Supporters of Africa’s second-longest serving leader, Cameroon’s 88-year-old President Paul Biya, are celebrating his 39 years in office on November 6.
Biya, who has been Cameroon’s president since 1982, is rarely seen in public these days.
Meanwhile, Biya’s opponents are saying renewed calls for the octogenarian to run for president in 2025 cannot be taken seriously.
Supporters of Cameroon’s ruling party, the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement, CPDM, sang that Biya can still rule the central African state for another seven-year term, starting in 2025.
Biya was declared the winner of the country’s 2018 election garnering over 80% of the votes.
The song was sung in towns and villages across Cameroon during celebrations of Biya’s 39 years in office.
One event was held in Monatele, capital of Lekie, a department near Cameroon’s capital, Yaoundé. Henri Eyebe Ayissi, Cameroon’s state property, survey and land tenure minister, and Biya’s close ally led the CPDM party delegation to Lekie and delivered what he called a special message for Biya supporters.
Ayissi said the CPDM is appealing for a national consensus for Biya to seek a new term in 2025. He said the Lekie Division is making an appeal to Biya to accept the call to run for president in 2025 and continue the good works he is doing for Cameroon.
Ayissi said Biya has maintained unity despite Boko Haram terrorism on Cameroon’s northern border with Nigeria and the separatist crisis that has killed at least 3,000 people in the English-speaking western regions.
Ayissi said several million Cameroonian children have access to education because Biya has built schools and universities in many towns and villages of the central African state.
The call for Biya to run for president again when his current seven-year term ends in 2025 was echoed in several towns and villages, sparking criticism from Biya’s opponents.
Christopher Ndong, secretary-general of the Cameroon Renaissance Movement — a party that claims its candidate, Maurice Kamto, won the 2018 election and that Biya stole his victory — Ndong says an invitation for Biya to be a candidate in 2025 means the CPDM wants the octogenarian to die in office.
“It is a slap in the face of Cameroonians and democracy in this country. Given his age, what will he do with power? Right now, he is not active. Honestly, this is a provocation of the first order. Look at the chaos all over the place. The country is in debt. In fact, it shows you that there is nobody at the head. That 2025 call should not be taken seriously because we know the state and health of the head of state cannot permit him to rule this country in 2025,” Ndong said.
Ngole Ngole Elvis, head of the CPDM party academy and Biya’s close aide, says calls for Biya to run are democratic. He says instead of complaining that Biya has been in power for long, the opposition should prepare to democratically vote for who they think should be their president in 2025.
“Wait for the next election and make sure that you prepare for it in such a way that with your freedom, you should have put in place the right campaign strategies, the right campaign messages, the right manifestos, the right candidates,” Elvis said.
Biya served as prime minister for seven years before becoming president. In 2008, he removed term limits from the constitution, allowing him to serve indefinitely.
He is now the second-longest serving leader in sub-Saharan Africa after his neighbour, Thedoro Obiang Nguema of Equatorial Guinea, who has been in power since 1979.