Cameroon president’s 90th birthday marked by cocktail of woes

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President Biya, in power since 1982, is on his seventh term as Cameroon’s leader. Many say it is time for a change.

Edith Kah Walla was at the front of a crowd of students that welcomed Cameroon’s new President Paul Biya on a tour of the United States in 1984, full of hope that the young leader would bring stability and democracy, and end corruption.

Four decades on, Biya, now the world’s oldest leader, turns 90 on Monday. When he cuts a large cake, as he usually does on his birthday, Kah Walla, who was one of Biya’s challengers in the 2011 presidential election, will not be celebrating.

Her support for Biya evaporated over the years as economic progress stalled, dissenting voices were silenced, and the oil-producing country of 27 million people became split by a separatist uprising that has killed thousands, amid growing Boko Haram attacks in the north.

At 90, Biya should spend his days playing with his grandchildren, she said.

“We live in a violent, brutal dictatorship. Over the past 40 years it has gotten more and more violent and brutal,” said Kah Walla, now a civil society activist. “These 40 years are a huge setback for Cameroon.”

A government spokesperson did not respond to calls requesting comment.

Four decades of Biya

Biya has repeatedly defended his record in the past and says the government has made strides to return peace to the minority English-speaking regions where separatists are trying to form their own state.

He touts his Vision 2035 plan as a blueprint to boost development over the next 12 years.

Biya was born in Mvomeka’a, a village in the southern equatorial forest, in 1933, the year Adolf Hitler became chancellor in Germany.

After studying in Paris, he returned to Cameroon in 1962 as a top civil servant and quickly rose to become the prime minister in 1975. He was hand-picked as successor after the country’s first post-independence President Ahmadou Ahidjdo decided to resign suddenly in November 1982.

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