Some six million Cameroonians are expected to head to the polls on Sunday October 7 to elect their president.
According to Elections Cameroon (Elecam), the country’s elections and referenda management agency 6,598,553 Cameroonians have registered to take part in the vote nationwide, while 19,301 others will vote in the diaspora.
The voters will be choosing from nine candidates; among them is incumbent President Paul Biya who has ruled the Central African state since 1982 and is running on the ticket of the ruling party — Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM).
President Biya is counting on his experience to secure a seventh mandate that would see him extend his 36year stay at Unity Palace (the state house) in Yaoundé to 2025, totalling 43 years at the helm. He served as prime minister for seven years before becoming Cameroon’s second president in 1982.
In a rare campaign outing in Cameroon’s Boko Haram-prone northern city of Maroua last Saturday, President Biya pledged to foster a “modern, democratic, united and peaceful Cameroon."
Critics describe President Biya, 85 and one of Africa's longest serving strongmen, as a president who is always holidaying in Europe while his citizens wallow in abject poverty in a country marred by corruption.
A consortium of investigative journalists, under the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), said in a report in February this year that the incumbent spent "at least four-and-a-half years of his 35 years in power on private visits abroad.”
Yet President Biya, who has “ruled from afar” for over three-and-half decades, is still tipped as the favourite in Sunday’s vote.
His core supporters, mainly senior state functionaries and business magnates believed to benefit from tax exemptions, have been canvassing for the man they describe as their “natural candidate.” The president is also backed by over 20 other political parties and celebrities such as soccer legends Samuel Eto’o and Rigobert Song.
Among President Biya’s challengers at Sunday’s election are Joshua Osih, flagbearer for the leading opposition party, Social Democratic Front (SDF), Prof Maurice Kamto of the Cameroon Renaissance Movement, and former Transparency International vice president Akere Muna of the Popular Front for Development.
An entrepreneur in the civil aviation and tourism industry, Mr Osih says he will reintroduce the federal system of government that was practised in the country between 1961 and 1972, and allowed special status for Anglophones. This is his proposed solution to the separatist crisis rocking Cameroon.
He also says that through the system, local governments will be empowered and made more autonomous.
“I strongly believe in the virtues of local government, one that values regional diversity and makes it the centre of its actions,” said the presidential aspirant, who has also pledged to increase the minimum wage.
But observers say the SDF candidate’s chances have been jeopardised by a two-year conflict in Cameroon’s two English-speaking regions — Northwest and Southwest — that have been a source of votes for the opposition party.
The two English-speaking regions have been rocked by escalating violence since 2016, with separatists calling for the independence of the area and the creation of a new state called Ambazonia. Separatists have vowed to disrupt elections in the region.
Mr Muna says he will wipe out corruption. He also pledged to solve the ongoing crisis in the Anglophone regions within his first 100 days in office.
“I will lead the charge to weed out corruption at every level of our government. We do not have time or tolerance for corruption, wherever it resides. I will actively work with civil society to improve the way our government operates, and ensure our policies align with the needs of our people,” he said.
The 65-year-old lawyer, who has headed various missions of the AU, currently serves as the sanctions commissioner at the African Development Bank and has been a vocal anti-corruption activist.
Prof Kamto, also a lawyer, says he is the best bet among the nine. The 64-year old former member of the International Law Commission of the UN says he wants to put in place a state of law that respects the rights of everyone.
A former ally of President Biya, Prof Kamto left CPDM and resigned from his post as junior minister in the Ministry of Justice in 2011 on grounds of “deep-rooted tribalism in government.
“Current governance has broken the prosperous co-operative societies of the 1970s-80s and destroyed the social, industrial and banking fabric inherited from the beginning of the construction of a modern Cameroonian state, to set up a system of rent-seeking enjoyed by the members of a small circle who take control of everything,” he said.