Cameroon that shows the seaside town of Limbe (on the far left), where Jende and Neni are from.

The 21th Century

2010 — Immigration Statistics for Cameroon: 4,161 total legal residents for the fiscal year.
2009  Post-Great Recession; Immigration Statistics for Cameroon: 3,463 total legal residents for the fiscal year.
2008  Year of the Financial Collapse; Immigration Statistics for Cameroon: 3,771 total legal residents for the fiscal year.
2007  — Immigration Statistics for Cameroon: 3,392 total legal residents for the fiscal year.
2004  Immigration Statistics for Cameroon: 1,309 total legal residents for the fiscal year.
2002 —  Post 9/11; Immigration Statistics for Cameroon: 984 total legal residents for the fiscal year.
2001 791 total legal residents for the fiscal year.

The 20th Century

1999 — Immigration Statistics for Cameroon: 824 total legal residents for the fiscal year.



Historical Context


Overall, emigration from Cameroon to the United States remained consistent throughout the 2000s, and the Great Recession did not seem to have any noticeable impact on the amount of people coming from Cameroon to the US. In fact, this trend holds true for many other countries as well, and it does not seem that the economic crisis or the 9/11 terrorist attacks had many major repercussions on legal immigration according to the Migration Policy Institute; in addition to this, while the terrorist attacks did have a major impact on asylum seekers, the economic crisis did appear to have such an effect. In 2002, one year after 9/11 attacks, the United States accepted only 27,131 asylees in spite of the fact that the ceiling (maximum number of possible admissions) was 70,000, compared to the 69,886 accepted in 2001 when there was a ceiling of 80,000. In comparison, in 2009, one year after the economic collapse, 74,654 refugees were granted asylum while the ceiling was 80,000.


Understanding Cameroon's Political History

After World War I, the former German colony of Kamerun was divided between Britain and France under a League of Nations mandate. In 1955, the Union of Peoples of Cameroon (UPC) began fighting for Independence in the French Cameroon. The rebellion was led mainly by Bassa and Bamileke ethnic groups, costing tens of thousands of lives. French Cameroon gained independence in 1960 and became the Republic of Cameroon. While the Northern section of British Cameroon joined Nigeria, the Southern part voted to join the Republic of Cameroon, but was named the Federal Republic of Cameroon (A Brief History of Cameroon).

The following year, Ahmadou Ahidjo became President of the Federal Republic of Cameroon and banned all political parties aside from his own. His strategy included stifling the former Union of Peoples of Cameroon (UPC) and any remaining rebel leaders. In 1972, The federation was officially replaced by a single state. Paul Biya, his successor, won consecutive single candidate and multiparty elections despite Adhidjo's supporters attempting to overthrow his regime. Currently, Biya remains in power and has become one of history’s most deeply established leaders due to years of flawed and controversial elections, along with an amendment that allows him to continuously run for office. As a result of Cameroon’s unstable and corrupt political structure, many economic problems have arisen as well, justifying Jende and Neni’s decision to leave Cameroon in Behold the Dreamers.


Cameroon's Economy in the 21st Century

The corruption and violence within the government led to a difficult business environment. Long after Independence, Cameroon continues to operate around a large, informal economy that lacks diversity and choice. Additionally, there is top-heavy civil service, weak infrastructure, and inefficiencies within the parastatal system that affects major economic sectors (2019 Index of Economic Freedom). In terms of trade, there are many restrictions through nontarrif barriers, resulting in much higher costs. The weak, yet entrenched Biya regime refuses to address the political corruption that deeply impacts Cameroon’s short-term and long-term economic growth. In order to slowly move torward a better economy, Cameroon’s government would need to implement widespread economic reforms, such as budget transparency and more private state-owned enterprises.

In Behold the Dreamers, Jende alludes to Cameroon's lack of class mobility. Like many other Cameroonians, Jende was not born into a wealthy family, so he would remain poor and unable to move up the economic ladder for the rest of his life. Cameroon's problems with socioeconomic ability stem from the former colonial educational structure. Under French rule, access to education was very limited; only a small minority could even begin primary school. Part of this was due to all teaching required to be in French, whereas the British used more vernacular languages. Concentration of colonial expenditure was also confined to a limited number of schools. Consequently, people had little educational mobility, which in turn led to weak socioeconomic mobility. In Cameroon, higher levels of education are required to obtain non-agricultural work (Bossuroy and Cogneau). Jende's desire to achieve the "American Dream" is justified by Cameroon's trying economic condition.


