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Paul Biya

Paul Biya

Considered to be a worldly and educated man, Paul Biya (born 1933) served Cameroon in many positions as a career bureaucrat. When he became president of his west Africa nation in 1982, he acted to create a more efficient government. Over time however, many critics believe Biya's rule has become repressive and ineffective.

Paul Biya was born in 1933 in the southern Cameroonian village of Mvomeka'a. His parents were not wealthy, but his small village was a surprising springboard for his accomplishments. At age 7 his parents sent him to the Catholic mission at Ndem, approximately 30 miles from his home. One of Biya's French tutors there found his work excellent, and determined that Biya should become a priest. At age fourteen he was admitted to Edea and Akono Junior Seminaries, run by the Saint Esprit fathers. His future was brightened further when he gained admission to the Lycee General Leclerc in Yaounde, Cameroon's capital; Lycee Leclerc is French Cameroon's most prestigious high school. At the Lycee, Biya studied Latin, Greek, and philosophy.

Biya's excellent work in secondary school allowed him to study at the University of Paris, where he focused on law and political science. He received his law degree in 1960. After graduation, Biya lived in France and studied public law at the Institute of Overseas Studies. In 1962, when Biya returned to Cameroon, he did so at a historic point in his nation's history. That turning point for Cameroon would provide opportunities and difficulties for Biya in the coming years.

Division Between North and South

To understand the challenges facing Cameroon, it is important to know its history. The Republic of Cameroon was once a German protectorate. In 1916, France and the United Kingdom (U.K.) came to rule over it. The colonial rule continued even after the creation of the League of Nations, a precursor to the United Nations: In 1922, the League allowed France and the U.K. to rule the segments of Cameroon that were then under their control.

Thus it happened that the nation was divided, north from south, French from British. Although those nations no longer rule over the country, the division is still a real one in a country split by language-French and British-and by religion-Muslim and Christian.

On January 1, 1960, the French part of the country achieved independence from French rule. Named as its first president was Ahmadou Ahidjo, a Muslim from the north. The English section also gained independence on October 1, 1961; part of the British zone voted to join neighboring Nigeria, and part voted to join the former French zone. The reconfigured nation had become the Federal Republic of Cameroon.

This was the nation to which Biya returned in 1962. He was put in charge of the Department of Foreign Development Aid. That position reported directly to President Ahidjo, and also gave the young Biya experience in money matters on an international scale.

Worked Closely by President's Side

Biya's relationship with the president was a fascinating one, and would define much about Biya's future. Over time, Ahidjo became Biya's political mentor, and the men became very close. Their backgrounds, and even their personalities, were very different, however. Ahidjo had worked as a telephone operator before becoming president, and he had only an elementary school education. Although Biya came from humble beginnings, he was highly educated and enjoyed classical music and tennis. Despite these differences, Biya became a loyal follower of the president.

Under Ahidjo, Biya held a number of positions. He worked as chief of the cabinet, secretary general of the presidency, and minister of state, Cameroon's highest-ranking minister. In 1975, Ahidjo chose him as prime minister, a position Biya held until 1982. According to the Cameroonian constitution, this made Biya Ahidjo's legal successor.

At that time, Cameroon had a single-party government. Biya also achieved success in the party, the Cameroon National Union (CNU). His skill at party politics would prove invaluable to him later, as he jockeyed for position with Ahidjo, who served as head of the party as well as president.

Assumed Presidency

The events of November 6, 1982, are still debated by historians. On that day, President Ahidjo, citing health concerns, resigned as president. As was required by the constitution, he handed over the presidency to Biya. The action stunned the nation; Biya was largely unknown to the populace, and he was untried as a head of state.

It appears that Ahidjo expected that he would remain firmly in control of the country after his resignation. He, like many, believed the party head position to be superior to that of president. The CNU, as the only party, set policy for all government actions; the president was expected merely to carry out the directives.

Biya's initial actions as president confirmed this view. Soon, however, the historic rivalry and tension between north and south caused him to shift gears. When he discovered that the bureaucrats from the north would not follow his lead and his orders, he began to replace some of Ahidjo's ministers and closest aides-many of whom were northerners-with men loyal to him, often southerners.

