Yaoundé, Cameroon — Cameroon’s government and its supporters are holding events this week ahead of celebrations Sunday marking President Paul Biya’s 40 years in power. Meanwhile, opposition parties are holding rallies calling for the 89-year-old Biya, the world’s oldest head of state, to change what they say are unfair election laws.
On Thursday in Nanga Eboko on the outskirts of the capital city of Yaoundé, supporters of Biya sang that Cameroon has remained one, undivided and prosperous despite the numerous challenges the central African state has faced since Biya became president in 1982.
The singing and dancing was part of week-long activities marking the 40th anniversary of Biya’s rule.
Biya’s Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement, or CPDM, said it dispatched party officials to towns and villages to organize conferences and mobilize more support for the 89-year-old leader who, it said, has achieved a lot for the country.
Elvis Ngolle Ngolle is one of Biya’s close collaborators in the ruling party. He says freedom is top among the things Biya should be credited for and that “every citizen can express themselves in any way they want.”
He 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.”
Ngolle Ngolle says Biya has stayed in power this long because a majority of Cameroonians love and always vote for him.
However, opposition political parties accuse Biya of rigging elections for decades, and wanting 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.
Another party, the Social Democratic Front, has joined the CRM in asking civilians not to attend anniversary celebrations to protest Biya’s long stay in power.
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.”
Ndong said many of Biya’s supporters have resigned from the ruling party and joined the opposition CRM during the anniversary event.
The ruling CPDM acknowledges that it has some internal leadership wrangling but has provided no details.
Loic Kankeu, a lecturer of public law at the University of Yaoundé, said Biya’s absence from conferences aimed at drumming up support indicates the aging ruler is tired. He added that many CPDM supporters want Biya to leave but fear reprisals if they express their views in public.
According to Kankeu, Jean Nkuete, the secretary general of the CPDM party, acknowledged during a meeting with decentralized CPDM party structures this week that leadership squabbles are tearing the party apart. He said malaise within the CPDM is pushing supporters and disgruntled CPDM leaders in many Cameroonian towns and villages to cross over to the opposition Cameroon Renaissance Movement party of Maurice Kamto.
Biya’s supporters are calling on the octogenarian to run for president again in 2025 while the opposition is asking him to hand over power to a younger leader. On July 30, during a visit to Cameroon by French President Emmanuel Macron, Biya said he still has time to decide if he will run again.