By Kesah Princely & Paul Njie
The President of Cameroon, Paul Biya has marked 37 years in power, since taking office in 1982.
Supporters and sympathizers of his ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) Party have in separate rallies on Wednesday, November 6, commemorating the 37th anniversary in power, of a man they describe as peaceful and visionary.
Paul Biya, Cameroon’s second head of state, ascended to power on November 6, 1982, two days after the resignation of his predecessor, Ahmadou Ahidjo, who led the country for 22 years.
The 86 year-old leader who is credited for restoring multi-party politics in the Central African country has encountered numerous challenges in the past 37 years.
For nearly four decades, the octogenarian president of Cameroon has gone through economic, social, and political upheavals.
Shortly after he took office, the country plunged into an economic crisis, which lasted the 1990s.
Before 2000, Cameroon and Nigeria clashed over the Bakassi peninsula – an oil-rich area in Cameroon’s South West. The tussle over Bakassi left serious consequences on both Cameroon and Nigeria. The UN-mediated peace talks between both countries after a court ruling by the International Court of Justice, acknowledging Cameroon as the real owner of the area. The controversial peninsula was fully handed over to President Biya in 2008.
Another economic setback was recorded in 2008 when massive protests over the high cost of living took place in some major cities.
After surviving these hurdles, Cameroon was slapped by Boko Haram insurgency in the country’s Far North region around 2014. This pushed Paul Biya to declare war against the terrorist sect. The war against Boko Haram has lasted for about 5 years, with several casualties on both sides.
One of the most severe challenges that the Biya government has been grappling with, is the ongoing Anglophone armed conflict, in the bilingual country’s two minority Anglophone regions.
In 2016, Anglophone lawyers and teachers complained of marginalisation from President Biya’s Francophone dominated government. In 2017, the crisis reached apogee and some Anglophone youth took up arms and outrightly demanded secession from Cameroon.
Their quest to form a separate state called Amazonia has resulted in an enormous battle with government forces till date.
The Anglophone crisis, according to human rights groups, has led to the death of about 3000 people, the displacement of close to a million others, and destruction of infrastructure.
What Biya’s Supporters Think
Allies and supporters of the 37-year-old Biya administration say their leader is the rightful person to oversee the speedy development of the country.
Some say President Biya is a rigorous ruler, who has and will continue to do much for his country and its people.
In an exclusive interview with TWIF NEWS, Dr. Kingsley Lyonga Ngange, a CPDM party militant in Buea, said they are celebrating both President Biya as a man, as well as his achievements.
According to the University Don, their national party chairman and President of the Republic has over the years built solid state institutions such as the Constitutional Council, the Lower and Upper Houses of Parliament, which he believes are a strong force in the democratization of the CEMAC member country.
Despite the fact that the celebration of President Paul Biya’s 37th anniversary in power coincides with the ongoing conflict in Anglophone Cameroon, Dr. Ngange intimated: “no one is happy that we have refugees in Nigeria; that youth are dying every day; that people are being beheaded, kidnapped; no one is [also] happy that the economy in this part of the country is down.”
“But, we are saying that beyond this, there is hope and that’s why in the celebration, we are putting in mind the challenges of our compatriots who are currently in the South West and North West; some are IDPs and some are refugees…in the face of difficulties, we are optimistic that there is hope for a return of peace,” he added.
What the Cameroonian opposition thinks
As typical of several opposition political parties in Africa, the anniversaries of long-time leaders is nothing worth celebrating.
The case of the Cameroonian opposition has not been any different. Speaking to TWIF NEWS earlier on Wednesday, Social Democratic Front (SDF) Party Senator, Kemende Henry said President Paul Biya ought to have stepped down for meaningful development to take place.
According to the senator, President Biya inherited a peaceful and economically buoyant country.
If he were to relinquish power, “he would be handing over that same country with a shattered economy and a war-devastated society,” he averred.
The barrister cum senator unequivocally stated that the present regime is worse than the previous one, insisting that the government under President Biya’s leadership is a failure.
The opposition politician claimed that Cameroon’s Head of State has often tampered with the constitution to suit his political agenda.
“He is not a respecter of the constitution… He can be described as someone who does scam on Cameroonians as far as the constitution is concerned.”
The President in 2008 introduced a bill to scrap off a presidential term limit from the country’s constitution. He has also failed for 23 years to implement the 1996 constitution’s provision of decentralisation as the system of governance; he has equally failed to declare his assets as required of all state officials by the constitution, says the senator.
More to this, the President has failed to give a time table for implementing certain provisions of the country’s constitution, Senator Kemende added.
Despite the impression political affiliates and opposition parties have about President Biya’s stay in power, ordinary Cameroonians have varied perceptions of “The Lion Man.” While some value his leadership and wave frequent motions of support, others see him as a dictator whose stay in power only keeps the country in chaos.