As Biya celebrates his 90th birthday, is he heading towards a centenary?
After celebrating 40 years at the helm of Cameroon, the patriarch Paul Biya is celebrating his 90th birthday with only a few discordant voices.
Celebrations follow on from one another within the Cameroonian presidency’s entourage.
On 6 November, several thousand of Paul Biya’s supporters celebrated his 40 years as head of the country. Biya is Africa’s second longest reigning monarch, just behind the 43 years that Equatorial Guinea’s head of state has spent on the throne. However, the clan is hosting a more private affair this 13 February to celebrate the 90th birthday of the self-proclaimed “Lion Man”.
Apart from crowned heads who do not have to go back to the drawing board 100 times, nonagenarians are rarely found at the top of leadership institutions, like Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe, who resigned at the age of 93, and Tunisia’s Béji Caïd Essebi, who died in office at 92. Biya is currently the oldest sitting head of state.
Is Biya’s birthday “private”? The event is making headlines in Cameroon, newspapers and social media echo the lavish festivities in Mvomeka’a, the patriarch’s birthplace, some 250km from Yaounde. After the festivities, it will be interesting to note which privileged person has been invited around the cake to be included in the photo. Beyond blood ties, the political family is having a field day. A member of the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM), Justine Diffo salutes the birthday of the man who mentored her with his ‘institutional aura’ and ‘spiritual halo’.
Even beyond the labelled “biyaists”, each one has his own zeal, more or less constrained by the weight of the presidential institution. On 7 February, the University of Yaounde 1’s rector sent a letter to the heads of departments inviting them to “make arrangements in advance (…) to mobilise students” to the ceremony scheduled for this Monday at the Yaounde Sports Palace.
In Cameroon, where life expectancy at birth is around 59 years, old age is an indisputable reason for respect. Although Biya’s birthday should be the occasion for a 24-hour political truce, the impressive number of years he has lived inevitably gives rise to debates on the succession.
Will the 64-year-old Finance Minister Louis-Paul Motaze win the jackpot when the time comes, or will Biya’s fading from the political scene trigger a clan war? As usual, the current head of state wants to weigh all possible options. Last July, during a press conference with France’s President Emmanuel Macron, “Popaul” reminded everyone that his term ends in 2025, adding: “When this mandate expires, you will be informed of whether I have decided to stay or go to the village.” This seems to suggest that he has not ruled out formally running for president in 2025.
Culled from The Africa Report by Nelly Epupa (Cameroon Intelligence Report)