March 28, 2023

Edith Kah Walla was on the entrance of a crowd of scholars that welcomed Cameroon’s new President Paul Biya on a tour of the US in 1984, filled with hope that the younger chief would deliver stability and democracy, and finish corruption.

4 a long time on, Biya, now the world’s oldest chief, turns 90 on Monday. When he cuts a big cake, as he normally does on his birthday, Kah Walla, who was one in every of Biya’s challengers within the 2011 presidential election, is not going to be celebrating.

Her help for Biya evaporated through the years as financial progress stalled, dissenting voices had been silenced, and the oil-producing nation of 27 million folks grew to become break up by a separatist rebellion that has killed hundreds, amid rising Boko Haram assaults within the north.

At 90, Biya ought to spend his days enjoying along with his grandchildren, she mentioned.

“We reside in a violent, brutal dictatorship. Over the previous 40 years it has gotten increasingly violent and brutal,” mentioned Kah Walla, now a civil society activist. “These 40 years are an enormous setback for Cameroon.”

A authorities spokesperson didn’t reply to calls requesting remark.

4 a long time of Biya

Biya has repeatedly defended his document previously and says the federal government has made strides to return peace to the minority English-speaking areas the place separatists are attempting to kind their very own state.

He touts his Imaginative and prescient 2035 plan as a blueprint to spice up improvement over the subsequent 12 years.

Biya was born in Mvomeka’a, a village within the southern equatorial forest, in 1933, the yr Adolf Hitler grew to become chancellor in Germany.

After learning in Paris, he returned to Cameroon in 1962 as a prime civil servant and shortly rose to develop into the prime minister in 1975. He was hand-picked as successor after the nation’s first post-independence President Ahmadou Ahidjdo determined to resign out of the blue in November. 1982.

In Africa, solely President Teodoro Obiang of Equatorial Guinea has dominated longer.

Hundreds of thousands nonetheless help Biya, though worldwide observers have raised doubts in regards to the equity of elections that he routinely wins with ease, He spends lengthy stretches in snug European inns along with his spouse Chantal, irritating many at residence who consider the nation’s crises require nearer consideration.

In 2020, he was not seen in public for weeks, prompting hypothesis that he had died of COVID-19.

Biya has dominated with openness and tolerance, mentioned former minister Elvis Ngolle Ngolle. Previous age, he mentioned, has its benefits.

“The extra you add up the age, the wiser you develop into – the extra skilled, tolerant, logical you develop into,” Ngolle mentioned.

‘I can not rejoice’

Common journalist and whistleblower Paul Chouta disagrees. Chouta, an outspoken critic of Biya, has been repeatedly crushed and tortured lately. He lives in worry: simply the sound of his floorboards creaking sends him right into a panic.

On March 9 final yr, unknown assailants bundled him into the again of a automotive and drove him to an remoted spot close to Yaounde airport. They beat him with stones and batons and left him for lifeless, he mentioned.

Chouta is one in every of a number of reporters who’ve been crushed or killed. Two journalists had been killed within the final month, prompting condemnation from the United Nations.

“If he [Biya] loves Cameroonians, let him make things better and go. The woes are deep,” Chouta advised Reuters information company.

It’s not solely well-known reporters who’re cautious.

Kouam Yves, a motorbike taxi driver, final week stood at a newspaper stand discussing the information headlines with colleagues. He struggles to make a dwelling and is essential of Biya and what he describes as rampant corruption. However he paused as he spoke, frightened about who is perhaps listening.

“I can not rejoice the top of state’s birthday. For greater than 20 years, I’ve not seen something which we’ve got executed on this nation that went nicely like in different international locations,” he mentioned.

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