Biya’s 7th term: A standing but dying nation 0

On October 22, the Cameroun Constitutional Council announced that incumbent President Paul Biya won the presidential election with 71.3 percent of the vote. Opposition parties petitioned the ruling of the Constitutional Council, citing eighteen cases of voter fraud, ballot stuffing and intimidation. The Council dismissed each case. After claiming victory for himself earlier in the month, the Cameroon Renaissance Movement (MRC) leader and presidential candidate Professor Maurice Kamto rejected the results. In his refutation, Kamto called on all Cameroonians to be prepared to fight for their freedom and vowed that his party would use all legal means available to restore truth to the ballot box.

In another unusual turn, Archbishop Samuel Kleda, the Archbishop of Douala and president of the bishops’ conference in Cameroon, stated that it was virtually impossible that Biya had won in the Far North and in the two Anglophone regions, the North West and South West, by the landslide margins he claimed. The northern region is the most underdeveloped part of the country, and a majority of residents there still harbor the scars of their parents and loved ones, who were brutally executed by Paul Biya’s government on the heels of an attempted coup d’Etat in 1984. In the Anglophone North West and South West regions of the country, representing roughly 20 percent of Cameroon’s 25 million citizens, Cameroun government forces and Ambazonia Restoration Forces have been fighting since 2017.The conflict has resulted in the deaths of hundreds of civilians and fighters, and Cameroonian soldiers have burnt close to 1000 homes in at least 100 villages in the Anglophone region, following the Biya regime’s “scorched earth” policy. More than 50,000 refugees have fled to Nigeria; over 500,000 people have been internally displaced, and upwards of 300,000 people are estimated to be hiding in the forest.

This presidential election was a watershed moment for Cameroonians to salvage a collapsing nation by listening to the people’s voice at the ballot box. It offered an opportunity to peacefully transition to new and fresh leadership that would reform democratic institutions and apportion political and economic opportunities based on character and merit, instead of deferring, time and again, to corrupt party and tribal lines.

Despite glaring cases of fraud, incredibly low turnout (just 5% of the electorate voted in the Anglophone regions), and popular resentment against Biya’sregime, both domestically and internationally, it appears that the election results will stand. However, these flaws in the election process could hamper Biya’s attempts to attract foreign investment in the future and could further strain relations between Yaoundé and western capitals like Paris, London and Washington.

Biya—86 years old, President since 1982, and suffering from terminal prostate cancer—is no longer considered a force of stability in the fragile central African region. In international circles, he is perceived as a fatigued despot whose failure to adequately manage contemporary political challenges could worsen the already formidable financial, political and social crises confronting the nation. These crises could in turn incur further humanitarian consequences and could exacerbate security threats and stability challenges for neighboring countries, especially Nigeria. To that end, as a measure to contain the challenges presented by French Cameroun, western powers are likely to shift their focus and begin to support the Ambazonia Liberation War in international diplomatic forums.

In the face of mounting domestic strife and piqued international attention, Biya will have to make a number of difficult decisions in the coming months and years. Will he attempt to contain domestic resistance at the possible price of alienating international powers? Ultimately, the Biya regime may opt for peaceful separation with Ambazonia and aim to establish friendly relations with their neighbors by negotiating new trade and security agreements. Otherwise, the Biya regime will face the uphill task of sustaining an asymmetric fight with highly determined guerilla splinter groups, which number over 20,000 fighters and are supported by more than 90 percent of the population. The Ambazonia decolonization process hangs over the head of Cameroon like Damocles’s sword.

By Soter Tarh Agbaw-Ebai

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