Paul Biya, who has served as the country’s president for the majority of its people’s lives, celebrated his 40th anniversary in office on Sunday.
At the anniversary celebration, which was attended by thousands of his followers in the capital Yaounde, there were only enormous images of the president who was not present.
Since the July visit by French President Emmanuel Macron, Biya has not made an appearance in public. The president frequently posts decisions and images of Biya receiving different diplomats on social media.
“Since our father took power we live in peace — he protects us well,” said Biya supporter Paul Ambassa on Sunday. “May God keep him.”
On Sunday, however, amid the festivities, opponents of the Biya administration wore black clothing.
“Nov. 6 is considered a day of national mourning because Biya inherited a rich, prosperous and growing country,” said critic Darling Nguevo. “And he set about unraveling every sector of life and society.”
“Corruption has made its bed in the country. So has bad governance. Paul Biya is old and his public appearances are rare, and this is happening against the backdrop of the succession battle,” he added.
The president of Equatorial Guinea, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, has been in office since 1979, making Biya the continent’s second-longest-serving head of state.
Following Cameroon’s independence from France, Biya served as prime minister until taking office as president in 1982. His predecessor had resigned due to illness.
The bulk of the southern Beti ethnic group members Biya appointed in the coming years quickly expanded to dominate top prefect positions and the prime minister’s office.
He survived a coup attempt in 1984. In 1992, when the nation’s first multi-party election was eventually held, Biya only defeated his opponent by four percentage points.
Political commentators claim that throughout the years, Biya’s party has expanded his victories and the majority it holds in the legislature by engaging in everything from fraud to redistricting. Human rights organisations have charged him with using blatant strongman strategies, such as torturing and intimidating his opponents.
Biya has experienced difficulties in recent years, including a separatist movement in the English-speaking parts of Cameroon and a danger from Boko Haram in the north.
Critics point out how corruption has helped to solidify Biya’s rule, with the proceeds allegedly flowing to the president’s family, the security forces, and his political cronies.
The celebrations marking Biya’s 40 years in power, according to political expert Aristide Mono, were “part of a culture of sanctification.”
“The people in charge of these various mobilisations are very much driven by the logic of clientelism, as each tries to show his allegiance, to show a lot of fidelity and loyalty,” Mono said.
As Biya ages, showing commitment has become more crucial than ever. Franck Biya, the president’s son, has been more noticeable by his father’s side. Some believe he is putting himself in position to take his place.
There are worries that once the president’s lengthy term ends, instability could erupt in a nation with more than 200 distinct ethnic groups.
“Biya hasn’t taken the time to prepare a successor, someone who could amply inherit his power,” Mono said.
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