Strengthened His Power

Two coup attempts also strengthened Biya's control. In August 1983 a coup attempt was seen as an effort by Ahidjo to regain power and influence. This failed coup resulted in Ahidjo's forced resignation from the party chairmanship and his exile to France. The more deadly coup occurred in April 1984, when members of the presidential guard loyal to Ahidjo tried to capture the palace. After three days of fighting the rebels were defeated. Ahidjo, living in France, was again officially accused of plotting the attack.

While these plots were hatched and coming undone, Biya's star was rising. In September 1983, he was elected president of the CNU; he abolished that party and established the Cameroon People's Democratic Movement, or CPDM. And on January 14, 1984, he was reelected to be Cameroon's president. Flush with success, he made the puzzling promise that there would from then on be more democracy within the party, but that no opposition could be admitted. However, repression, not democracy, has been the hallmark of his administration.

Despite the contradiction, hopes were high after Biya's election. The economy was booming, and his focus on appointments based on merit rather than on cronyism suggested a turning point for the country. As Howard French wrote in the New York Times, "Western investors briefly considered Cameroon, rich in natural resources, to be Central Africa's promised land."

Biya's rule had some successes. Later elections showed that he allowed more choice of candidates within the one party. In 1986, Cameroon resumed diplomatic relations with Israel, relations that had broken down after the 1973 Middle East war; Cameroon was only the fourth black African state to do so. And in 1987, a visit to Cameroon by the Nigerian president improved relations with that neighboring country, historically soured by border clashes.

Biya's rule has been dogged by a number of problems. One was a severe economic crisis that began in 1984 and that continued for years. When the price of oil on the world market collapsed, the prices for Cameroon's main crops-cocoa, cotton, coffee, and palm oil-also dropped. Oil is Cameroon's main export, and accounted for about 35% of the budget. Beginning in 1987, Cameroon's economy shrunk for nine consecutive years; some modest growth was evident in 1996.

Also problematic was a large and ineffectual government work force. Biya reduced the budget, throwing many employees out of work. In 1988, Biya agreed to accept loans from the International Monetary Fund. Although the infusion of cash aided the economy, its austerity demands were severe for the poor population.

Ruled Through Repression and Human Rights Violations

Perhaps most characteristic of Biya's presidency is its repressive nature. This was nowhere more evident than in the first multiparty elections to be held in Cameroon. In the late 1980s, a movement was sweeping Africa to allow candidates from more than just the official government parties. Biya resisted the movement, but finally allowed multiparty elections by mid-1990. The presidential election of 1992, however, was a shambles as an exercise in democracy. Most historians believe that Biya was defeated in that election by opposition leader John Fru Ndi. However, Biya had himself declared the winner.

Following the election, Biya declared a state of emergency to combat demonstrations. Large-scale arrests of opposition supporters occurred. Amnesty International recorded numerous instances of illegal arrests, torture, and death at the hands of Cameroonian police. In September of 1997, Amnesty International commented, "Fundamental human rights are persistently violated in Cameroon."

Oddly, it appears that the multiparty elections, which Biya initially opposed, have the power to revive his sagging presidency. Writing for Africa Report, Mark Huband noted the ironic phenomenon: "Biya and other repressive African leaders are becoming rejuvenated with their claimed electoral successes. With enormous confidence, the dictators are bouncing back."

Biya's ability to manipulate public information continued throughout the 1997 presidential election. As the election approached, Biya's government refused to allow the creation of an independent body to organize and monitor the elections. As a result, the three main opposition leaders, including Fru Ndi, opted to boycott the vote, "rather than participate in what they and many Cameroonians considered a charade," according to Howard French in the New York Times.

The ultimate result of Biya's repressive regime cannot be predicted, but popular unrest is growing. A reporter for The Economist wrote "Anti-government feeling, spurred by corruption, extortion and brutality, is widespread." By apparently manipulating the electoral process fraudulently, Biya's administration has blocked the only avenue to peaceful political change. One Cameroonian told the New York Times that Biya has built his power base exclusively around his own ethnic group, and that he has mismanaged the economy: "All of the ingredients are now in place for a civil war," said the citizen.

