Cameroon’s Paul Biya marks 40 years as president

© Ludovic Marin, AFP

When Paul Biya first took the helm of Cameroon, Ronald Reagan was in his second year of presidency, Madonna had not yet made the charts and the Soviet Union was still nearly a decade away from break-up.

Biya, who at 89 will notch up 40 years in power on Sunday, became one of the world's longest-serving leaders thanks to iron-fisted rule and support from loyalists in key positions.

After seven years as the central African country's prime minister, he entered the presidential palace on November 6, 1982, becoming only the second head of state since independence from France in 1960.

His four-decade-long grip is a tribute to tightrope-walker skills in a country facing social, political and security problems and struggling with economic disparity.

His nicknames among the public are "Popol", an avuncular form of Paul, and "The Sphinx" -- a testament to his canniness.

"All you have to do is lose your head for a second, and you're done with," Biya told a journalist in 1986.

In October 2018, he won a seventh consecutive term after elections marred by allegations of fraud, low turnout and separatist violence in Cameroon's anglophone regions. He was declared victor with 71.28 percent of the vote.

After the fall of Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe in 2017, Biya became Africa's oldest president and its longest-serving after Equatorial Guinea's Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who seized power in 1979.


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