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Cameroon alive with conspiracy theories on Paul Biya’s health

By Franck Foute, in Yaoundé
Posted on Thursday, 23 April 2020 17:39

Meeting between President Paul Biya and French Ambassador Christophe Guilhou, in Yaoundé, April 16, 2020. © DR / Cameroon Presidency

The meeting President Paul Biya granted to the French ambassador to Cameroon last Thursday continues to captivate the attention of oppositionists from the Yaoundé regime, who dispute that it ever took place. Fuelled by rumours and conspiracy theories, the country is caught up in a political thriller-like storyline as a health crisis looms in the background.

The meeting between Paul Biya and the Ambassador of France to Cameroon Christophe Guilhou was supposed to answer questions surrounding the Cameroonian president’s health status and quiet rumours, with some people even maintaining that he was dead. However, the Etoudi Palace resident’s reappearance on the small screen after not being seen in public since 11 March, when Cameroon had merely two cases of COVID-19, hardly reassured sceptics.

Nevertheless, Ambassador Guilhou said that his meeting on Thursday 14 April was with a “still alert” Biya.

“We had a very long discussion,” he added in a brief statement after leaving the presidential palace, during which he also brought up issues relating to French-Cameroonian cooperation, the focus of his conversation with Biya.

Ultimatums and persistent rumours

On Wednesday, the day before the meeting, Maurice Kamto, a figure who has condemned the president’s silence on several occasions, caused a media uproar when he announced that he had asked the National Assembly to “establish the vacancy of the presidential office.”

READ MORE: Emmanuel Macron remarks spark public outcry in Cameroon

The move was the climax of a series of ultimatums declared by the dissident of Cameroon’s head of state whose “extended and unexplained absence” has been described as “unacceptable” by the leader of the Mouvement pour la Renaissance du Cameroun (MRC).

Despite Biya’s resurfacing (it is noteworthy that he has still not spoken about the COVID-19 pandemic in Cameroon), rumours continue to shake up the public arena. Images from the meeting have not dispelled doubt among the most ardent sceptics. On social media, some people are quick to call the video “fake.”

READ MORE: Fleeing violence in Anglophone Cameroon, life in Douala is a different hardship

Franklin Nyamsi, a Cameroonian professor based in France, even claims that the communications department of the Embassy of France in Yaoundé – which he asserts he contacted – “had no knowledge of such a meeting” and that Guilhou “likely went to the meeting without informing his own department.”

Since then, Nyamsi has initiated a petition calling for the departure of the French ambassador to Cameroon on the grounds of “serious interference and flagrant manipulation of public opinion.”

To date, 9,700 people have signed the petition. However, off the record, a source within the Embassy of France denies that Nyamsi ever tried to contact the embassy.

Reversal of position

In recent days, a reversal of position has occurred. The same opposition groups that once praised Emmanuel Macron’s comments on Cameroon’s socio-political crisis during a video recorded on the sidelines of his appearance at the Paris Agricultural Show, are now criticising France’s position.

READ MORE: Cameroon: After a week of tensions, Macron defuses the situation with Biya

On the other hand, the party in power in Yaoundé, which had become vocal after the French president’s comments, is now defending Paris as its ambassador contends with an onslaught of criticism over the meeting.

“The offensive remarks and inept conduct of certain comrades should in no case discourage our friends,” said Grégoire Owona, Secretary General of the ruling Rassemblement démocratique du Peuple Camerounais (RDPC) party.

In light of the controversy, Guilhou broached the subject on Sunday during a political programme broadcast on national television. During the interview, the French ambassador was careful to downplay his positions, particularly regarding the Cameroonian president’s “alertness.”

“The media asked me how President Biya seemed and I responded that he was the same as he had been during previous meetings,” he said, without elaborating any further on the issue.

Sceptics are still not convinced.

“We’re concerned that Guilhou went along with a sick farce,” said Christian Penda Ekoka, an economist close to Kamto.

At a time when Cameroon has crossed the threshold of 1,000 COVID-19 patients, the health crisis underway in the sub-Saharan African country with the second largest number of infections still seems to be taking a back seat to the endless political sparring matches taking place in the public arena.

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