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Cameroon’s democratic repositioning: Is the republic now a de facto monarchy?

The seventh term of Cameroon’s president Paul Biya theoretically ends in 2025. By then, he will be in his 90s. Conversation has naturally turned to the question of who will succeed him. His 48-year-old son, Franck, is increasingly being linked with the role. His supporters of course deny there is a plan for him to take over, and the first family refuses to comment. But even if it is not they who are putting his name forward, someone is. Many someones. Enough someones that young Franck has become the topic du jour in local and social media.

After nearly four decades of rule by Biya senior and facing ongoing issues, such as the state’s violence towards the English-speaking south, the question of who will be Cameroon’s next president has become a hot topic.

Facebook Pages and groups like Mouvements des Frankistes, Franck Biya pour 2025 and Franck Biya For President, have been vocal in promoting him as the next president.

Some of the people behind these groups insist Franck himself is not driving any of this. Mohamed Rahim Noumeu, of the Citizens Movement in Support of Franck Biya for Peace and Unity in Cameroon, tells The Continent: “Contrary to rumours, no member of the government is with us, for the first time in Cameroon history, we have created a spontaneous movement of compatriots that is not submissive to elites or other policies – not even to Franck Biya.”

The movement has more than 50,000 members, with delegations across the 10 regions of Cameroon. Rahim says the group’s primary objective is to ensure a peaceful transition. “Some of the main causes of unrest in our young states and even in the West are poorly negotiated political transitions; we need to ensure that doesn’t happen here.”

Franck Biya, a Cameroonian businessman is also the son of President Paul Biya. Does this mean he will be president, too?

The movement’s secretary-general, Bega Gamaliel, says it isn’t unlawful for Franck to stand for president, so it would be up to voters to decide “through the ballot box”.

Walang Michael, director of the Madiba Leadership Centre, says it seems likely that the touting of the younger Biya for president is a way for politicians with existing power to protect themselves. “The Franck Biya leadership saga is a creation of powerful and influential political cowards who do not have the courage to pay for their crimes as many of their contemporaries have done – and are still doing – in Kondengui prison in Yaoundé.”

Michael says an electoral win for Franck would show that results were “highly rigged and falsified” as he does not have a political base.

Recent events in Chad, though, with Mahamat Idriss Déby taking power after his father’s sudden death, show that hereditary rule in ostensibly democratic countries is not unusual. Powerful families around the world have the connections and resources to retain dynastic power.

Something is clearly happening in Cameroon. As the Biya patriarch heads towards his 90th birthday, the stakes are high and the political class is manoeuvering to secure its future.

Biya Junior is keeping quiet. It might take the death of his father, or the 2025 elections, to give Cameroonians clarity on where he stands. For now, the campaigns in his name continue.

This article appeared on The Continent, the new pan-African weekly newspaper designed to be read and shared on WhatsApp. Download your free copy here.

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