YAOUNDÉ - Africa's oldest and second longest serving leader, Cameroonian President Paul Biya, celebrated his 88th birthday on February 13. Ceremonies were organized in Cameroon’s major towns, with loyal government ministers and young people pledging their support, while those opposed to his 39-year rule demanded the octogenarian hand over power. Biya is blamed by some for the several crises his country is facing but his supporters maintain that he is a godsent leader.
Thousands of youths at the Yaoundé Multipurpose Sports Complex sing an anniversary song wishing 88-year-old Cameroonian President Paul Biya long life and good health. The young people said they were invited for the anniversary celebration by Cameroon’s government.
Among them is 28-year-old Fatimatou Iyawa, president of the Cameroon National Youth Council. She said Biya works tirelessly to improve Cameroon.
"We are here to wish him a happy birthday because it is not everybody who is lucky to have his age. He is our patriarch, he is our example, he is a role model for the Cameroonian people. We have modern sports infrastructure that he put at the disposal of the Cameroonian young people. There are schools, universities with modern equipment that he put at the disposal of the Cameroonian young people," said Iyawa.
Ernestine Mokake, 24, another member of the youth council, said she does not see any reason to celebrate Biya’s 88th birthday. She says it is unhealthy for a man at an advanced age to hang onto power.
"He has been too long in power. Since 1982, we have had just one president. Look at a country like America, from 1982 to 2021, they have had seven presidents. In my country for the sake of democracy, governance, accountability, peace and nation-building, I would have preferred that at least we have a second president. At least for a change." she said.
Biya took office in 1982 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.
Main opposition parties such as the Social Democratic Front and the Cameroon Renaissance Movement party of Maurice Kamto, say Biya is responsible for the several crises in Cameroon. Kamto claims he won the 2018 presidential elections and Biya stole his victory.
Cameroon has for four years been fighting a separatist movement that has left more than 3,000 people dead in its English-speaking western regions. Boko Haram terrorism on its northern border with Nigeria has displaced more than 20,000 people. The spillover of violence in the neighboring Central African Republic creates tension in eastern Cameroon.
The opposition blames Biya for ordering his military to fight disgruntled separatists instead of opening what they call a true dialogue to solve the crisis. They also say Biya uses excessive force, and his military targets civilians suspected of collaborating with Boko Haram.
Addressing Cameroon youths February 10, ahead of the February 11 National Youth Day public holiday, Biya blamed some young people for the crises the country is facing.
Biya said he regrets that some Cameroonian young people have decided to rally behind the demons of hatred and division to the detriment of national unity. He said such youths are driven by barbaric fanaticism nurtured from foreign countries or by a pervasive use of social media to undermine Cameroon’s unity. He said he is urging young people to avoid such negative role models.
At 88, Biya is Africa’s oldest president. He is the second longest serving leader in Africa after his neighbor, Thedoro Obiang Nguema, of Equatorial Guinea. Obiang has been in power since 1979.
An earlier version of this article erroneously indicated that Paul Biya has served as president of Cameroon for 50 years.