YAOUNDE, CAMEROON - In Cameroon, President Paul Biya’s backers are urging him to move up national elections and seek another term for himself while opponents say his 34 years in power has been more than enough.
On Thursday, both camps staged demonstrations here in the capital, and members of the ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement marked the party’s 31st anniversary by showing support for the president at events across the country.
Here in Younde, supporters sang that Biya is their leader and father and that, at age 83, the man remains sharp enough to be president for as long as he wants.
Charlemagne Messanga Nyamding, a CPDM central committee member, said his party wants Biya to change the constitution and organize early elections. The next presidential poll is scheduled for 2018, and a term is seven years. Biya already revised the constitution in 2008 to remove presidential term limits.
Nyamding said Cameroonians have always loved Biya. He said they continue to believe in the president because he has shown – through experience, courage and determination – that he's the best person to develop Cameroon and protect it from crisis and security threats.
But across town, opposition parties organized protests.
Lawmaker Patricia Ndam Njoya of the Cameroon Democratic Union said the country should concentrate on more pressing matters such as development, reforming the electoral code and defeating Boko Haram. The militant extremist group has been attacking security forces and civilians in the north since last year.
Njoya said she found it curious that, with increasing security threats from Boko Haram terrorists and Central African Republic militants, Biya would be so focused on retaining the presidency for life. She called it a total injustice.
Njoya said opposition groups need to unite behind a single candidate, something they never have been able to do before.
Ruling party central committee member Benoit Ndong Soumet said those who say they don’t see positive steps by Biya are blind and ungrateful.
No end to African strongman era
Biya, who has ruled Cameroon since November 1982, is the oldest sub-Saharan African president after Robert Mugabe. The Zimbabwe leader, who turned 92 in February, has headed that country since late 1987.
The end of the African strongman era was predicted back in 2014, when mass protests in Burkina Faso ousted President Blaise Compaore after 27 years in power.
But several countries have proved otherwise.
The longtime leaders of Uganda and the Republic of Congo have just won fresh terms in office, though results of both polls are being contested. Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni has ruled since 1986; Congo’s Denis Sassou Nguesso has led his country since 1979 except for five years in the 1990s.
Rwanda overwhelmingly voted yes in December to change its constitution so President Paul Kagame, who has held office since 2000, could run for as many as three additional terms. And Chadian President Idriss Deby, leader since 1990, looks poised to win a fifth term in April.