French Cameroun dictator Paul Biya is spending more and more secluded time in his palace in Mvomeka’a, his native village in the south of the country. The 86 year old thug calls it his haven of peace, from which locals are kept away. The Mvomeka’s palace has become one of the centres of power and the object of all fantasies in French Cameroun.
To get to the palace, one has to drive through a wide road in the heart of the French Cameroun rainforest. It is a neat floor marking road with perfect layout, potholes non-existent: it looks great. Some political commentators have opined that the road which does not bring anything into the French Cameroun economy remains the first major achievement of President Paul Biya shortly after he came to power in 1982. The road simply links Yaoundé, the capital via Sangmélima, one of the cities of his childhood, and Mvomeka’a, his native village.
For a majority of French Cameroonians – who have never set foot there – Mvomeka’a is a privileged settlement. Among locals, this palace, which they are kept away from, sometimes generates frustration.
Biya feels better in Mvomeka’a. He goes there several times a year. With age telling on him, the average length of his numerous stay has gradually lengthened: whereas he spent only a few days each time a few years ago, he now stays there for several weeks in a row, or even more than a month.
At the entrance to the village, a checkpoint blocks the road. One of three soldiers on guard has the responsibility of checking identification papers of those going into the village. Everyone in the area from 5-year-old kids to 75-year-olds, everyone there is involved in intelligence gathering all in a bid to protect Biya and his family.
A member of the presidential guard recently told Biya that he was on the brink because Ambazonia Restoration Forces have promised to attack him. In Mvomeka’a, the threat is taken very seriously, even when he (Biya) is away.
The dictator who governs the nation like a tribal chief usually travels to Mvomeka’a by road, escorted by two helicopters. It was at Mvomeka’a that he built his first residence, an unpretentious white villa, after his studies in France in the 1960s.
When he became Prime Minister, he built a second villa with support from his late wife, Jeanne-Irene, who died in 1992. The current palace was the idea of the late wife who pushed Biya to buy neighboring lands in order to install his relatives and extend his private presidential site.
Inside the Mvomeka’a palace there are apartments for his aide-de-camp, the director of the civil cabinet, the chief of protocol and his butler. There are also family villas, including those of his late sister and mother, which now look like abandoned property. Today, Mvomeka’a belongs almost exclusively to Biya and his family. But no one other than Biya and his wife Chantal lives in the grounds of Mvomeka’a palace shrouded in mystery.
Perched on the hilly side of the village, the Mvomeka’a palace evokes a romantic oasis for the frail president with an insatiable love for classical music. An endless green grid lined with a gigantic screen of conifers hides the palace from prying eyes. From the top of the palace watchtower, sentry guns in hand are watching for the slightest suspicious gesture. No one is allowed to hang around. From a distance, the most daring can glimpse the family cemetery, where the former first lady, the president’s mother and brother, as well as her stepmother were buried.
Doctors, counselors and general secretaries are regularly summoned to Mvomeka’a with files under their arms to meet Biya in his village where he consults and holds crisis meetings. According to one of Biya’s relatives, these retreats allow Biya to concentrate, away from the harassment of courtiers and other seekers of favors. The Mvomeka’a palace has 260 employees.
By Asu Isong with files from Jeune Afrique