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President Paul Biya

Paul Biya was born on 13 February 1933 at Mvomkaa, Meyomessala Subdivision, Dja-et-Lobo Division, South Province. President Paul Biya is the second President of the State of Cameroon. He assumed office on 6 November 1982 following the resignation of President Ahmadou Ahidjo. Paul Biya married Mrs Chantal BIYA on 23 April, 1994. He is a father of three children: FRANK Biya, Paul BIYA Junior and Anastasia Brenda BIYA EYENGA.

Biya maintained power through classic authoritarian means. "Tyrants, the World's 20 Worst Living Dictators", by David Wallechinsky, ranked Biya with three others commonly in sub-Saharan Africa: Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, and King Mswati of Swaziland. He describes Cameroon's electoral process in these terms: "Every few years, Biya stages an election to justify his continuing reign, but these elections have no credibility. In fact, Biya is credited with a creative innovation in the world of phony elections. In 2004, annoyed by the criticisms of international vote-monitoring groups, he paid for his own set of international observers, six ex-U.S. congressmen, who certified his election as free and fair."

He has combined strategic political openings (as in the 1990s) with the rare, strategic use of force (1992, 2008). He tolerated (although didn't appear to condone) a high level of corruption, which spread patronage among his allies and underwrote the activities of the ruling Cameroon People's Democratic Movement (CPDM) party. He carefully balanced ethnic, regional and linguistic groupings in the military and bureaucracy, which significantly reduced the influence of ethnic or regional politics. The opposition was largely co-opted, either with ministerial posts, favors or cash. Biya also maintained a highly centralized, hierarchical political system, with a trusted group of senior statesmen or apolitical bureaucrats at the top ("elders" and "faithful").

Biya is also famously enigmatic, which he uses to good effect to keep his Cabinet and potential detractors off guard. This yielded a conservative, preservationist regime. Decision-making is slow and very centralized, the bureaucracy is highly dysfunctional. The government places a premium on maintaining stability and Biya would likely see this as his biggest achievement, especially in the context of Cameroon's great ethnic, linguistic, and regional diversity and the instability plaguing many of Cameroon's neighbors.

Biya was born on 13 February 1933 at Mvomeka'a (Meyomessala) of the late Etienne Mvondo Assam and Mrs MVONDO (born Anastasie Eyenga Elle). In 1948 Biya got the First School Leaving Certificat (CEPE) (Nden); He studied 1948/1950 at St. Tharcissius Pre-seminary, Edea; 1950/1954 at Akono Minor Seminary; 1954/1956 at Lycee General Leclerc. In June 1955 he gained the Baccalaureat lere partie, and in June 1956: Baccalaureat 2e partie Lycee Louis le Grand (Paris). He holds a Degree in Public Law, Diploma of the Institut d'Etudes Politioues, Diploma from the Institut des Hautes Etudes d'Outre-Mer, and Diplme d'Etudes Superieurs in Public law.

Biya was Charge de mission (assistant) in the Presidency of the Republic: October 1962; Director of Cabinet, Ministry of National education: January 1964; Permanent Secretary, Ministry of National Education, July 1965; Director of Civil Cabinet (Chief of Staff), Presidency of the Republic, December 1967; Secretary General and Director of Civil Cabinet: January 1968; Minister of State, Secretary General in the Presidency of the Republic June 1970. He became Prime Minister; 30th June 1975.

Biya has been at the heights of government in Cameroon since 1975, when he became the Prime Minister of former President Ahmadou Ahidjo. On November 4, 1982 Ahidjo surprised the nation with the announcement he was stepping down after 24 years as Head of State. Biya, his constitutional successor, took over as president two days later, according to the constitutional amendment instituted by law n 79/02 of 29th June 1979. On taking the oath of office, he undertook to democratise political life, to bring about social and economic liberalisation, to introduce rigor in management and moralise attitudes, and to reinforce international co-operation.

Over the next ten years, Biya survived a series of crises, including a power struggle with Ahidjo and a coup attempt in 1984. Major social unrest in 1990-92 led to a period of slow reform, including an IMF structural adjustment process (1988), multiparty elections (1992), multiparty municipal elections and a new constitution (both in 1996). Biya allowed greater media freedom and opened up more to the outside world.

Elected President of the Cameroon National Union (CNU): 14 September 1983. Elected President of the Republic on 14th January 1984, reelected on the 24th April, 1988, llth October 1992 (First election with direct universal suffrage with many candidates) : 12th October 1997 and llth October 2004. Elected President of the CPDM, Cameroon Peoples Democratic Party after the CNU was transformed to the CPDM; 24th March 1985 in Bamenda.

When on the 19th December 1990, Mr Paul BIYA promulgated the law on associations and Political parties. He was in effect restoring multiparty politics in Cameroon (since September 1966, when Cameroon was under the one party system). As of today, over two hundred parties have been legalised. The CPDM obtained an absolute majority during the March 1997 legislative elections and its candidate won the Presidential election of October, 1997. The President chose to form a government that included other political parties. Three parties are represented in government; the CPDM, the NUDP and the UPC. And 5 parties were present in the National Assembly: The CPDM, NUDP. SDF, UPC and CDU.

The year 2008 was perhaps the most tumultuous year in Cameroonian politics in the previous decade. Starting on January 1, Biya used his New Year's message to announce his intention to modify the 1996 constitution to eliminate presidential term limits. This sparked nationwide discussion of constitutional change, with many in civil society and the opposition strongly opposed. Discontent with the proposed constitutional change contributed to general frustration with rising food and fuel prices and sparked the country's worst riots in 15 years in February. The government responded with force, resulting in the arrest of over 1,600 people, the death of at least 40 (official figures), and a period of heightened media intimidation. In April, parliament passed the constitutional amendment with virtually no debate, not only eliminating presidential term limits but giving the president immunity from criminal prosecution. The government subsequently released many of those arrested and lifted the restrictions on several media houses.

Biya returned from about six weeks overseas in 2008, staying well beyond the UNGA and Francophonie Summit and fueling rumors that he was in ill health (one media source even reported that he had died). He relied on a small group of advisors for information and, when he was in country, he spent much of his time in his village. While he appeared to be a healthy 75 years old, he did nothing to reduce uncertainty about succession scenarios.

In 2009 Biya commissioned a committee to compile records of his own accomplishments and has, through official media, promoted the release of "Le Code Biya" a French journalist's new book about Biya's leadership. Some implied that these steps suggested Biya was thinking of his legacy and perhaps preparing to step aside. Observers thought Biya seemed fatigued.

Biya often remarked that the manner in which Ahidjo handed power to Biya was "the best way to transfer power in Africa," suggesting that Biya too planned to hand-pick a successor to whom he would transfer the reins of power. Biya did not realize, that Cameroonians will not accept such an arrangement. Chantal Biya and "her entourage" might seek to manipulate Biya and the transfer of power to their own ends. Even Biya's detractors feared that if the President were to suddenly die the lack of a viable succession mechanism and the weak state of political institutions could toss the country into a period of chaos.

Biya's legacy was mixed. He delivered stability, some democratic opening, and limited economic reform. Most visitors who had been away for long periods thought that there had been modest change for the better - more political openness, a lower level of ethnic politics, new construction, less garbage on the streets, and greater economic stability. However, change came very slowly. Many Cameroonians were convinced that people are worse off today than they were in the 1990s. There is a deep-seated despondency.

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Page last modified: 03-01-2018 18:29:37 ZULU