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Cameroon's President Clocks 35 Years in Office

FILE - Cameroon's President Paul Biya is seen at the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, Sept. 22, 2017.
FILE - Cameroon's President Paul Biya is seen at the 72nd United Nations General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York, Sept. 22, 2017.

Monday marked 35 years since Cameroon's President Paul Biya took office. His supporters are marking the anniversary with celebrations. His opponents are calling for him to stand aside when the country holds a presidential election next year.

A song, praising Biya for bringing peace and development to Cameroon, blasted through loud speakers in Nanga Eboko, a town in central Cameroon, where thousands of people have been brought in to celebrate the anniversary of Paul Biya's rise to power.

In power for 35 years

Among the speakers was Benjamin Zibi, an official of Biya's CPDM party. He said Biya's supporters are proud because a majority of Cameroonians have adhered to the party's policies for 35 straight years.

He said he can spend the whole night enumerating what Biya has achieved as president, but that the important thing is that he has constantly made sure all Cameroonians live in peace and feel happy in their country.

Professor Elvis Ngolle Ngolle of the University of Yaounde, an ally of Biya's and a former government minister, said the president has stayed in power because he has positively impacted the lives of all Cameroonians.

"We are celebrating not only the progress, the accomplishments of the new deal, but we are also re-awakening caring for one another, making sure that we are assets to one another, making sure that each Cameroonian feels like they belong to the same Cameroon, making sure that we continue to preserve, consolidate, reinforce our national unity, national integrity and peace," he said.

Biya became president on November 6, 1982, after the resignation of the Central African state's first leader, Ahmadou Ahidjo. He has won five elections since then, and in 2008 he revised the 1996 constitution to remove term limits.


A CPDM supporter, 27-year-old Lucas Ndiforba, sees no one inside or outside the party willing to challenge the president.

"No, he wants to remain in power, so we are there," he said. "The day he will say that he wants to step down, we will instead go to the streets for him to remain. We have accepted him as our life president."

Not all Cameroonians feel that way, and parties like the main opposition SDF have been calling on Biya not to be a candidate in next year's election.

The SDF says Biya's policies have reduced economic growth, raised unemployment and allowed corruption to flourish. They say he also has a poor human rights record and throws his opponents in jail.

An official of the opposition NUDP, 34-year-old Ndansi Elvis, said he regrets that since he was born, he has known only one leader. He said instead of celebration, Cameroonians should be mourning this day.

"I have heard my comrades all over Africa celebrate a new president coming to power," he said. "Some have celebrated three, some have celebrated two, but in Cameroon we have seen just one person... How can it be that we can be celebrating 35 years of a monster, that at the 21st century we still have women who can not deliver safely in safe facilities because of lack of hospitals or hospital personnel. How can we be celebrating 35 years of misery, pain?"

But the CPDM, in this song, says at 84 Biya is still strong enough to lead and are urging him to be their candidate again in next year's presidential election.