YAOUNDE - Cameroon's President Paul Biya Wednesday celebrated his 86th birthday with supporters organizing lavish parties and opponents calling on him to resign.
Biya is the oldest president in sub-Saharan Africa and one of the longest-serving, but critics say his long rule has put the country in a bad position.
Supporters of Biya wished him a happy birthday Wednesday at a party attended by thousands in the capital, Yaounde.
Fadimatou Iyawa Ousmanou, president of Cameroon’s National Youth Council, said they bussed in Biya’s young supporters from all over the country to show respect and gratitude.
"You can see more than two thousand and five hundred Cameroonian young people that came to celebrate that birthday, and we came here to tell the head of state we are willing to work with him. We are encouraging him for what he is doing for the Cameroonian young people and also to promote our patriotic and civil behavior so that we can help in the building of a peaceful Cameroon," Ousmanou said.
While supporters wished Biya divine guidance and a long life, he did not attend the celebration at the Yaounde Conference Center. He organized a private, and reportedly lavish, party at his home village of Mvomeka in southern Cameroon.
While Biya’s supporters celebrated, the opposition Renaissance Movement Party held a protest march in Yaounde calling on Biya to resign and for their leader, Maurice Kamto, to be freed.
Kamto, who claims Biya stole the October 7 presidential election, is under arrest and facing charges including rebellion for protesting the election results.
Thirsty for change
Kamto supporter Clement Metuge said he has known only one leader – Biya - since he was born. He condemned the large birthday celebrations for the president.
"We have constraints economically in Cameroon to deal with Boko Haram, our resources are not even enough for us to manage. All of us are sensitive about the fact that it is not just about his willingness to be in power, it is also about the performance, his age and everything. There is need for change and Cameroonians are thirsty for that change,” Metuge said.
In 2008, Biya revised the constitution to remove presidential term limits. Critics called the move authoritarian and have long accused his government of rigging elections -- allegations that officials deny.
University of Yaounde political analyst Christophe Tiennteu said Biya has ruled with an iron fist for too long. Cameroon, he said, is plunging into an indescribable chaos with incoherent governance and democratic practice. Faced with these challenges, he said, and while craving for change and an end to domination by one man, people are distancing themselves from moves by Biya and his followers that go against Cameroon’s interests.
If something were to happen to the 86-year-old president, said Tiennteu, Cameroon could face a very difficult transition.
While the constitution stipulates new elections if the office of president becomes vacant, Biya is not known to have prepared a successor.