Certainly, the authoritarian political structures in Cameroon were inherited by Biya; they were not entirely created by him. Historian Mark DeLancey has noted that the authoritarianism Biya inherited was so strong that Cameroonians, while dismayed with Biya's slow pace toward open democracy, also criticize him for his inability to take charge and face opposition. The heritage of repression has been a difficult one to overcome, both for Cameroon and for its leader.

Biya had one child with his first wife, the former Jeanne Atyam. After his wife died, he remarried. The material benefits of authoritarianism have been great for Biya. The New York Times in 1997 reported estimates of Biya's private fortune as $75 million. This amount reportedly is in addition to two presidential Boeing 747s, two massive homes in Cameroon, and other homes in France and Switzerland.

Further Reading

DeLancey, Mark W., Cameroon: Dependence and Independence, Westview Press, 1989.

DeLancey, Mark W. & Mokeba, H. Mbella, Historical Dictionary of the Republic of Cameroon, Scarecrow Press, Inc., 1990.

Njeuma, Martin, editor, Introduction to the History of Cameroon in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, St. Martin's Press, 1989.

Africa Report, January-February 1993, p. 41.

The Economist, January 22, 1994, p. 45.

New York Times, October 14, 1997, p. 3.

"Country Report: Cameroon-Blatant Disregard for Human Rights," September 16, 1997, Amnesty International,http://www.amnesty.org/ailib/aipub/1997/AFR/11701697.htm (March 18, 1998).

"Many people stay away as Cameroon votes for president," October 13, 1997, Minnesota Daily Online,http://www.daily.umn.edu/daily/1997/10/13/worldnation/wn2.ap/ (March 18, 1998).

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Biya, Paul

Paul Biya (bēyĕ), 1933–, Cameroonian political leader. Educated in Cameroon and France, where he studied at the Sorbonne and other institutions, he joined Cameroon's civil service in 1962. After holding a number of posts under President Ahmadou Ahidjo, Biya became prime minister in 1975 and succeeded Ahidjo as president in 1982. As Biya, who came from the south, consolidated his power in a government previously dominated by northerners, he clashed with Ahidjo, who was accused of an attempted coup and went into exile (1983). Biya has retained power since then. Although he was forced to allow multiparty elections beginning in 1992, the votes have been marred by fraud and other irregularities and by opposition boycotts and divisions.

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Biya, Paul 1933–

Paul Biya 1933

President of Cameroon

Division Between North and South

Worked Closely by Presidents Side

Assumed Presidency

Strengthened His Power

Ruled Through Repression and Human Rights Violations

Sources

Considered to be a worldly and educated man, Paul Biya served Cameroon in many positions as a career bureaucrat. When he became president of his west African nation in 1982, he acted to create a more efficient government. Over time however, many critics believe Biyas rule has become repressive and ineffective.

Paul Biya was born in 1933 in the southern Cameroonian village of Mvomekaa. His parents were not wealthy, but his small village was a surprising springboard for his accomplishments. At seven-years-old, his parents sent him to the Catholic mission at Ndem, approximately 30 miles from his home. One of Biyas French tutors there found his work excellent, and determined that Biya should become a priest. At age fourteen he was admitted to Edea and Akono Junior Seminaries, run by the Saint Esprit fathers. His future was brightened further when he gained admission to the Lycee General Ledere in Yaounde, Cameroons capital; Lycee Ledere is French Cameroons most prestigious high school. At the Lycee, Biya studied Latin, Greek, and philosophy.

Biyas excellent work in secondary school allowed him to study at the University of Paris, where he focused on law and political science. He received his law degree in 1960. After graduation, Biya lived in France and studied public law at the Institute of Overseas Studies. In 1962, when Biya returned to Cameroon, he did so at a historic point in his nations history. That turning point for Cameroon would provide opportunities and difficulties for Biya in the coming years.

