Thursday, November 30News That Matters

The oldest president in the world celebrates his 90th birthday marked by a cocktail of woes

President Biya, in power since 1982, is on his seventh term as Cameroon’s leader. Many say it is time for a change.

Paul Biya
Cameroon President Paul Biya, from the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement party, wait to cast his vote during the presidential election in Yaounde, Cameroon [File: Sunday Alamba/AP Photo]

When Paul Biya, the new president of Cameroon, visited the United States in 1984, Edith Kah Walla was at the head of a group of young people hoping to see the young man bring stability, democracy, and an end to corruption.

Biya, who is currently the oldest leader in the world, turns 90 on Monday. Kah Walla, one of Biya’s rivals in the 2011 presidential election, won’t be rejoicing when he slices a big cake, as he typically does on his birthday.

Her support for Biya vanished over the years as economic progress halted, dissenting voices were stifled, and the oil-producing country of 27 million people became split by a separatist movement that has killed thousands, amid escalating Boko Haram attacks

She suggested that Biya, who is 90 years old, spend his days playing with his grandchildren.

“We reside under a harsh, murderous tyranny. It has become increasingly aggressive and brutal over the past 40 years, according to Kah Walla, a civil society activist today. “Cameroon has suffered a great setback over the past 40 years.”

Calls to the government’s press office went unanswered for comment.

Four decades of Biya

In the past, Biya has defended his record numerous times, claiming that the government has taken steps to restore calm to the English-speaking minority regions where separatists are attempting to establish their own state.

He promotes his Vision 2035 strategy as a road map for accelerating development over the following 12 years.

Biya was born in 1933, the year Adolf Hitler was appointed chancellor of Germany, in the settlement of Mvomeka’a in the southern equatorial forest.

After completing his studies in Paris, he returned to Cameroon in 1962 as a high-ranking official and soon advanced to the position of prime minister in 1975. He was personally chosen as the nation’s first post-independence president Ahmadou Ahidjdo’s replacement in November 1982.

Only Teodoro Obiang of Equatorial Guinea has ruled for a longer period of time in Africa.

Despite concerns from international observers about the fairness of the elections that Biya consistently wins handily, millions of people continue to back him. He and his wife Chantal spend a lot of time in luxurious hotels around Europe, which frustrates many people at home who think the nation’s difficulties demand more attention.

In 2020, he vanished from view for several weeks, sparking rumors that he had succumbed to COVID-19.

The former minister, Elvis Ngolle Ngolle claimed that Biya governed with transparency and tolerance. Age has many benefits, he claimed.

The more you add up the age, the wiser you become—the more experienced, tolerant, logical you become,” Ngolle said.

‘I can’t celebrate

Paul Chouta, a well-known journalist and whistleblower, disagrees. In recent years, Chouta, a vocal opponent of Biya, has endured numerous beatings and acts of torture. He is constantly afraid; even the sound of his floors creaking makes him anxious.

Unknown attackers put him in the back of a car on March 9 of last year and took him to a remote location close to the airport in Yaounde. He claimed that after beating him with stones and batons, they abandoned him.

Chouta is one of several journalists who have been murdered or beaten. The United Nations condemned the deaths of two journalists in the previous month.

“If he [Biya] loves Cameroonians, let him fix things and go. The woes are deep,” Chouta told the Reuters news agency.

Not just well-known journalists are on guard.

Last week, Kouam Yves, a motorbike taxi driver, was chatting with coworkers while reading the newspaper at a newsstand. He has financial difficulties and criticizes Biya for what he sees as widespread corruption. He halted, though, since he was concerned about potential listeners.

I can’t celebrate the head of state’s birthday. For more than 20 years, I have not seen anything which we have executed in this country that went well like in other countries,” he said.


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