Paul Biya has been sworn in as Cameroon’s president for the seventh time. The absentee president who has spent at least five and a half years abroad on private travels since becoming president in 1982, is widely rumoured to have flown in from Geneva to attend his swearing in ceremony.
The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reports that President Biya reserves the entire 16th floor of Intercontinental Hotel in Geneva. Quoting ex-employees, former Cameroon officials, and hotel reservation records it reviewed, WSJ reports that Biya and his wife Chantal frequent the hotel and in September 2017 stay, President Biya booked at least 48 rooms. And any time Biya goes to the Intercontinental, he pays in cash.
If he was in Geneva before his swearing in, Biya would have found his way to Yaounde on a private jet. According to Emmanuel Freudenthal, a freelance journalist who contributed to an investigation into Paul Biya’s travels supported by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project, Biya always rents private jets for his travels. “We had one invoice for around 855,000 dollars for Yaounde – Geneva return flight, which if you take economy class would be 800 dollars,” Freudenthal told RFI.
As we was sworn in on Tuesday, the 85-year-old pledged to uphold the “integrity” and “unity” of the country. His pledge comes a day after some 79 students of Presbyterian Secondary School (PSS) Nkwen in Bamenda, an English speaking part of Cameroon, their principal, a teacher and driver, were abducted by unknown men. Northwest governor Adolphe Lele Lafrique says measures are being taken to ensure that the abducted students are rescued.
A video of the abducted students circulated on social media indicted Amba Boys, the secessionist group fighting for the independence of Anglophone Cameroon which they call the Federal Republic of Ambazonia. The group has kidnapped citizens in the past, including traditional rulers.
Security has worsened in Cameroon in recent years, with terrorist group Boko Haram wreaking havoc in the country’s far north and the Amba boys fighting for independence of the Ambazonia Republic. The actions of the Amba boys in Cameroon’s Anglophone region followed a protest by Anglophone Cameroonians which the military responded to violently, killing some protesters and arresting others.
Biya, who secured 71 percent of the vote in the 7 October election despite complaints of fraud by opposition parties, have his work cut out for him. The first thing Cameroonians would expect of their leader is to see to a safe return of the abducted students and ensure calm returns to Anglophone Cameroon. When this is achieved, Cameroonians can rise again to have discussions about how the country can fight poverty, which holds down about 10 million people in the country. Cameroonians can also unite as one to ask President Biya questions about his leadership, particular his frequent visits to Geneva and how much it costs the country to fund such lifestyle.
President Biya will be in office for another seven years but can run for election again in 2025, having eliminated constitutional term limits in 2008, allowing him to run again.
While he is expected to take actions to ensure the security situation in Cameroon does not worsen before he makes another trip abroad, his hosts in Geneva will be waiting patiently for his return. Remember, “he pays in cash”.