YAOUNDE (AFP) – Cameroon’s ruling party on Tuesday held a rally to celebrate President Paul Biya’s 30 years in power that was marked by modest turnout and the 79-year-old leader’s absence.
Around 3,500 supporters of the Cameroonian People’s Democratic Movement gathered in front of the town hall in the capital Yaounde, an AFP correspondent reported.
“Paul Biya is the man who brought democracy to Cameroon,” the ruling party faithful said in a statement.
Demonstrations by opposition supporters were banned across the west African country.
Biya joins the select club of heads of state who have ruled for at least three decades, just behind Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang, Angola’s Jose Eduardo Dos Santos and Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe.
Biya was reelected with close to 80 percent of the vote last year and could theoretically stand again in 2018 since parliament scrapped term limits in 2008.
In a country with huge ethnic, linguistic and religious diversity which counts no fewer than 10 active rebellions, Biya is seen by some as a unifying figure. Most of Cameroon has a French-speaking colonial legacy, but it also has a smaller English-speaking part.
The opposition sees nothing in Biya but a ruthless dictator sitting atop one of the continent’s most corrupt regimes and leaving most of the country’s 20 million people to wallow in poverty.