EDITORIAL – Biya’s 41 Years in power: nothing to write home about

Today marks 41 years of Biya’s presidency – the second-longest serving head of state in Africa. Mr. Biya took over the reins on 6th November 1982 after Cameroon’s first president , Ahmadou Ahidjo, announced his resignation, taking the nation rather aback.

More than 40 years later, almost half of Cameroon’s population – a large majority of them under 25 – have never known any other president except Mr. Biya.

Biya’s presidency was founded on the motto of rigour and moralization and there was great hope and anticipation when the young, buoyant leader took over office. His good looks were just an icing on the cake.

But as the decades wore on, the charm quickly faded away, revealing Mr. Biya’s true character, one in which dissent was only tolerated in rhetoric but never in practice. His opponents often got thrown into jail and those vying for the presidency – his most prized possession – often end up behind bars.

Biya often seems to want to solve problems but in fact only serves his cronies. At the start of the current phase of the Anglophone Crisis in 2017, Mr. Biya instead of giving in to the demands of the newly created Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium (CACSC), he chose to create a commission for the promotion of bilingualism and multiculturalism. The move was castigated by separatists and the wider Anglophone public as not being representative of their interests.

As we write this, a bloody massacre has just taken place in a village near Mamfe, leading to the death of more than 20 people alleged to be separatists. There is a cry in Mamfe that has become sadly all too familiar to Anglophones, while Biya’s supporters gulp down glasses of champagne and dance rhythmically to makossa tunes. They have called for the 90-year-old to run for another 7-year term in 2025 when Biya would be nearly 93.

Sometimes one is prone to wonder whether these people who claim to love Mr. Biya, actually live in the same Cameroon or are they just so evil and don’t care for this country because the rigorous and moral thing to do would be to ask Mr. Biya to step aside now. He should give Cameroonians a chance at trying another hand. Cameroonians have come to simply accept that Mr. Biya is their ate, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are content with the status quo. Cameroonians want better roads which even in the capital city Yaounde, are in a deplorable state. Jobs are scarce and when they do become available, they tend to be reserved for those from particular tribes or political affiliations. The press is also stifled and even penning a piece like this means you keep walking and looking over your shoulder.

Health facilities are in a state of dilapidation and doctors in public hospitals are known to demand up front payment before attending even to patients in critical condition. The case of Monique Koumateke who lost her life in front of the Laquantinie Hospital in Douala in 2016 during Andre Mama Fouda’s tenure as health minister – is all too fresh in the minds of Cameroonians. Koumateke was denied access to the hospital even though she was heavily pregnant with twins. Her sister in a desperate measure, slit her stomach open with a razor blade in an attempt to “deliver” the twins but they too like their mother, were dead. Mama Fouda issued a statement claiming that Koumateke had died before reaching the hospital even though Mr. Fouda was miles away in his office in Yaounde.

During President Biya’s 41 years in power, he has been described by the BBC as “Cameroon’s absentee president” due to his long stays out of the country, mostly in Europe where he is accused of spending huge sums of money in luxury hotels while ordinary Cameroonians die from poor health, bad roads, corrupt practices in almost all spheres of Cameroonian public life which all thrive under Biya’s watch.

So while ordinary Anglophone Cameroonians continue to suffer from abuses by both military forces and separatist fighters, Mr. Biya’s response has been to almost give the military a carte blanche to keep razing villages and killing even those just suspected of being or collaborating with separatist fighters – all this with flagrant impunity.

So while some may sing his praises and say how it is not easy to lead people for 41 years (as if the elections have not been repeatedly rigged), we see nothing worthy of celebrating. After Biya leaves the scene, what legacy would he leave behind? What would be there to celebrate?

The answer is blowing in the wind.

Source: Cameroon News Agency