Leaders of the opposition were roundly defeated in this month’s national elections that gave the six term incumbent President Paul Biya a new seven year term.
The 85 year old chief of state was returned to power amidst a deepening split along linguistic lines, a quarter of a million of Cameroonians living in exile, and a Boko Haram terrorist camp just above the nation’s border.
Biya can now rule the country well into his 90s. The government did away with presidential term limits years ago.
An investigation this year supported by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project may give a clue to the president’s resilience. Over the course of his administration, President Biya has spent at least four and a half years out of the country on “brief private visits” at the Intercontinental Hotel in Geneva with its views of Lake Geneva and Mont Blanc.
The recent election, upheld by Biya loyalists, may have won the President another term but peace remains elusive as the struggle for the rights of an English-speaking minority is met with force.
If the president sees this as a chance to address anglophone grievances, “we should be optimistic”, said former UN diplomat and coordinator of next month’s Anglophone General Conference, Simon Munzu. “But if Biya, influenced by hardliners, sees the vote as approval of the status quo, “it will be a disaster. It will mean he adopts a high-handed attitude, not wanting to talk to anybody … preferring to pursue the military approach”.
International critiques of the conduct of the election cite numerous irregularities. “By any objective standard, the Cameroonian election on Oct. 7 was a farce,” Foreign Policy magazine observed in a recent article. “Voter turnout was marked by apathy, and in some regions, outright fear, with credible sources saying that less than 1 percent of voters cast ballots in some areas.”
“In the country’s English-speaking regions, harsh crackdowns on an emerging secessionist movement kept many polling stations closed and left others mostly attended by soldiers.”
Protecting President Biya is a powerful constellation of U.S. lobbying and public relations firms that keep in contact with U.S. lawmakers. For their services, Cameroon pays upward of $184,000 a month.
Defeated frontrunner, Maurice Kamto, thanked his supporters on social media which elicited this from Valentina Bih among many: “Thank you for all your sacrifices. You have ignited in us a love for our country. Something we had lost.”