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Saturday, October 13, 2018

Paul Biya, the dictator who governs Cameroon from Switzerland

Paul Biya, 85, has been in charge of Cameroon since 1982. As if, in this period of time, Jacques Chirac, Nicolas Sarkozy, Francois Hollande and Emmanuel Macron remained advisors in the shadow of a François Mitterrand still in power.

The Cameroonian president is the oldest African head of state in office and should - if not surprisingly - obtain a sixth reelection after a presidential election held Sunday, October 7, under the total control of the regime. In 2008, the executive branch had taken care to amend the Cameroonian Constitution to remove any limit on the number of offices held.

Four and a half years out of the country

I spent time with Paul Biya at the luxurious Le Royal hotel in La Baule. The old dictator often goes there on vacation. At the time, I worked during the summer at the restaurant service of the palace to finance my studies. In room service, I brought lunches to clients who preferred to eat in their suite rather than at the restaurant.Paul Biya was one of them.

Accompanied by about fifty people, he occupied an entire floor of the hotel during his visits. A question of security, but also of luxury: it needed spacious rooms for all his relatives. I had to hand over the chair's meal to his butler, who was at the entrance to the hall, who was then pushing the trolley to Paul Biya's room.

In the kitchen, he murmured that the expenses of the delegation exceeded happily 10,000 euros per day, rooms and meals included. The Cameroonian president always goes regularly to La Baule.

Paul Biya, nicknamed "the sphinx" for his taste for secrecy, has always enjoyed a good time away from his country. His private trips to Geneva, La Baule or Paris often outweigh the news Cameroonian.

In October 2016, when the accident of a train of the company Camrail, owned by the Bolloré group, had made seventy-nine dead in the city of Eseka, Paul Biya was in Geneva, in a luxury hotel where he has his napkin ring. He had returned to the country more than two days after the tragedy.

The same thing happened when riots broke out in 2017 in the English-speaking region of Cameroon, in the west of the country. This time, the dictator did not even see fit to return to his palace in Etoudi, on the heights of the capital Yaounde. He had only returned from Switzerland three weeks after the beginning of the popular and independentist uprising, which never really fell in English-speaking Cameroon, whose population is thought to have been forgotten by the central government.

The NGO Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), specializing in the investigation of bad political practices, published in February 2018 a report on the presidency of Paul Biya . She estimated that in thirty-six years, the Cameroonian president had spent four and a half years out of the country on private trips, which did not correspond to official political displacements. In some years, as in 2006 or 2009, the Cameroonian head of state spent one third of his time abroad.