nonagenarian politics

Cameroon: Early calls for 90-year-old Biya to run again in 2025 stir controversy

By Yves Plumey Bobo

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Posted on May 25, 2023 08:00

 Cameroon’s President Paul Biya at the CEMAC summit in Yaoundé on 17 March 2023. © MABOUP
Cameroon’s President Paul Biya at the CEMAC summit in Yaoundé on 17 March 2023. © MABOUP

Cameroon’s age-old partisan ritual of calling on candidates to declare their candidacies has been revived for the 2025 presidential election. Will Paul Biya heed calls for run for an 8th time?

On 17 May, several figures from the ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) gathered around Public Health Minister Manaouda Malachie for a ‘historic meeting’ at the municipal stadium in Mokolo, in the Far North department of Mayo-Tsanaga.

There, Malachie and his party comrades called on President Paul Biya, their “champion” and “natural candidate”, to run for another seven-year presidential term to ensure the country’s “security” and “stability”. The 90-year-old president, now in his seventh term in office, has been in power since 1982.

According to the minister, support came from grassroots organisations and young people, who wanted to “take a clear stand”.

“If the president continues to make the same pledges as before, then nothing can deviate us from our path, that of supporting him for a new term,” said Mohamadou Bayero Fadil, a CPDM senator whom the minister had made sure to invite, and whose “prestigious presence” was meant to give a “a special cachet” to the event.

Stop dreaming

During the meeting in Mokolo, the powerful Cameroonian businessman successfully rebuked the opposition parties in the midst of the pre-campaign atmosphere. Fadil told Maurice Kamto, president of the Cameroon Renaissance Movement (CRM), to “stop dreaming”, and then rejoiced at “the almost certain disappearance” of the Social Democratic Front (SDF), the other major opposition party, in the upcoming elections.

We must be ready now, regardless of the opponents that our party will face

In what signals that the 2024 campaign is already underway, Kamto is preparing to travel to Paris, where he plans to address Cameroonians abroad during a forum dedicated to the African diaspora on 27 May. On 6 May in Yaounde, the head of the CRM told his supporters: “We must be ready now, regardless of the opponents that our party will face.”

Even among parties officially allied to the CPDM, Malachie’s call was considered rather fanciful.

“Paul Biya has clearly stated that when the time comes, he will tell Cameroonians whether he is running for president or going back to the village,” said Saïdou Maïdadi, one of the leaders of the National Union for Democracy and Progress, a party that is on the rise in the northern region and which now heads the mayor’s office in Ngaoundéré. “He therefore knows exactly what he will do and does not need anyone to help him make his decision.”

Not what the people are asking for 

Beyond the political parties, Malachie’s initiative aims to allow the Far North’s young people “to express their unwavering commitment to the head of state”. However, in the country’s northern regions, where the CPDM is highly criticised, some have instead used this as an opportunity to unleash a barrage of vitriol against the public health minister.

“We have not [declared] him as our leader,” said Martin Zoua Lacdanné, a young civil society activist.

A blogger very active on social media, Lacdanné feels that the Far North’s youth is especially “tired of being a victim of Boko Haram” and terrorism, and does not appreciate being ‘used’ by the public health minister as he calls for presidential candidates. According to Lacdanné, the region’s young people are demanding access to employment, training and health.

This is a widely held point of view.

“The region’s youth have never demanded that you speak to Paul Biya on their behalf,” says Adolarc Lamissia, another member of civil society, in another open letter addressed to Malachie. According to the journalist and trade unionist based in Adamaoua, one of the many needs of the people of Mayo-Tsanaga is access to clean water.

“This is what the people are asking for,” he said.

“Paul Biya still has very good days ahead of him”

“There is a big difference between social media and reality. Making noise every day on the web is useless,” Fadil said on Facebook, ironically. He concluded by directly addressing the opposition leaders, whom he feels are out of touch with everyday life in Cameroon.

“You have to go out and assess his strength on the ground,” Fadil said. “From what I saw, Paul Biya still has very good days ahead of him.”

Another prominent Cameroonian politician seems to share this opinion.

Following in the footsteps of her colleague in public health, Celestine Ketcha-Courtès, the minister of housing and urban development, organised a march on 20 May in Bangangte, her stronghold, to encourage calls for an anticipated Biya presidential campaign announcement in 2024.

The race for militant fervour is definitely on.

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