Cameroon held birthday celebrations across the country for President Paul Biya, who turned 89 on Sunday. Supporters wished Biya, who is Africa’s oldest and second longest-serving leader, a long life, while some opponents said it’s well past time for him to leave office.
The country’s Ministry of Youth Affairs and Civic education said more than 2,500 young people turned out to celebrate at the sports complex.
Cameroon’s National Youth Council said it organized the birthday celebration in collaboration with the government of Cameroon.
Biya was not physically present at his Yaounde birthday celebration. His representative, Ferdinand Ngo Ngo, Secretary-General of Cameroon’s presidency said Biya is delighted that young Cameroonians love the president.
Ngo Ngo said other nations envy Cameroon because of Biya’s exceptional leadership qualities.
Similar activities were held in towns and villages throughout Cameroon.
The government said young people came out voluntarily to celebrate Biya’s birthday, but critics say they were paid $5 each to take part in the birthday event. During past election campaigns, critics also say Biya has used money to buy people’s votes.
Biya became president in 1982. He took over from Cameroon’s first president, Ahmadou Ahijo. Biya had served as prime minister since 1975.
He has won all multiparty elections since 1992, and the opposition has always complained of heavy election rigging by Biya.
In 2008, Biya abolished the constitution's two-term limit.
Denis Nkemlemo, a spokesperson for the opposition Social Democratic Front, said Biya should leave power if he loves his people. Nkemlemo questioned Biya’s ability to lead as he is getting older.
“It beats everybody’s imagination. For 40 years somebody is president and nobody around him thinks that there can be a Cameroonian to take the relay baton," Nkemlemo said. "This is somebody who is very old, who has not been able to physically attend many occasions that demand his presence because of his age and tiredness and all the other physical disabilities that go with age.”
The government says Biya is in excellent health. The last time Biya was seen in public was when he presided over an Africa Cup of Nations final game between Senegal and Egypt at Yaounde’s Olembe stadium. He spent close to 4 hours at the match and the closing ceremony of Africa’s top football event.
The 89-year-old Biya is Africa’s oldest president. He is the second-longest serving leader in Africa after his neighbor, Teodoro Obiang Nguema, of Equatorial Guinea. Obiang has been in power since 1979.