By Boris Esono Nwenfor
His long stay in power can be ascribed to a mixture of astuteness and ruthlessness. Whichever way you look at it, 89-year-old President Paul Biya will mark his forty (40) years as Cameroon’s president on November 6, continuing his firm grip on power in the Central African nation.
Biya assumed office as president on 6 November 1982, after seven years as the country’s prime minister, becoming only the second head of state since Cameroon’s independence from France in 1960.
Political analysts say his extraordinary political longevity can be ascribed to a mixture of astuteness and ruthlessness. He has a close-knit group of loyalists who hold key positions, and crushes or sidelines opponents and rivals.
With an increasingly fragile state, a situation that has seen President Biya make rare appearances, the question of succession is a distant thought. Those who have raised interest in unseating President Biya have either ended up at the country’s biggest prison, Kondengui or have dropped that interest altogether.
The Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement, CPDM, the biggest political party in the country have planned a nationwide celebration on November 6 to mark this day. It will be a celebration of ‘political stability and peace, the biggest successes of these last four decades in Cameroon,’ says a member of the party’s central committee, Herve Emmanuel Nkom.
Systemic corruption is Cameroon’s biggest downfall, says the ex-head of Transparency International and former presidential candidate Akere Muna.
“On the production of mines, who are the miners? What do they produce? What do they pay to the country? Why do the citizens not have access to information about spending on their own country’s riches,” he says.
Elvis Ngolle Ngolle one of Biya’s close collaborators says that under Biya’s rule, Cameroon has enhanced women’s rights and vastly improved its education system. “In 1982, we had one state university,” Ngolle Ngolle said. “Today we have more than 11 state universities and hundreds of private university institutes. Incredible in 40 years.”
Opposition political parties accuse Biya of rigging elections for decades and want to stay in power until he dies. The Cameroon Renaissance Movement, led by Maurice Kamto, says Kamto won the October 2018 presidential election and that the victory was stolen from him.
Christopher Ndong, the CRM’s secretary-general, said Biya shows no signs of giving up the presidency and that, “Cameroonians are aggrieved because of him.” “The opposition political parties want him to revise the electoral code, making sure the next president of this country should be democratically elected,” Ndong said. “Cameroonians now want a democratically elected president.”
The government is also engaged in a bitter battle against Anglophone separatists in the country’s two English-speaking regions that has forced about two million Cameroonians from their homes and killed thousands of civilians.
“He changed the name of the country from the United Republic to the La République du Cameroun, which is the name the French-speaking republic of Cameroon had before we ever joined them in 1961,” one Yaounde inhabitant told Joy News, saying it sums up the Anglophone grievance against the French-speaking majority.
“It will be good if the regime tries to change,” says another woman. “Why not make it a woman, why not make it a young person to take over?”