Division Between North and South

To understand the challenges facing Cameroon, it is important to know its history. The Republic of Cameroon was once a German protectorate. In 1916 France and the United Kingdom (U.K.) came to rule over it. The colonial rule continued even after the creation of the League of Nations, a precursor to the United Nations: In 1922 the League allowed France and the U.K. to rule the segments of Cameroon that were then under their control. The nation was divided, north from south, French from British. Although those nations no longer rule over the country, the division is still a real one in a country split by languageFrench and Britishand by religionMuslim and Christian.

On January 1, 1960, the French part of the country achieved independence from French rule. Named as its first president was Ahmadou Ahidjo, a Muslim from the north. The English section also gained independence on October 1, 1961; part of the British zone voted to join neighboring Nigeria, and part voted to join the former French zone. The reconfigured nation had become the Federal Republic of Cameroon.

This was the nation to which Biya returned in 1962. He was put in charge of the Department of Foreign Development Aid. That position reported directly to President Ahidjo, and also gave the young Biya experience in money matters on an international scale.

At a Glance

Born in February 13, 1933 in Mvomekaa; married Jeanne Atyam, 1960; married Chantai; 1 child. Education: Licence en Droit Public, U. Paris, 1960; diplome, Institut dEtudes Politiques Paris, 1961; diplome, Institut des Hautes Etudes dOutre-Mer, 1962; diplome, Etudes Superieures en Droit Public, 1963.

Career: Dept. of Foreign Development Aid, head, 1962-63; Cabinet in Ministry National. Education, director, 1964-65; Goodwill mission to Ghana and Nigeria, member, 1965; Ministry Education, Youth and Culture, secretary-general, 1965-67; Civil Cabinet of Head of State, director, 1967-68, secretary-general to president, 1968-75, minister of state, 1968-75, prime minister, 1975-82; Republic of Cameroon, president, 1982-

Memberships: Mem. Union Nat Camerouaise; Decorated chevalier Order de la Valeur Ccmerounaise; comdr. Nat. Order Fed. Republic Germany, Nat. Order Tunisia; Grand-Croix Nat. Order of Merit Senegal; grand officer Legion of Honor (France).

Addresses: Office Office of the President, care Ctrl Post Office, Yaounde, Cameroon

Worked Closely by Presidents Side

Biyas relationship with the president was a fascinating one, and would define much about Biyas future. Over time, Ahidjo became Biyas political mentor, and the men became very close. Their backgrounds, and even their personalities, were very different, however. Ahidjo had worked as a telephone operator before becoming president, and he had only an elementary school education. Although Biya came from humble beginnings, he was highly educated and enjoyed classical music and tennis. Despite these differences, Biya became a loyal follower of the president.

Under Ahidjo, Biya held a number of positions. He worked as chief of the cabinet, secretary general of the presidency, and minister of state, Cameroons highest-ranking minister. In 1975, Ahidjo chose him as prime minister, a position Biya held until 1982. According to the Cameroonian constitution, this made Biya Ahidjos legal successor.

At that time, Cameroon had a single-party government. Biya also achieved success in the party, the Cameroon National Union (CNU). His skill at party politics would prove invaluable to him later, as he jockeyed for position with Ahidjo, who served as head of the party as well as president.

Assumed Presidency

The events of November 6, 1982, are still debated by historians. On that day, President Ahidjo, citing health concerns, resigned as president. As was required by the constitution, he handed over the presidency to Biya. The action stunned the nation; Biya was largely unknown to the populace, and he was untried as a head of state.

It appears that Ahidjo expected that he would remain firmly in control of the country after his resignation. He, like many, believed the party head position to be superior to that of president. The CNU, as the only party, set policy for all government actions; the president was expected merely to carry out the directives.

Biyas initial actions as president confirmed this view. Soon, however, the historic rivalry and tension between north and south caused him to shift gears. When he discovered that the bureaucrats from the north would not follow his lead and his orders, he began to replace some of Ahidjos ministers and closest aidesmany of whom were northernerswith men loyal to him, often southerners.

