Tribalism, Betrayal and Alliance: The tales of Cameroonians waiting to succeed Paul Biya

In October, 86-year-old Paul Biya, who has been in power for 37 years, embarked upon a final seven-year term after an election that was a foregone conclusion. Although it is by no means clear who will succeed him, the fact that the same elites have been entrenched for decades in Cameroon leaves little room for a young figure to emerge. An investigation.


Potential successors

One salient feature of the national political scene is that the majority of possible presidential candidates have been behind bars since the launch of the Epervier anti-corruption drive in 2006. Their real ‘crime’, however, is to have revealed their ambitions too early. Although Paul Biya’s retirement should open up the way for some of them, including Jean-Marie Atagana Mebara and Marafa Hamidou Yaya, the figures who currently enjoy the trust of the Cameroonian president are discreetly reinforcing their networks and their positions. At the age of 60, Louis-Paul Motaze is the omnipresent personality in the regime. The minister of finance since March 2018, he has sought to hone his image through authoring a strategy document on growth and employment which is supposed to help the country to ‘emerge’ by… 2035. Other figures such as 76-year-old Laurent Esso are still in the thick of things. With a background in intelligence and having served as a minister for decades, the current minister of justice from the minority Duala community knows the inner workings of the Cameroonian political scene as well as anyone. Though he keeps a low profile, the 70-year-old communications minister, Rene Emmanuel Sadi, remains perhaps Biya’s most trusted ally, having served as secretary-general at the president’s office.


But despite the presence of these pillars of the system, attention is increasingly focusing on 62-year-old Samuel Mvondo Ayolo, who has been chief of staff since 2017. This nephew of the president who has served as ambassador in Paris has carved out his own sphere of influence at the Etoudi palace, though he is struggling to extend his networks beyond the circle of his mentor Paul Biya.


Chantal’s recruits

Though she strives to focus attention on her charity work, Chantal Biya is nevertheless actively promoting allies from her native region of Haute-Sanaga in the centre. Parachuted into the post 2011, the current secretary-general at the president’s office, 58-year-old Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh, is close to the first lady and is working his way up through the echelons of state (WAN 792). Instead of being sanctioned following the cancellation in November of the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, for which he was in charge of the FCFA 1,200 billion ($1.8 billion) budget, he was promoted to minister of state. A senior figure in the ruling Rassemblement democratique du peuple camerounais (RDPC), he unofficially oversees the intelligence services. He is seen as the invisible hand behind the arrest in March of the defence minister Edgar Alain Mebe Ngo’o. The name of the deputy chief of staff at the Etoudi palace, 45-year-old Oswald Baboke, is also on people’s lips. A native of Haute-Sanaga, he runs Chantal Biya’s private office.


Hopeful opponents

As was the case in Congo-K, the post-Biya era may be conducive to an opposition figure who did well in October’s presidential election. An ex-minister turned opponent, 65-year-old lawyer Maurice Kamto hopes to build on his runner-up result. In jail since 26 January together with a hundred or so upporters (WAN 795), he enjoys some room for manoeuvre due to the national reach of his party, the Mouvement pour la renaissance du Cameroun (MRC).


The former president of the bar, 66-year-old Akere Muna, appears to be the only potential anglophone candidate thanks to his NOW movement (WAN 768). Unsullied by the regime’s track record, he enjoys credibility both at home and abroad. After his remarkable third place in the presidential election, 39-year-old Cabral Libii recently turned his 11 millions de citoyens movement into a political party. This Bassa, whose political role model is Emmanuel Macron, will put his popularity to the test again in the general election in late 2019.


This article originally appeared on Africa Intelligence

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