Cameroon pres­i­dent hits cam­paign trail as he seeks sev­enth term at 85

Mil­i­tary en­gi­neers de­ployed to up­grade road along which Biya's con­voy trav­elled

Daily Nation (Kenya) - - WORLD -

It was as if time stood still," said an ex­u­ber­ant an­nouncer as Cameroon's Pres­i­dent Paul Biya landed in the coun­try's north to kick-off cam­paign­ing ahead of next week's polls.

He was in the town of Maroua on Sat­ur­day for the first time in six years, drum­ming up sup­port ahead of vot­ing on Oc­to­ber 7 when the 85-year-old will seek a sev­enth term. The polls will be held to an un­prece­dented back­drop of vi­o­lence, as clashes con­tinue in the coun­try's sep­a­ratist an­glo­phone re­gions and Boko Haram fight­ers con­tinue to threaten Cameroon's north­east — in­clud­ing Maroua.

"We are proud that he is here, proud that he thinks of us," said a pro-biya ac­tivist who wore a blue and white pagne print smock em­bla­zoned with the pres­i­dent's face.

Nearby, a lo­cal leader wear­ing a pagne out­fit in the pres­i­den­tial colours jumped with joy and took the hand of the man be­side him as the pres­i­dent made his way down the red car­pet. "It is with barely con­cealed joy that we are cov­er­ing this event," a jour­nal­ist for the state CRTV broad­caster told his au­di­ence em­phat­i­cally. The visit of Biya and a dozen of his min­is­ters who come from the poor, un­der-de­vel­oped re­gion, was held amid tight se­cu­rity and only an­nounced days ahead of the event.

Army ve­hi­cles were de­ployed to up­grade the road along which Biya's long con­voy trav­elled be­tween the town and the air­port.

Even the lamp­posts were up­graded. "The RDPC promised us tar and lights," said a mo­tor­cy­cle taxi driver with a smile, re­fer­ring to Biya's rul­ing Cameroon Peo­ple's Demo­cratic Move­ment.

But in the Maroua-3 area of town, young­sters promised 3,000 CFA francs (Ksh525) to help clean up the town ahead of the VIP ar­rival re­ceived lit­tle more than half that. "So now they're on strike," sighed one of the event or­gan­is­ers, vis­i­bly frus­trated with the clean-up ef­fort in the town which was adorned with Biya's sig­na­ture blue.

On Fri­day night the main op­po­si­tion party So­cial Demo­cratic Front's can­di­date Joshua Osih staged a night-time pub­lic meet­ing in the town. But it at­tracted just a few hun­dred sup­port­ers — a far cry from the vast pro­duc­tion staged by "Team Biya".

Minibuses cov­ered in Biya posters be­gan to flow into the town from as early as Fri­day, bring­ing thou­sands of pro-gov­ern­ment sup­port­ers on di­lap­i­dated roads from across the re­gion and beyond.

"I came from Ngaoundere to trans­port the sup­port­ers — the RDPC paid," said one of the many driv­ers in Maroua re­fer­ring to his town 500 kilo­me­tres (310 miles) away from Sat­ur­day's event.

An­other man added that "his un­cle's minibus was req­ui­si­tioned to trans­port the ac­tivists". All of the Biya sup­port­ers who spoke to AFP said that the aim of the event was to shore-up the pres­i­dent's vot­ing base in a re­gion that was solidly be­hind the rul­ing party in 2011.

"The RDPC has al­ready taken off, Paul Biya is our pi­lot, we'll vote for him, 100 per cent," said one sup­porter of the pres­i­dent as he waited for his en­tourage to ar­rive. Sup­port­ers crowded along the town's streets which were lined with bill­boards bear­ing Biya's face, pro­claim­ing him to be the "force of ex­pe­ri­ence". Some told AFP that they had been paid for their "sup­port". "2,000 CFA francs — but it's not much," said one.

Biya spoke to the crowds for just 15 min­utes, his first pub­lic speech since Fe­bru­ary — and his first ap­pear­ance dur­ing of­fi­cial cam­paign­ing, which be­gan the pre­vi­ous Sat­ur­day, Septem­ber 22.

He thanked the peo­ple of the re­gion, which is Cameroon's poor­est, for the "warmth of their wel­come" and promised in­creased oil ex­plo­ration ef­forts in the re­gion.

Cameroon’s Pres­i­dent Paul Biya (cen­tre), ac­com­pa­nied by his wife Chan­tal Biya, greets the mil­i­tary forces upon ar­rival at Maroua air­port dur­ing his elec­toral visit in the Far North Re­gion of Cameroon, at the week­end. At the head of the Cameroo­nian state since 1982, Biya is a can­di­date for the sev­enth term, dur­ing the elec­tion set for Oc­to­ber 7, 2018.

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