Strengthened His Power

Two coup attempts also strengthened Biyas control. In August of 1983 a coup attempt was seen as an effort by Ahidjo to regain power and influence. This failed coup resulted in Ahidjos forced resignation from the party chairmanship and his exile to France. The more deadly coup occurred in April of 1984, when members of the presidential guard loyal to Ahidjo tried to capture the palace. After three days of fighting the rebels were defeated. Ahidjo, living in France, was again officially accused of plotting the attack.

While these plots were hatched and coming undone, Biyas star was rising. In September of 1983, he was elected president of the CNU; he abolished that party and established the Cameroon Peoples Democratic Movement, or CPDM. And on January 14, 1984, he was re-elected to be Cameroons president. Flush with success, he made the puzzling promise that there would from then on be more democracy within the party, but that no opposition could be admitted. However, repression, not democracy, has been the hallmark of his administration.

Despite the contradiction, hopes were high after Biyas election. The economy was booming, and his focus on appointments based on merit rather than on cronyism suggested a turning point for the country. As Howard French wrote in the New York Times, Western investors briefly considered Cameroon, rich in natural resources, to be Central Africas promised land.

Biyas rule had some successes. Later elections showed that he allowed more choice of candidates within the one party. In 1986 Cameroon resumed diplomatic relations with Israel, relations that had broken down after the 1973 Middle East war; Cameroon was only the fourth black African state to do so. And in 1987 a visit to Cameroon by the Nigerian president improved relations with that neighboring country, historically soured by border clashes.

Biyas government has been dogged by a number of problems. One was a severe economic crisis that began in 1984 and that continued for years. When the price of oil on the world market collapsed, the prices for Cameroons main cropscocoa, cotton, coffee, and palm oilalso dropped. Oil is Cameroons main export, and accounted for about 35% of the budget. Beginning in 1987, Cameroons economy shrunk for nine consecutive years; some modest growth was evident in 1996.

Also problematic was a large and ineffectual government work force. Biya reduced the budget, and many employees were out of work. In 1988 Biya agreed to accept loans from the International Monetary Fund. Although the infusion of cash aided the economy, its austerity demands were severe for the poor population.

Ruled Through Repression and Human Rights Violations

Perhaps most characteristic of Biyas presidency is its repressive nature. This was nowhere more evident than in the first multiparty elections to be held in Cameroon. In the late 1980s, a movement was sweeping Africa to allow candidates from more than just the official government parties. Biya resisted the movement, but finally allowed multiparty elections by mid-1990. The presidential election of 1992, however, was a shamble as an exercise in democracy. Most historians believe that Biya was defeated in that election by opposition leader John Fru Ndi. However, Biya had himself declared the winner.

Following the election, Biya declared a state of emergency to combat demonstrations. Large-scale arrests of opposition supporters occurred. An Amnesty International report found online recorded numerous instances of illegal arrests, torture, and death at the hands of Cameroonian police. In September of 1997, Amnesty International commented, Fundamental human rights are persistently violated in Cameroon.

Oddly, it appears that the multi-party elections, which Biya initially opposed, have the power to revive his sagging presidency. Writing for Africa Report, Mark Huband noted the ironic phenomenon: Biya and other repressive African leaders are becoming rejuvenated with their claimed electoral successes. With enormous confidence, the dictators are bouncing back.

Biyas ability to manipulate public information continued throughout the 1997 presidential election. As the election approached, Biyas government refused to allow the creation of an independent body to organize and monitor the elections. As a result, the three main opposition leaders, including Fru Ndi, opted to boycott the vote, rather than participate in what they and many Cameroonians considered a charade, according to Howard French in the New York Times.

The ultimate result of Biyas repressive regime cannot be predicted, but popular unrest is growing. A reporter for The Economist wrote Anti-government feeling, spurred by corruption, extortion and brutality, is widespread. By apparently manipulating the electoral process fraudulently, Biyas administration has blocked the only avenue to peaceful political change. One Cameroonian told the New York Times that Biya has built his power base exclusively around his own ethnic group, and that he has mismanaged the economy: All of the ingredients are now in place for a civil war, said the citizen.

