Sub-Saharan Africa’s Oldest Leader Wins Seventh Term in Cameroon
On Sunday, Oct. 7, Cameroonians went to the polls in what was being called a historical election. President of Cameroon, Paul Biya, one of Africa’s longest serving leaders, has been operating in his position for the last 36 years. Biya, who has ruled since 1982, won the election for a seventh term with 71.3 percent of the vote. His opponent, Maurice Kamto, only received 14.2 percent of the vote, according to the Constitutional Council.
The election results come after two weeks of political tension after Maurice Kamto tried to claim his victory based on his campaign’s figures. Kamto’s announcement led to multiple demonstrations and marches which were contained largely by the police. The president of the Constitutional Council, Clement Atangana, announced the official results in a state television broadcast.
The council, commissioned by Biya, rejected all 18 legal challenges brought against the election and has staunchly defended the validity of the elections. Antangana said, “The election was free, fair and credible in spite of the security challenges in the English-speaking regions.”
The election was held amongst an upshot in violence in the country’s English-speaking regions, in what is being called the Anglophone crisis.
Anglophone separatist groups have taken control in some areas of the two regions of Cameroon that house the English-speaking minority – the South West and the North West – and threatened to violently disrupt the elections in their territory. Since the peak of violence in 2016, approximately 400 people have died while thousands have fled to Nigeria and other surrounding provinces in Cameroon.
Despite the fact that English-speaking provinces contain the countries oil, which accounts for 40% of the country’s GDP, the people there have faced marginalization and lack of infrastructural development, leading some to support the foundation of a separate state called “Ambazonia.”
The divide between English and French speaking Cameroon has its roots in colonialism. The area was originally colonized by Germany in 1884, but French and British troops forced the Germans to leave in 1916. A few years later, 80 percent of Cameroon was given to the French and 20 percent to the British.
In 1960, French Cameroon gained its independence. Later, a referendum resulted in Southern English-speaking Cameroon to join the rest of Cameroon and Northern English-speaking Cameroon to join Nigeria. Tensions have been on and off between the Anglophones and Francophones ever since.
Despite this ongoing Anglophone crisis (which has cost more than $42 million for Cameroon in 2018 alone, according to the IMF) and continued attacks by Boko Haram in the North, President Paul Biya was able to succeed in his re-election bid; however, the Anglophone speaking region had a very low turnout rate because of the clashes between the separatists and the government which forced so many to flee.
Many actors in the international community have concerns about the possibility of Biya’s re-election escalating the Anglophone crisis into a much bloodier and more drawn-out conflict. The United States congratulated the people of Cameroon, but has urged that any disputes be solved peacefully through legal channels.