Cameroon’s Biya set for election victory

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Cameroon’s president, Paul Biya, on course to win Sunday’s election, will use a new term to try to build a favourable legacy to his decades in power with major construction projects, and to anoint a successor, analysts say.

During his 29-year rule, Biya has kept the central African oil-producer on a relatively stable path in a volatile region — although critics say sometimes at the expense of democracy.

The one-round vote comes just weeks after a smooth handover of power in Zambia showed that Africa can deliver peaceful political change through the ballot box. But Biya, 78, looks set to remain one of the continent’s dwindling clutch of rulers with decades of power to their name, Reuters reports.
“We feel that it is likely he will stand and win the election before managing a mid-term handover of power — provided a deterioration in his health does not necessitate a more rapid and potentially volatile handover,” Roddy Barclay, London-based analyst at Control Risks consultancy, said.

The election, which Biya’s rivals say has been skewed against them from the start, has been marked by a splintered opposition and tensions that last week saw a gunman hold up a bridge in the economic capital Douala in an apparent anti-Biya protest.

BELOW POTENTIAL

Biya has implemented piecemeal democratic changes, and sees himself as personally vested with the mission of guiding Cameroon through difficult times.

Aside from its oil, Cameroon is the region’s main port and breadbasket, supplying Chad, Central African Republic, Congo Republic and Gabon. It also hosts the Chad-Cameroon pipeline and shelters several thousand refugees from the region’s conflicts.
“In an increasingly uncertain world, we have made sure to stay the course where many nations, including some of the most advanced, are struggling to steer their boat,” Biya told his ruling CPDM party at a congress in September.

Cameroon’s media and opposition have criticised Biya for lax governance, allowing corruption, red tape and nepotism to fester. The IMF has described its forecast 3.8 percent growth this year as below potential.

With the goal of securing emerging market status for Cameroon by 2035 — putting it in the same bracket as countries such as Mexico or Malaysia — Biya is building roads, power plants, and a deep sea port. He is also seeking to attract more investment to the country’s agriculture and mining sectors.
“Cameroon will be transformed into a construction site,” Biya said of three hydroelectric projects, a gas terminal and oil processing and storage plants.

SWEET TALK

Biya faces a fragmented opposition field of 22 candidates including veteran challenger John Fru Ndi of the Social Democratic Front (SDF) and Adamou Ndam Njoya of the Cameroon Democratic Union (UDC).

And a history of badly run elections and a perception that Biya controls key state institutions has dampened enthusiasm among voters.
“I don’t have anything to tell you except that I don’t care who wins,” said David Ngale, a 45-year-old taxi driver in the capital Yaounde. “Politicians are the same. They only fool us with sweet talk and (squander) our money.”

Brice Momo, a 61-year-old teacher, said arguments that Biya had brought stability to Cameroon did not justify his long rule.
“His supporters say the country has remained peaceful and stable during his reign, but do we eat that? I can only compare the peace in Cameroon to the peace and tranquility in the graveyard where everyone is dead,” he said.

But small-time trader Naomi Essama, in one of Yaounde’s neighbourhoods said she wanted Biya to win.
“My hope is that this man who has been there for long now will win the election and pay more attention to our problems this time,” she said.

The opposition has complained that while their campaigns have been restricted by funding and limited air time on television and radio, Biya has used ministers, government officials and state machinery for his campaign.

They have also complained about Biya’s tight grip on the election process. The president has nominated members of the national election body, set key dates on the election calendar and appointed the judges who will rule on the final results.

Cameroon’s last serious unrest was in 2008, when Biya’s move to scrap term limits and mounting anger over food prices led to violent street protests in which over 100 died.

Authorities arrested around 200 people in a crackdown on protesters from Cameroon’s English-speaking minority who attempted to hold rallies on October 1, with some threatening to disrupt the election.
“This situation, still embryonic, can quickly degenerate into a violent conflict,” warned Africa expert Landry Signé, a fellow at Stanford University.