Cameroonian President Paul Biya, Africa’s longest-serving leader, secured a seventh term in a landslide electoral victory earlier this month. But the vote took place amid accusations of fraud and an increasingly deadly separatist crisis in the bilingual nation.
Biya received 71 percent of the vote in the Oct. 7 election, while lead opposition candidate Maurice Kamto garnered just 14 percent, according to the Constitutional Council.
“Thank you for your renewed and large confidence,” Biya tweeted. “Let us now join in taking up, together, the challenges that confront us.”
The council maintained the result was “free, fair, and credible” and rejected more than a dozen legal challenges from the opposition. Ahead of last week’s announcement of the results, the government deployed heavily armed troops in major cities to avoid any opposition-led demonstrations against the integrity of the vote.
Biya, 85, has served as the Cameroonian president since 1982. His government in 2008 scrapped presidential term limits, paving the way for his unlimited rule. But his latest victory points to increased apathy among Cameroonians: Only 54 percent of eligible voters participated, compared to 68 percent in the 2011 election and 79 percent in 2004, according to the website ElectionGuide.
“Biya always wins,” Suh Emmanuel, a driver in the English-speaking region, told The Guardian. “I am not interested in the results.”
Unrest began in the country’s English-speaking regions in late 2016 after lawyers and teachers demonstrated against marginalization. Cameroon is officially a bilingual French- and English-speaking country. English speakers make up 20 percent of the population.
Following the government’s violent response to the demonstrations, armed separatists declared the region a new state called Ambazonia. Fighting between separatists and security forces have killed hundreds of people and displaced more than 240,000 others.
In the English-speaking Northwest Region, voter turnout was 5 percent, while only 15 percent of voters turned out in the Southwest Region, which is also English-speaking, or Anglophone.
Since Biya’s victory, anti-riot police have arrested more than a dozen peaceful protesters, and the government banned all public demonstrations. Last week, at least 15 people died when the military staged a raid on suspected separatist training grounds in the Northwest. Many residents fled the region, and others planned protests in churches and schools to try to avoid clashes with police.
Christa Banla, who lives in the region’s village of Ngarum, told Voice of America the military drove residents from their homes. “We were only coming back in the evening to discover that the compound was destroyed by the military and burned down,” she said. “We do not even have food to eat, no clothes to wear.”
Hans Heungoup, the Central Africa senior analyst with the International Crisis Group, said Biya’s stance on the Anglophone crisis, as well as on other security and political issues, has ruled out inclusive dialogue and openness to reform. “There’s no sign that he has shown that makes us think he will change the way he rules the country,” Heungoup said.