Paul Biya’s scandalous seventh term

Cameroon’s incumbent President Paul Biya (C) casts his ballot as his wife Chantal looks on in the polling station in Bastos neighbourhood in the capital Yaounde, on October 7, 2018 during Cameroon’s presidential election. – Cameroonians began voting in crunch presidential polls, with octogenarian leader seeking a seventh term against a backdrop of unprecedented violence in the country’s English-speaking regions. (Photo by ALEXIS HUGUET / AFP)

President Paul Barthelemy Biya’a bi Mvondo (Paul Biya) of Cameroon won an unprecedented seventh term in office in the polls that were conducted recently in that country.

Although the elections were marred by irregularities, the Biya-controlled election machinery went ahead to declare him winner. This again is a scandalous development for Africa.

At 85 years, Biya is officially sub-Saharan Africa’s oldest leader and has been in office for 36 years.

It is on record that he came into office in 1982 when then President Ahmadu Ahidjo resigned suddenly and anointed him as his successor.

Since then Biya has clung to power through polls – 1984, 1992, 1997, 2004, 2011 and 2018 – that were adjudged patently fraudulent by the international community.

In the last elections, voter turnout was abysmally low at 5% particularly in the country’s two Anglophone regions – North West and South West.

He has thus joined the league of sit-tight leaders who in spite of age and infirmity cling to the rungs of power.

But how has Cameroun fared in the last 40 years? Can Biya beat his chest and claim economic prosperity and political stability as one of his legacies?

Cameroun is a divided country along Anglophone and Francophone lines. The deep poverty and economic difficulties in the country have exacerbated ethnic and regional tensions.

Biya reportedly spends more time in France than he does in his impoverished country. His subservient allegiance to the ‘French empire’ has helped him to remain in power in spite of mounting opposition.

His control over a highly politicised army is yet another factor that has kept him in the saddle.

But the questions arise: is Biya the only qualified politician to rule Cameroon? What legacy is he building that he must stay in office for nearly four decades?

Has he thought about the future and stability of the republic? Why has he not given way to a younger successor a practice, which he benefitted from? Why has he not learnt from the positive examples of Julius Nyerere of Tanzania and Nelson Mandela respectively who relinquished power voluntarily? Why has he decided to travel the dishonourable paths of former presidents Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Mobutu Sese Seko of Republic of Zaire?  

Democracy is all about freeing up the space for mass participation. It is true that a popular politician could genuinely win the ballot several times over on account of a stellar performance.

If it is genuinely the will of the people then such a leader can continue to serve the motherland.

After all, Lee Kuan Yew (LKY) was in power for 32 years in Singapore which he raised from Third to First World.

However, social convention also recognises the possibility of exploitation of a system. It is for this reason that tenures are constitutionally limited in some cases.

At 85 years of age there is little doubt that Biya does not have much to offer the people of Cameroon anymore. He ought to have stepped down since and prepared the country for a young and dynamic successor.

Corruption is rife in the country. He leaves the administration of the country in the hands of the Prime Minister, which has earned him the title ‘absentee president.’

The era of sit-tight leadership is over. Africa has only a few left, men with a messianic complex who believe that the nation would collapse without them.

As a result they manipulate the constitution to grant them tenure-elongation.

President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Paul Kagame of Rwanda and Africa’s longest-serving President Teodoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea fall into this category.

The brutal dictators that led the continent in the years when military rule was still fashionable left no enduring legacy. They truncated the continent’s development by imposing their self-serving views on millions.

The continent is yet to shake off the effects of those locust years. Biya therefore is an anachronism, an ugly image from the ugly past of the continent that the people would rather forget.

History, we dare say, first comes as a teacher; when it comes again it is in form of a rebuke.

No dictator who saw himself as the most important person in the land has lived to tell a good story. We therefore advise Biya to take urgent steps to avert the ignominy which befell characters like the Mobutus, the Mugabes, and the Laurent Gbagbos in recent African history.             

In all of this we are compelled to ask: where are the people? Where do they stand? They should realise that they are sovereign and that a cabal cannot and should not hijack power from them permanently.

They along with the opposition should continue to press for their rights and constitutionalism. They should continue to insist on free and fair elections.

It is in order too to bring their plight to the attention of the international community. France the major bulwark of the Biya junta should remember that ultimately the will of the people will triumph.

They are currently sustaining an aging doddering misfit as head of a country that is in a shaky economic state.

The citizens are divided. The Anglophone region accuses the central government of developing infrastructure only in the Francophone zone.

This is definitely cruel and unacceptable. France has not got out of its imperial attitude of divide and rule which, caused havoc in Africa.

It amounts to double standard to encourage a political culture and practice in the ‘post-colony’, which they won’t tolerate in their home country. Millions of lives are at stake. This is another sad story about Africa.  

We call on Biya to walk the path of honour and make way for a younger generation to take on the reins of power. He should think Cameroon; not himself.

The country will outlive him. He should not sow a seed that will create permanent instability in the country as the experience in the Republic of Zaire has shown.
Personalising government has been detrimental to the growth of Africa. We should build institutions that can survive the test of time and stimulate economic prosperity.

Even in the advanced nations that have stable institutions there are limits to tenure. This is common sense.

Institutional governance should not be centred on one person: It should centre on the rule of the organic law of the land.

So, the people of Cameroon should wake up, freeze (their) complacency and take back their country from the rubble of the years of locusts that Biya has nurtured.

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