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Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Paul Biya: Cameroonians born after 1975 do not know these secrets

In 2011, French journalist Fanny Pigeaud published "In Cameroon by Paul Biya" (Karthala ed.), A book against Paul Biya's regime. The book of the former correspondent of AFP and the daily Libération had sparked a lively debate in the columns of the local and foreign press.

What is it really? What are the revelations and first-hand information revealed by this journalist? CameroonWeb offers an excerpt on Paul Biya's personality and the story surrounding his 35-year reign.

Extract With the blessing of his predecessor, Biya thus became at 49 years the second president of Cameroon.

A pure product of the politicization of the bureaucracy operated by Ahidjo, he had previously climbed all the ranks of power without ever having an elected mandate: born in Mvomeka'a (south) in 1933 into a peasant family whose father was Also a catechist, Biya was a pupil at the minor seminary of Saint-Tharcissius d'Edea (south) and then at the seminary of Akono, before joining Leclerc high school in Yaoundé.

After his baccalaureate, he went to France to study at the Institute of Political Studies of Paris and the Institute of Higher Studies overseas. It was there that he was spotted by one of his teachers, Louis-Paul Aujoulat, still very influential on the Cameroonian political scene.

The latter had subsequently recommended him to Ahidjo. On his return to Cameroon in 1962, the young Biya had in this way directly integrated the presidency of the Republic as "chargé de mission". He was appointed director of cabinet and then secretary-general of the Ministry of National Education, Youth and Culture.

In 1967, he became the director of the President's Civil Cabinet, whose position he then served as Secretary General of the Presidency, before being appointed Prime Minister in 1975. Because of this career spent in the offices, Biya was little known to the majority of Cameroonians in 1982. But the few elements available to him about his compatriots seemed positive.

Biya appeared to them to be a simple man first. They remembered seeing him, Prime Minister, riding a bicycle on Saturday in Yaoundé with his friend Joseph Fofé (later Minister of Sports).

He was also considered to be honest: he was not known for any luxurious property in Cameroon or abroad, nor extravagant expenses, nor involvement in questionable financial matters. Although he had long been a close associate of Ahidjo, his arrival at the head of the state was therefore received with much relief by most Cameroonians, who hoped that the years of permanent fear imposed by Ahidjo were terminate.

In fact, the new president was very receptive to the need for change of his compatriots. While declaring that he wants to continue the work of his "illustrious predecessor", he announced that his presidency would be placed under the sign of "Renewal", promising more justice, freedom and democracy.

The signs of his opening were numerous during his first years in power. In November 1983, he passed a constitutional amendment authorizing the multiplicity of candidatures for the presidential election.

He had political prisoners released for some detainees for many years. In the spring of 1983, he toured through each of the eight provinces of the country and became closer to his fellow citizens. In November 1982, he had a salary increase (16%) in the public and private sector, after declaring at the National Council of the UNC, held a few days after his inauguration, that he wanted to make Cameroon .

"A healthy, harmonious society, solidary in its struggles as in the enjoyment of the fruits of development". A few days later, he recruited 1500 graduates of higher education and 1700 in 1985. He increased the budget of the Ministry of Public Health for the year 1984-1985, as well as the Ministry of Education and Ministry of Scientific Research.

It has also increased the amount and number of scholarships awarded to students. The new head of state was also aware of the ills that were undermining the country's economy: corruption and mismanagement.

The clientelist management of Ahidjo was beginning to have repercussions on the functioning of public and parapublic companies. There were more cases of mismanagement and corruption: "In the 1970s, the area around Yaoundé's central hospital was covered with rubbish, rats were swarming there and nurses were urinating in the courtyard. To be effectively cared for, you had to either know someone or pay a bribe.

The patients, once admitted to the hospital, could spend a week without receiving a visit from the doctor. There were still problems of out-of-stock for drugs and various supplies, not just because of theft, but simply the lack of foresight, "according to political scientist Jean-François Médard.

Promising to make Cameroon "a society free from evils such as laxism, business, fraud, embezzlement, corruption, favoritism, nepotism and arbitrariness", Biya systematically put in his speeches the emphasis on "honesty", "probity", "integrity", "professional conscience" and justice. It gave the impression of wanting to rebalance and clean up the economic game, distorted under Ahidjo, which had granted benefits and facilities to some economic operators.

In particular, he shut down fictional warehouses in the port of Douala. It has passed a new Investment Code favorable to local small and medium-sized enterprises, previously disadvantaged compared to large companies. All these measures, and his commitment to change, earned Biya a very high degree of popularity in its early days. "For the first time since independence, a mobilization was triggered spontaneously in favor of the power in place," says Luc Sindjoun.

We were talking about "biyamania". Biya "had the support of a people rid of its tyrant and who showed his enthusiasm in the streets. He had the support of the business community (...). He had the support of the army ", summed up in 1987 Siméon Kuissu, of the UPC in exile36. Even the latter, at first suspicious, finally proved so enthusiastic: in January 1983, its leaders wrote to the president to acknowledge his willingness to open and offer to develop with him "a policy of change in stability" .

On an official visit to Paris in February 1983, Biya said from her side, from the steps of the Elysee: "The UPC as such has no legal existence in Cameroon. But I know that there are Cameroonians who claim this name, some of which are in France. But I say that if they want to return to Cameroon, they can do it. "

Encouraged by these words, so different from the harsh language Ahidjo, many political exiles have decided to return to Cameroon. The future of the country was then rather good.