Paul Biya: Cameroon’s 'Ghost President'

Yaounde - On the podium for the World’s Longest-Serving President, Paul Biya currently holds the silver medal. 

At an impressive 35-plus years in office, the Cameroonian leader’s ability to keep hold of power over the decades has been remarkable – perhaps all the more so because of how little he actually exercises it.

In our recent investigation with the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, we found that Biya has spent huge chunks of his presidency outside Cameroon. In some years, he has been abroad for a third of the time. 

Overall, he has spent at least four and a half years on “brief private visits to Europe”, often at the 5-star Intercontinental Hotel in Geneva. His official foreign trips add up to at least one additional year.

In response to these eye-opening findings, the government in Yaoundé accused us being “a real office of destabilisation” and defended the president. 
President Paul Biya and Wife 

“Even when Biya is abroad, for republican needs, he governs Cameroon in a very beautiful way,” said Higher Education Minister Jacques Fame Ndongo in a radio interview, “with ICT, it is possible to pilot an organisation from wherever you are”.

The reality, however, is that Biya is neither working from home nor working remotely. Rather, Cameroon is a country with a ghost captain at the helm, a Titanic knocking into one iceberg after another.

Born Paul Barthélemy Biya'a bi Mvondo in 13 February 1933, the Cameroonian politician has been the President of Cameroon since 6 November 1982.

A native of Cameroon's south, Biya rose rapidly as a bureaucrat under President Ahmadou Ahidjo in the 1960s, serving as Secretary-General of the Presidency from 1968 to 1975 and then as Prime Minister of Cameroon from 1975 to 1982. 

He succeeded Ahidjo as president upon the latter's surprise resignation in 1982 and consolidated power in a 1983–1984 fake attempted coup where he eliminated all his rivals. Biya introduced political reforms within the context of a one-party system in the 1980s. 

Under serious pressure, he accepted the introduction of multiparty politics in the early 1990s. He narrowly won the 1992 presidential election with 40% of the plural, single-ballot vote and was re-elected by large margins in 1997, 2004, and 2011. Opposition politicians and Western governments have alleged voting irregularities and fraud on each of these occasions.

Biya is currently the longest-ruling leader (Prime Minister and President) in Africa and the oldest ruler in Sub-Saharan Africa after Robert Mugabe stepped down during the 2017 Zimbabwean coup d'état. 

Biya has maintained Cameroon's close relationship with France, Cameroon's former colonial ruler.

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