Certainly, the authoritarian political structures in Cameroon were inherited by Biya; they were not entirely created by him. Historian Mark DeLancey has noted that the authoritarianism Biya inherited was so strong that Cameroonians, while dismayed with Biyas slow pace toward open democracy, also criticize him for his inability to take charge and face opposition. The heritage of repression has been a difficult one to overcome, both for Cameroon and for its leader.

Biya had one child with his first wife, the former Jeanne Atyam. After his wife died, he re-married. The material benefits of authoritarianism have been great for Biya. The New York Times in 1997 reported estimates of Biyas private fortune as #75 million. This amount reportedly is in addition to two presidential Boeing 747s, two massive homes in Cameroon, and other homes in France and Switzerland.

Sources

Books

DeLancey, Mark W., Cameroon: Dependence and Independence, Westview Press, 1989.

The Complete Marquis Whos Who, Marquis Whos Who, 1999.

Periodicals

Africa News Service, February 12, 2001.

Africa Report, January-February 1993, p. 41.

New York Times, October 14, 1997, p. 3.

Other

Additional information was found on-line at Amnesty International, http://www.amnesty.org/ailib/aipub/1997/AFR/11701697.htm, March 18, 1998, In-fotrac, www.iac-insite.com, and Minnesota Daily Online, http://www.daily.umn.edu/daily/1997/10/13/world_nation/wn2.ap/

Tim Eigo

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Biya, Paul

Paul Biya

President of Cameroon

Born February 13, 1933, in Mvomeka'a, Cameroon; married Jeanne Atyam, 1960 (divorced); married Chantal, 1994; children: three. Education: University of Paris, law and political science, Paris, France, 1960; diplome, Institut d'Etudes Politiques, Paris, 1961; diplome, Institut des Hautes Etudes d'Outre-Mer, 1962; diplome, Etudes Superieures en Droit Public, 1963.

Addresses: Office—Office of the President, care of Central Post Office, Yaounde, Cameroon.

Career

Head, Department of Foreign Development Aid, 1962–63; director, Cabinet in Ministry National.Education, 1964–65; member, Goodwill mission to Ghana and Nigeria, 1965; secretary-general, Ministry Education, Youth and Culture, 1965–67; director, Civil Cabinet of Head of State, 1967–68, secretary-general to president, 1968–75, minister of state, 1968–75, prime minister, 1975–82; president, Republic of Cameroon, 1982—.

Member: Union Nat. Camerouaise; decorated chevalier, Order de la Valeur Ccmerounaise; commander, Nat. Order Fed. Republic Germany, Nat. Order Tunisia; Grand-Croix Nat. Order of Merit Senegal; grand officer, Legion of Honor (France).

Sidelights

From a childhood in a small Cameroonian village where he lived in poverty, Paul Biya has raised himself to the head of his country, taking over first the job of prime minister and then in 1982 the role of president of Cameroon. He has held that position ever since, retaining power in a series of elections— every seven years—that were boycotted by some and called fraudulent by others. He is known as a sometimes hard and oppressive leader.

Biya was born on February 13, 1933, in Mvomeka'a, Cameroon, a village in the southern part of the country. He grew up rather poor. When he was seven he was sent to a Catholic mission in Ndem to go to school. While he was studying he excelled and one of his French tutors thought his work was so good that he determined that Biya should become a priest. He was admitted to Edea and Akono Junior Seminaries when he was 14, which were run by the Saint Esprit fathers. He next won a place at the Lycee General Leclerc school in Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon. The Lycee Leclerc is French Cameroon's most prestigious high school. While there Biya studied—among other things—Latin, Greek, and philosophy. Because of his continued good work, Biya was accepted to the University of Paris where he studied law and political science. He obtained his law degree in 1960. He stayed on in France for a couple years after graduation to study public law.

While Biya was in Paris the Republic of Cameroon managed to gain independence. Its population was somewhere between 16 and 17 million. The national languages were English, French, and 24 African language groups. The main religions of the country were Indigenous, Christian, and Muslim. Geographically the country is located between West and Central Africa, between Nigeria, Chad, Central African Republic, Congo, Gabon, and Equatorial Guinea. The nation's economy was based on oil production and refining, food production, light consumer goods, textiles, and lumber. Its chief crops were coffee, cocoa, cotton, rubber, bananas, oilseed, and grains.

