Cameroon's Biya wraps up campaign

2011-10-07 12:41

Yaounde - Cameroon's President Paul Biya wrapped up his campaign with a call for innovation but few dared to predict anybody could stop one of Africa's most entrenched leaders from extending his 29-year rule in Sunday's polls.

"I am urging our youth and tomorrow's Cameroon to create, innovate and dare," said the 78-year-old Biya in his closing campaign speech in the southern economic capital Douala late Thursday.

Recent elections in Zambia brought about a rare peaceful transition of power on the continent and the weekend's other polls in Liberia could return Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, freshly crowned by the Nobel Peace Prize.

Biya however looked in no danger of failing to join the shrinking club of African leaders who have been in power three decades, with critics accusing him of stifling the opposition and locking down the electoral process.

Wrapping up an effortless campaign, Biya defended his record in maintaining political and economic stability and vowed to dedicate his sixth term in office to involving the country's youth in future growth.

He pledged to develop micro-credit capabilities and "support skilled young entrepreneurs in creating companies that contribute to the industry."

Biya floated an incentive-based scheme he said would create 60 000 jobs for Cameroon's youth.

More than seven million of the 19.4 million Cameroonians will be asked to choose on Sunday from among 23 candidates in a single round, after a low-key campaign and amid relative indifference. The Supreme Court will have 15 days to proclaim the results.

Crucial time

The charismatic John Fru Ndi, who leads the opposition Social Democratic Front (SDF) and is standing for the third time, appears to be the only real challenger to Biya.

Political analyst Mathias Nguini Owona warned however that his strategy has "not always appeared very coherent".

"This presidential election won't end in change because it seems that the whole of the system has been organised with a view to re-electing the outgoing president," he argued.

The SDF began by threatening to prevent the holding of an election, demanding guarantees against fraud. Then belatedly, it staged an about-turn and decided to take part in the contest.

In Douala on Thursday, Biya urged the electorate to ignore his rivals.

"Pessimistic rumours have been spreading on the social climate as we approach this crucial time. We will not allow such ill-intentioned prophecies destabilise us," he said.

"The Cameroonian people will, I am certain, show that is has faith in its own future and will not succumb to adventurism," he said.

The opposition, which has cried fraud in all elections in the central African country for 30 years, accuses Biya of having locked down the whole electoral system in his favour.

"The opposition is going in to this election in order to give it a pseudo-democratic appearance. [..] Mr Biya's there and he is going to stay there," writer Odile Tobner commented.

Cost of living

In this context, the security and defence services have been given extra budgets to equip themselves better, and security measures have been stepped up in Yaounde and in the economic capital, the port of Douala in the south.

In February 2008, the police and the army put down riots against the high cost of living and a plan to lift a limitation on the number of presidential mandates so that Biya could stand again. The national assembly approved that proposal two months later.

According to official figures, 40 people died during the unrest: rights groups put the figure at 139.

On September 29, armed men fired shots and stopped traffic on the Wouri bridge in Douala. Nobody was injured. The hitherto unknown Cameroon People's Liberation Army led by Bernard Kisob, whose electoral candidacy had been rejected, claimed responsibility.

For months, voices have been raised across Cameroon and in the diaspora urging Biya to go, assessing his record as a negative one, and accusing him of having plunged the country into stagnation and corruption.