Cameroon: A Legacy In Tatters As President Biya Marks 39-years in Power
By Boris Esono Nwenfor
November 6, 2021, marked 39-years since Paul Biya became president of Cameroon. The leader of the CPDM party ascended to power on November 6, 1982, after a peaceful transition from Ahmadou Ahidjo. This was a sign of a new dawn in Cameroonians and African politics where the continent is noted for leaders clinging to power, reinventing the constitution and use of force to blatantly crackdown on protesters who demand they step down.
Across the country, supporters came out in their numbers to celebrate the day while others are already calling on President Biya to be their presidential candidate in the 2025 election. Note that President Biya still has four (4) years left in his present mandate which he won in a disputed landslide victory back in 2018.
President Biya earlier this year celebrated his 88th birthday, which made him the oldest president in Africa and the second-longest African president only behind Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema.
The former president Ahidjo is reported to have ruled his Cameroon with so much ruthlessness, authoritativeness and intimidation as rivals were arrested, tortured and some went into exile. Many had hoped the coming of the new president will change all these things that used to happen.
Shortly after taking power, President Biya is reported to have visited the North West and South West Regions, spoke English and even called Bamenda (the capital of the North West Region) “my second home”. President Biya brought the “New Deal” and promised to eliminate corruption and he extended elementary and secondary education to rural areas. He brought back press freedom and these were all applauded.
Sadly, those aspirations were put to bed and the new president has almost gone back on all his promises and the good deeds he had started. This came after the attempted coup in 1984 and his actions and policies have been different. One of the biggest changes made was changing the country’s name from the United Republic of Cameroon to the Republic of Cameroon, a move that is presently sparking tensions in the Anglophone Regions.
President Biya is referred to as a promoter of the diverse cultural and linguistic nature of Cameroon which has a huge focus on the country’s two official languages. Sadly, that is not the case as even the Bilingualism and Multiculturalism Commission that has been created has had difficulty implementing the spoken of both English and French. Cameroon’s president rarely and if not speaks English, his address to the nation is always translated and even when he meets Commonwealth leaders (who speak English), the president is reported to speak in French.
The fight against corruption is still ongoing in the country and the country is often ranked amongst the most corrupt countries in the world. Many government Ministers are presently languishing at the Kondengui Maximum Prison in Yaounde, found guilty of embezzlement. It has even been joked in various quarters that the calibre of people who have been found guilty and are in the Kondengui present can make a country on its own.
Major successes at the International stage
If many say President Biya is failing in his domestic policies that are somewhat different in the international stage where he continues to maintain good relationships with the international leaders. The 88-year-old has a good relationship with the African Union, AU, and major powers like France, USA and China.
Cameroon and other countries including France and USA have been working in partnership to combat the Boko Haram terrorist sect. President Biya played a major role in settling the dispute over the Bakassi Peninsular with their Nigerian counterparts and the two countries have been working together in combatting Boko Haram.
“Even after Cameroon was excluded from the African Growth and Opportunity Act, a program that allows African nations to export their goods to the US duty-free, for human rights violations, US-Cameroon military collaboration has continued,” Julius Amin, Professor, Department of History, University of Dayton said in an article.
The international community has continuously called on President Biya and his government to resolve the ongoing Anglophone crisis but these leaders have fallen short of actually putting sanctions on government officials or even the separatist leaders. Civil Society leaders and others have called on the international community for sanctions to be brought forward which will get both warring parties to the dialogue table.
Hosting of the TotalEnergies AFCON 2021
Cameroon will welcome sports lovers from across the African continent and the world as the country looks set to host the upcoming 33rd edition of the Africa Cup of Nations, AFCON, in January 2022. The competition was to come up in 2021 but was postponed to January 2022 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, a move that was beneficial to the country that was still carrying out works on some stadia.
The country was to host the 2019 edition of the AFCON but the rights were stripped off the country after they failed to complete works at the various stadia and due to the insecurity in the country at that time. Fast forward two years later, work is still ongoing at the Olembe Stadium (Paul Biya Stadium); a stadium to host the opening and closing games of the competition.
With barely two months to go to the tournament, officials are in a race against time to make sure that everything is set. One certain thing is that the Olembe stadium is matchday ready after hosting competitive games. The other stadia in Limbe, Douala, Baffoussam and Garoua and not leaving out the Ahmadou Ahidjo Stadium are all ready for the competition.
Cameroon will draw experience from hosting the Africa Nations Championship, CHAN, in January 2021 and some of the stadia to be used for the AFCON were on display and used for the competition. CAF officials and even its President Dr Motsepe has been clear from the beginning that Cameroon will host the AFCON, putting to bed doubts over whether the country will be stripped again or not.
Rise of Anglophone crisis
For decades now, President Biya has had to play down the aspirations of the Anglophones who had demanded decentralization of power and for the Regions to elect those who will govern them, from their Mayors, local administrators and even the Governor, who is appointed.
In 2016, these aspirations will come up again led by the teachers and lawyers and escalate to a full-blown war in 2017 that has continued since then. The separatist fighters have regrouped themselves and are calling for an independent state called “Ambazonia” with the government forces fighting hard to maintain the territorial integrity of the country. The crisis has seen thousands of people killed, others have become refugees while education has been completely affected in certain Divisions.
Both warring parties have been accused of committing atrocities and the international community continues to call on both parties to come to the dialogue table and settle their differences. President Biya in that light convened a Major National Dialogue in 2019 (many separatist leaders did not show up) and many resolutions have been put in places such as the strengthening of the Commission of Bilingualism and Multiculturalism, the conveying of a “Special Status” to the North West and South West Regions and others.
President Paul Biya in 2008 amended the constitution and abolished the presidential term limit meaning he could run as many times as possible, even with ailing health. And his legacy will be tied to how best he resolves the ongoing Anglophone crisis or if the two Regions will succeed in breaking away.