On Monday October 21st, in the tense and tightly secured capital city of Yaounde, Paul Biya won another 7 year mandate to lead Cameroon in what will be his seventh term as President of the Republic.
The elections of October 7th, which declared Biya winner by 71%, were marred by intimidation and a clampdown on voices critical to Biya’s rule of nearly 4 decades, especially in the English speaking south of the country.
The 85 year-old leader of the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) party won a majority in a boycotted election where only 54% of registered voters cast their vote. His nearest rival, Joshua Osih of the Social Democratic Front party, only received 10%. Osih rejected the result, accusing the incumbent of manipulating the vote and intimidation, and turned down an invite to attend the president’s inauguration. Protests against Biya’s rule which were planned before the election were blocked by the authorities, and opposition leaders were intimidated.
There is fierce resistance to Paul Biya’s 36 year-rule of Cameroon in the English speaking south, where armed separatists are fighting for secession and have clashed with the army. The English speakers make up 20% of the nation’s population of 24 million, and their region, which neighbours Nigeria, demands more recognition in government, education and the courts.
Known as the Anglophone Problem, Biya’s iron fist clampdown on separatist activists has left hundreds dead and the region bordering Nigeria more alienated from the rest of the French-speaking country.
His new term in office now makes him a candidate for becoming Africa’s oldest and the longest serving president, having been at the helm since 1982. He joins the list of long-time presidents such as Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe who was ousted in a coup in late 2017 after leading the country since 1980. If he finishes his term he would be the longest serving president on the continent, beating the 40 year reign of Libya’s slain Muammar Gaddafi by one year.
Paul Biya has been part of Cameroon’s political landscape since its independence from France in the early 1960s. Initially he served as Prime Minister to then President Ahmadou Ahidjo, replacing him after Ahidjo surprisingly resigned in 1982. Both men were close but when Biya took over, Ahidjo was sent into exile. In 1984 Paul Biya fended off a coup attempt, and then ran a one party state, being the sole candidate in all elections held in that decade.
Buckling to pressure from human rights groups, Biya opened up politics, winning multi-party elections in 1992, 1997, 2004 and 2011. Political groups successfully pushed for term limits in the 90s but that was changed when Biya’s CPDM party which has the majority in Parliament reversed term limits, thus giving Biya the opportunity to stand for his 7th term.
President Biya is credited with fostering good relations with France, America and China and sourcing direct foreign investment. He used his 36 year experience as president to campaign saying that he is the only one who has steady hands to run the country. Under his rule, Cameroon has defeated insurgencies from the Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram operating in the country.