Cameroonian president Biya marks 41 years in power

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Paul Biya, the president of Cameroon, celebrated 41 years of rule over the Central African nation yesterday. Aged 90, Biya has become one of the world’s longest-reigning leaders through an authoritative governing style and unwavering support from key loyalists.

Following seven years as the prime minister of Cameroon, he assumed the presidency on November 6, 1982, becoming only the second head of state since the nation gained independence from France in 1960. His four-decade tenure demonstrates his ability to navigate challenges in a nation grappling with social, political, and security issues, along with economic inequalities.

Known to the public by nicknames like “Popol”, a familiar version of Paul, and “The Sphinx”, highlighting his longevity, Biya once remarked to a journalist in 1986 that “all you have to do is lose your head for a second, and you’re done with.” Following the departure of Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe in 2017, Biya became Africa’s oldest president and the longest serving, after Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who assumed power in 1979.

In October 2018, amidst allegations of electoral fraud, low voter turnout, and violence in Cameroon’s anglophone regions, he secured a seventh consecutive term with 71.28 percent of the vote.

In recent times, he has intensified repression against all forms of opposition, drawing rare criticism from the United Nations and Western governments. Public appearances by Biya are now limited to meticulously prepared televised speeches. Biya’s “system” involves strategically appointing loyalists to significant positions, reinforcing his prolonged rule. Individuals who have opposed Biya have faced consequences, those who contested him, ending up in prison.

Biya rejected demands for federalism in the English-speaking regions, leading to a radicalization of the anglophone campaign and resulting in a crackdown that caused widespread unrest and casualties.

Biya, born in 1933, initially pursued training to become a Catholic priest before studying at the prestigious Sciences Po university in Paris, with France being a significant ally and investor. Following the death of his first wife, Biya married Chantal in 1994, who is known for her extravagant hairstyles and significant age difference. He survived a coup attempt in 1984 that greatly affected him, altering his public appearances and distancing him from public interaction.

His prolonged absences from Cameroon, often spent in Switzerland, have faced criticism, with reports suggesting extensive time spent abroad, costing the country millions.

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