Biya returned to Cameroon in 1962 just in time to take part in one of the most important times in Cameroon's history. The country had been split into French and British territories, and was further split into Christian and Muslim areas. In January 1, 1960, the French half of the country won their independence and Ahmadou Ahidjo was named president. The English section won independence on October 1, 1961. Part of that section joined Nigeria and the rest joined with the French zone. When they joined together the country was renamed the Federal Republic of Cameroon. So when Biya returned he was able to join a newly constructing government as part of the Department of Foreign Development Aid, of which he was put in charge. He reported directly to Ahidjo.

The president became Biya's mentor despite the disparities in their pasts and personalities. Under Ahidjo, Biya held several positions including director of the cabinet, secretary general of the presidency, and minister of state—the highest ranking minister in Cameroon's government. He was named prime minister in 1975, a position that made him the legal successor to the presidency. At the same time that Biya was moving up in the government he was advancing in the single party that made up Cameroon's government, the Cameroon National Union (CNU). He proved to be skilled at party politics, a trait that would serve him well later on.

Ahidjo resigned his presidency on November 6, 1982, for health reasons and Biya took over as president. Because he was still the head of the CNU, Ahidjo assumed he would still retain control over the country—because there was only one party, many thought the position as leader of the party (the organization that made policies and laws) was actually more important than president. That was all to change. At first Biya seemed to be deferring to Ahidjo, but then he started to make some changes. When he did this some of the ministers and close aides refused to follow his lead, preferring to remain loyal to Ahidjo. When he saw this, Biya began to replace them with men loyal to him rather than to Ahidjo. For this and other reasons Biya had a falling out with Ahidjo causing Ahidjo to leave the country, at which time Biya took over his position as party leader as well. After Biya became head of the CNU he abolished it and instead set up the Cameroon People's Democratic Movement (CPDM). It was around this time that some put forth the idea of allowing multiple parties in the country, but Biya would not allow it.

There were two coup attempts in Biya's early days in office, one in August of 1983 and one the following April. When both failed, Biya's power became more palpable and established. Because of Ahidjo's earlier arguments with Biya he was believed to be behind the coup attempts and he was officially accused. Biya's popularity grew, and he won his first real election on January 14, 1984.

The 1980s passed rather well for Biya's new cabinet, but starting in the early 1990s popular discontent started to rise. Because of these complaints, according to Funk … Wagnalls, "Biya slowly and reluctantly began to implement political reforms." Even then Biya's reign was not approved of by all his countrymen. He refused to allow any other political parties to work in Cameroon until the mid-1990 elections when, because of increasing demonstrations, he finally gave in and allowed other parties to form and vie for the presidency. The elections were a disaster. Most historians agree that Biya was defeated in the election by John Fru Ndi, but Biya had himself declared the winner and then declared a state of emergency and released troops to fight the massive demonstrations that followed the pronouncement. Loads of Fru Ndj supporters were arrested, and Amnesty International, the human rights organization, documented many instances of illegal arrests, torture, and death at the hands of Cameroonian police.

Fru Ndj and his party boycotted the 1997 elections, refusing to take part in something they called a charade. Biya, they have said, runs an authoritarian government, not a democracy, and many have complained that he only supports and helps members of his own community, the Francophones. Issues between northern Francophones and Southern Anglophones have done nothing but increase since Biya took over the presidency. Biya has been pushing all Anglophones out of office.

Despite internal conflicts, Biya has been working to bring Cameroon into a better financial situation. In 2000 Biya set up a deal with Chad president Idriss Deby to install a pipeline from Chad to the Cameroon port of Kribi to transport oil. The oil wells were thought to be feasibly ready to distribute by 2005. The World Bank helped fund a small part of the operation, its "first foray into supporting oil production, " according to the New York Times.

