Friday, April 17, 2020

Mystery: 'this is the reason why they will never have the head of Paul Biya'

The reputation of the Cameroonian president sails between fantasies of a curious population and traits of character confirmed by the very close circle. Sometimes dead, sometimes resurrected, he plays with the nerves of his people.

In Cameroon, reputations are forged at lightning speed. Many are based on nothing and can often come close to gossip or slander. Others are fairly easily verifiable and find an explanation in the sociology of the country. Paul Biya, the first Cameroonian, is no exception to this harsh reality. 

Its mysterious side gives rise to various comments and jokes. Just as it has helped to forge many myths about him. The movement of his jaws, for example, always leaves one wondering, when he appears during public ceremonies, on television and especially during the grand parade on May 20 for the Cameroonian national holiday. Paul Biya always seems to be chewing something. Political scientist Mathias Owona Nguini, an informed observer of political mores in Cameroon, does not go there by four paths: 

"It is very likely that it is the bark of trees or the roots of plants that he chews when he is in public; and which would allow him to be invulnerable to any form of external aggression. " 

A way of “armoring oneself” therefore, as we prosaically say in Yaoundé or Douala. 

But one can wonder if Owona Nguini delivers an objective analysis there or if he summarizes the feeling of his compatriots. Cameroonians have a strong propensity to convey stories that touch on parapsychology. This is also confirmed by Charles Atéba Eyéné, author of several hagiographic books on Paul Biya: 

“We are Bantu. And, in this sense, adversity is never far away. It is therefore normal for the president to protect himself, even if we will never know exactly what he is chewing. It is obvious that all of this has an almost mystical side that impresses. ”

Charles Atéba Eyéné even thinks that it is necessary to “arm yourself” like this for a politician. Especially when he is so unfamiliar with crowds as the Cameroonian head of state is. 

The meeting with Chantal 

On this plan, Michel-Roger Emvana, author of a biography of Paul Biya, Secrets of the power at Karthala, affirms that "Biya lives withdrawn on itself, which lets hover many gray areas . Besides, he only works with men in the shadows ”. Michel-Roger Emvana thus confirms a widely held idea, even in the depths of working-class neighborhoods, according to which his first political and diplomatic adviser was none other than Yvon Omnès, former French ambassador to Cameroon from 1984 to 1993. 

Another sensational subject is the meeting of President Biya with Chantal, the First Lady. When he married her for the second time in 1994, comments were rife about the place and the origin of their meeting. Bad tongues quickly tell that the President would have robbed one of his courtiers. Still others evoke the allegedly dissolved past of this young woman born in 1971 and her manners, it is true at that time, little customary with the uses of the republican protocol. 

Seventeen years later, we know a little more. At least on the place where their idyll was born. Michel-Roger Emvana gives a very crisp version: 

“They met during a party in Mvomeka'a [the President's native village, editor's note]. Chantal Vigouroux was invited because she was very close to the late Elise Azar, the wife of Bonaventure Mvondo [dit Bonivent], the son of Paul Biya's older brother. ”

They would then have known each other in the greatest secrecy for more than a year, before formalizing their union by a marriage which continues to flow many d ink and saliva. A simple story therefore, and almost romantic, as the very zealous biyaïste Charles Atéba Eyéné suggests. 

Troubled relations with the army 

The one who is also delegated to the press and to the communication of the youth section of the Democratic Rally of the Cameroonian People (RDPC), the ruling party, on the other hand raises the tone when it comes to '' evoke Biya's relations with the army, which the opposition describes as relations of submission to one another. 

“President Biya is not hostage to anyone; there is not a single country where the army is not spared, "he claims to justify the fact that the wages of men in uniform were not affected when the salaries of civil servants were reduced three times during the 1990s. 

However, the reform of the Cameroonian army which took place in 2001 was mainly perceived by public opinion as a vast promotion operation for numerous officers, and as a pretext for enlarging the body of generals. Since the Cameroonian army has not really undergone any redevelopment since 1973, the reform that took place ten years ago makes many observers say that it is the expression of the fragile relationships between the head of state and the military since the assassination attempt that he suffered in August 1983 and the coup d'etat in April 1984.

Without asserting that Paul Biya is "hostage" to the army, as his adversaries say, his biographer Michel-Roger Emvana nevertheless believes that "the fact of sparing men in uniform allows him to maintain a certain stability for his regime and in the country ”. Even if, still according to Emvana, he would have hardly forgiven the authors of the putschs of 1983 and 1984, despite the amnesty law of 1989. 

The tenacious resentment 

The political scientist Mathias Owona Nguini seems to know well the "a little bit vindictive" side of the head of state, who would not support any authority other than his own or anything that could overshadow him. "His extremely tense relations with Titus Edzoa [Editor's note: former secretary general of the presidency accused of having embezzled 61 billion FCFA, or 93 million euros, and imprisoned for fifteen years] are only related to the precedence that this last has on the President in the order of the Rosicrucian, "says the academic, who is also the son of one of the laying of the regime. 

This is reminiscent of the shattering sacking, in early 1987, of William Etéki Mboumoua. The Minister of Foreign Affairs and former secretary general of the Organization of African Unity (OAU) seemed, at the time, to be in the spotlight. "All of this was not looked upon favorably by Paul Biya, especially since Etéki is the only boss, apart from former President Ahidjo, whom he had, between 1962 and 1965." 

Songo'o virtuoso 

If Paul Biya is not known to be someone very fiery or very festive, a reputation seems to stick to his skin. Everyone agrees that the Cameroonian President is an excellent songo'o player. This game is often mentioned by Biya's opponents to make fun of him: he would not work and would spend his time playing. His supporters believe, however, that by dint of practicing it, he has become a great strategist.

This board game typical of the Center and South regions of Cameroon can find an equivalent in the West with the game of chess. Highly strategic, it consists of taking the maximum number of pawns from your opponent. The rules of the game vary according to ethnic groups, which implies a fairly detailed knowledge of local customs and habits. “Biya is an expert on songo'o; I had the opportunity to see him play on several occasions, "confirms Michel-Roger Emvana, who adds that his partners are not necessarily his ministers, but a very closed circle of bulu elites, the president's ethnic group. 

These parts of songo'o, as explained by the president's biographer, sometimes lead to long festive evenings in the residence of the head of state in Mvomeka'a, where good wine flows freely and where dance to the rhythm of the bowl, a dance for two of the Fang-beti-bulu peoples of South Cameroon. A painting that contrasts with the stilted image of a former seminarian that Paul Biya has been carrying for almost thirty years.