Biya rakes in 33 years in power, still going strong

By: NDI EUGENE NDI

Cameroon President Paul Biya clocked 33 years at the helm of the Central African nation on November 6, 2015.

The 82-year-old was sworn in for the first time as Cameroon’s second president on November 6, 1982, following the resignation of Ahmadou Ahidjo.

To Biya’s supporters, the 33 years have been a period of success, while those who do not share his vision feel they have been wasted decades.

Should President Biya finish his current mandate that ends in 2018, he would have ruled Cameroon for 36 years, 13 years more than his predecessor.

Mr Biya (pictured) served as prime minister under Ahidjo from 1975 before taking the top job.

Political observers in Cameroon think President Ahidjo underestimated Mr Biya — imagining that after handing over power to his premier, he (Ahidjo) would still dictate policies to him.

TOTAL FLOP

The strategy was a total flop.

The retired Ahidjo’s attempts to teleguide and even overthrow Biya a year after ceding power bore no fruit. The first president of Cameroon finally died in exile in Senegal, a victim of the same draconian laws of subversion that he ordered drafted.

President Biya’s survival of an April 6, 1984 coup bid mounted by Republican Guards, who controlled the most sophisticated arms, has, according to political pundits, remained one of the leader’s “miracles”.

Despite the fact that Cameroon was “not a liberal democracy” then, in 1990 a group of radical politicians, among them Yondo Black and Albert Mukong, attempted to form a political party and were promptly arrested and detained.

The act would have been punished by instant execution had it happened during President Ahidjo’s reign. But surprisingly, Biya called for their release and pardon.

SOCIAL DEMOCRATIC FRONT

Many political observers in Cameroon believe that it was Biya’s tolerance towards these “radical” politicians that stimulated the creation in 1990 of the current leading opposition party, the Social Democratic Front (SDF) of Ni John Fru Ndi.

While many Cameroonians think that by allowing Fru Ndi and his followers to launch the SDF, Mr Biya was just being humane given the existing laws, others think the president feared Ndi had the backing of foreign powers, given the numerous interviews he and and his supporters granted foreign media.

Rather than order the arrest of Ndi and his followers, President Biya cautioned supporters of his governing Cameroon Peoples Democratic Movement (CPDM) to be ready to face competition.

He has also used the art of diversion — shifting public attention from the government’s deficiencies.

FIFA WORLD CUP

After the killings of six activists at the launch of the SDF in Bamenda in the then Northwest Province, President Biya successfully diverted public attention from the tragedy to the Fifa World Cup competition in Italy for which Cameroon qualified.

For as long as the Cameroon was succeeding — at least by drawing their matches — the eyes of many citizens remained glued to the television screens, where cameras were most often focused on the president smiling in satisfaction.

The president had called back legendary footballer Roger Milla from retirement to join the national team for the tournament.

Whatever be the “magic” President Biya has used to maintain a firm grip on power, his 33-year tenure has been severely criticised by most Cameroonians, who see him as a dictator.

But Prof Ngolle Ngolle, Minister of Forestry, thinks the number of years spent in office did not matter. “He came to power in 1982; from the standpoint of the constitution, from the standpoint of history, from the standpoint of political legitimacy. The Cameroonian people have in 33 years given their support, their voice and their approval because in every competitive election, the party led by the president has won overwhelmingly. So in terms of legitimacy, it is founded, in terms of constitutionality, it is founded and in terms of history.’’