THE contrast was clear. On Tuesday, while Americans were voting for a president, their 10th president since 1961, three of who did two terms, Cameroonians were celebrating the 30th anniversary of President Paul Biya in power.
Biya is Cameroon’s second president since the country’s independence from France 52 years ago.
His predecessor Ahmadou Ahidjo ran Cameroon for 22 years, got tired (some say sick) and voluntarily handed power to Biya in 1982. Biya, 79, has ruled since them. His supporters are prodding him to stand for another election in 2018, when he would be only 85 years old.
Biya was absent, he practically lives in France, where he meets medical requirements. Cameroon’s 20 million people wallow in the scourge of Biya who is relatively young among sit-tight African leaders.
Their ambition appears to be to beat the 42-year record of Gabon’s Albert Omar Bongo, who only death, at 71, could separate from power.
Ahead of Biya in the dictatorship game are Eduardo Dos Santos of Angola, 70, Equatorial Guinea’s Theodoro Mbasogo, 70, and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe, 88: in power for 32 years each.
Younger members of the club are Uganda’s President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, 68, and in his 25th year in power, Pedro Verona Rodrigues Pires, Cape Verde (78) became President 21 years ago, but had been Prime Minister for 16 years. Others are Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir (68) 23 years, and Idriss Deby Itno (60) of the Republic of Chad, 22 years.
The continued presence of these rulers bears grave consequences for their people and the continent. The opposition is decimated and within their parties, there are no successors in sight, it is considered treason to discuss succession of the leader.
With Biya’s Cameroon still as example, 96.6 per cent of its 21 million population, over 20.28 million, is under 64 years old.
A minor part of that group would have been 12 years old when Ahidjo became president. More than three-quarters of the country, 14 million know only Biya as president.
The tragedies are more. Biya tried democratising the country, but his sweeping powers and decision to hold unto to power has left the country fragmented along ethnic and religious lines.
The opposition wants to know if his successor, from another ethnic group and another religion would be allowed to rule as long as Biya. The question indicates the dangers ahead.
Cameroonians like Zimbabweans, Angolans and Ugandans would be under worse pressure to find leaders when the dictator expires.
Cote d’Ivoire is still in turmoil, 19 years after the death of Felix Houphouët-Boigny, its first president who ruled for 33 years.
African dictators should democratise instead of celebrating destruction of their countries.