In March of 2003 Biya visited with President George W. Bush at the White House in the United States to discuss trade between the two countries. Cameroon had been attracting more foreign investment and its economy was growing. With an eye to continuing this trend, Biya visited Shanghai, China, in September of 2003 and met with Mayor Han Zheng to discuss strengthening the ties of friendship between Cameroon and Shanghai, and even with the entirety of China. Imports and exports between the two nations had increased by 300% at the beginning of 2003.

Yet things inside Cameroon were still unsettled. "[Biya's] main failing, I believe, was a lack of dynamism, which meant that, too often, there was a disparity between the policies he professed and what actually happened, " William Quantrill, British Ambassador from 1991 to 1995, was quoted as having said in the Africa News Service. Biya has become well known for being unwilling to delegate even the smallest of tasks, causing great delays in the resolution of small matters.

In 2004 Biya was again reelected to Cameroon's presidency, although again opposition parties claimed that the elections were rigged. After he was elected he chose a prime minister to help clean up the public sector. Things had gotten a bit slovenly with government employees coming in later and later and many not doing their work at all. The first step was to lock the door at the ministry offices and refuse admittance to anyone who was late. Director of General Administration Johnson Doh Okie told the New African, "This is just part of efforts to modernize the Cameroon administration, maintain discipline and order, and ensure that people are unctual. Things will not be the same again. The president has decided there will be a change. The time of recreation is over."

In May of 2005 Biya met with Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo in Geneva, Switzerland, to resolve disputes over the Bakassi Peninsula, something that had been going on since the split up of the British section of Cameroon in the 1960s. The meeting was held by the United Nations. Nigeria, in accordance with a 2002 dictate, was supposed to withdraw their troops from the area, but by 2005 they still had not done so. Biya asked the United States to help encourage Nigeria to withdraw from the area (which is rich in oil) by applying pressure on the country since they are one of Nigeria's biggest trading partners.

These were not Biya's only concerns for his new term. Biya's new government was to focus on five points. First, he wanted to modernize the democratic system and fight corruption. Second, he planned on improving the five percent economic growth rate by improving agricultural systems and examining industrial and tourism policies. Third, he wanted to more evenly distribute the growth rate as there were sectors who did not benefit from the growth. Fourth, he wanted to ensure peace and security and better equip law-enforcement agencies so they could more successfully fight crime, insecurity, and terrorism. And fifth, he wanted to improve Cameroon's image internationally.

Unfortunately, Cameroon's citizens in 2005 were still feeling unrest, largely due to the problems between the Francophones and the Anglophones, which Biya has seemed unwilling to fix. He reorganized his entire cabinet when he entered his new term of office in 2005, but rather then give more seating to the underrepresented Anglophones, he gave less. People have expressed a concern that if this continues there will be a civil war. There are other problems in the government as well. According to the Africa News Service, an organization called Transparency International published a report called the Global Corruption Barometer. In 2004 they listed Biya's government as being one of the most corrupt in Africa. They did a study and found that 51 percent of Cameroonians admitted to having paid a bribe at some point in the year previous to the report's release. That was higher than anywhere else in the world.

Biya's private fortune is estimated to be somewhere near $75 million. He also owns two planes, two mansions in Cameroon, and homes in France and Switzerland. Biya has been married twice. His first wife, whom he divorced, died in 1992. He remarried in 1994. Biya has three children. The world looks on eagerly to see Biya implement his new plans for Cameroon to bring the country more firmly into the 21st century.

Sources

Books

Almanac of Famous People, 8th ed., Gale Group, 2003.

Contemporary Black Biography, vol. 28, Gale Group, 2001.

Current Leaders of Nations, Gale Research, 1998.

Encyclopedia of World Biography Supplement, vol. 18, Gale Research, 1998.

Funk … Wagnalls New Encyclopedia, 2005.

World Almanac and Book of Facts, 2005.

Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations: World Leaders, Gale, 2003.

Periodicals

Africa News Service, December 9, 2004; December 14, 2004; April 11, 2005; May 9, 2005; May 17, 2005; June 17, 2005.

Independent (London, England), March 20, 2003, p. 6.

New African, March 2005, p. 25.,

New York Times, October 19, 2000, p. A15.

Xinhua News Agency, September 25, 2003.

CatherineVictoriaDonaldson

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