Cameroon’s president, Paul Biya, will celebrate 40 years in power on Sunday, making him Africa’s second-longest ruling leader after Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who seized power in 1979.
The 89-year-old is also thought to be one of the world’s oldest rulers, and his increasingly rare public appearances have raised concerns about his health.
However, speculation about who might succeed Biya, who turns 90 in February, is strictly prohibited in government circles.
‘Ministers have fallen into disgrace just for thinking about a theoretical departure of the president,’ says Aimee Raoul Sumo Tayo, a Cameroon defence and security specialist.
In private, however, conversations abound, with commentators claiming that none of the potential candidates enjoys unanimity, and none of the president’s closest advisers have publicly stated a desire to succeed him.
Biya took office as president on November 6, 1982, after serving as prime minister for seven years, becoming Cameroon’s second head of state since independence from France in 1960.
Commentators attribute his extraordinary political longevity to a combination of astuteness and ruthlessness. He has a tight-knit group of loyalists in key positions, and he crushes or sideslines opponents and rivals.
The Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement, which Biya founded in 1985, says it will celebrate his 40th year in office with a “big party” across the country.
Members of the party are selling caps, scarves, shirts, and multi-colored garments emblazoned with Biya’s face at its headquarters in Yaounde ahead of Sunday’s main event, a’mega-rally’ in the capital.
It will be a celebration of ‘political stability and peace, the biggest successes of the last four decades in Cameroon,’ according to Herve Emmanuel Nkom, a member of the party’s central committee.
However, there is no word on whether Biya will attend the festivities.