 The Global Financial Crisis of 2008 

In Behold the Dreamers, protagonists Jende and Neni lived in the United States during the Financial Crisis of 2008. Lehman Brothers, a financial services firm, faces the possibility of going bankrupt. The novel depicts this particular problem through Clark, whom Jende works for as a chauffeur. Like many people during the 2008 crisis, Clark and his family experience heightened stress, tension, and conflict, which ultimately leads to Jende being fired. Jende and his family are forced to give up their American Dream, reluctantly making the decision to move back to Cameroon after realizing they can no longer earn a living in the U.S. Although the 2008 Financial Crisis in America is prevalent in Behold the Dreamers, it also impacted the global market, drastically changing other nations' economic system.


Key Economic Events of the Financial Crisis

The main factor that led to the global financial collapse was the subprime mortgage crisis that began in the U.S. Overall, the subprime mortgage crisis was caused by banks giving loans with high interest rates to people who would have difficulty maintaining a repayment schedule. Because many people could not pay back their loans, many banks and large financial institutions in the U.S, such as Lehman Brothers, suffered from huge losses that ultimately ended in bankruptcy.

Although the U.S started as the epicenter of the 2008 financial crisis, the deterioration of its economic condition deeply impacted global markets and led to a recession of the world's economy. Overall, Europe suffered most from the crisis; in the beginning of 2008, many European banks and labor markets began to fail. Additionally, 164,000 more people in the United Kingdom were unemployed between May and August of 2008, and its GDP growth decreased from 2.4% to 3.4%. Exports and house prices also fell drastically in several European countries.

In contrast, Asian countries like China, India, and South Korea were slightly less affected by the crisis. Still, Japan's economy was damaged in 2008 and 2009. For example, many small factories had to take out large loans for factory real estate and machines and orders were almost reduced to zero, so they had to fire a majority of staff. In January 2009, a Japanese survey counted 124,800 that had lost their jobs. Afterwards, only 10% were able to find new jobs. Cars and electronics, two of Japan's biggest exports, were also hit by the crisis. African countries not only had less of a chance to develop short-term financial stability, but also faced the dilemma of reducing commodity prices and demand for African exports. Egypt's trade in particular experienced a $2.2 billion loss in exports and a $4.3 billion decrease in imports during the global crisis.


Global Responses 

In Europe, countries focused on responding to the crisis through monetary policy. Between October 2008 and May 2009, the European Central Bank (ECB) lowered its policy interest rate to 1%. The ECB also implemented a “enhanced credit support” measure, including the accommodation of banks’ liquidity requests at fixed interest rates, the expansion of the list of assets eligible as collateral, and the provision of liquidity in foreign currencies. In terms of government policy changes, there were attempts to use automatic stabilizers and specific discretionary fiscal measures, like tax relief and additional public investment. The European Union also approved legislation on Credit Rating Agencies and issued a proposal on the establishment of the European Systemic Risk Board (ESRB). Similarly, Japan took measures to stimulate its economy. The Bank of Japan put trillions of yen the money market to support investments and prevent disruptions in interbank borrowing. To increase consumer spending, the government provided coupons to citizens; every Japanese resident received ¥12,000 in coupons and an extra ¥8,000 if under 18 years of age.


Historical Trends in Immigration 

Listed below are the definitions of "refugee" and "asylee" as determined the Department of Homeland Security).


A refugee is any person who is outside his or her own country of nationality and is unable or unwilling to return to that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution.

A potential asylee is any person who is in the United States or applying for admission at a port of entry and is unable or unwilling to return to his or her country of nationality because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution.

2004 (the year Jende Arrived in the United States)

A refugee is an alien outside the United States who is unable or unwilling to return to his or her country of origin because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

An asylee is someone who meets the definition of refugee and is either already present in the United States or seeking admission at a port of entry.


Behold the Dreamers’ Homepage

Kyna Smith, Huilin Qi, Will Eichler ’19

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