Paul Biya Biography

President of Cameroon

Born February 13, 1933, in Mvomeka'a, Cameroon; married Jeanne Atyam, 1960 (divorced); married Chantal, 1994; children: three. Education: University of Paris, law and political science, Paris, France, 1960; diplome, Institut d'Etudes Politiques, Paris, 1961; diplome, Institut des Hautes Etudes d'Outre-Mer, 1962; diplome, Etudes Superieures en Droit Public, 1963.

Addresses: Office —Office of the President, care of Central Post Office, Yaounde, Cameroon.


Head, Department of Foreign Development Aid, 1962–63; director, Cabinet in Ministry National.Education, 1964–65; member, Goodwill mission to Ghana and Nigeria, 1965; secretary-general, Ministry Education, Youth and Culture, 1965–67; director, Civil Cabinet of Head of State, 1967–68, secretary-general to president, 1968–75, minister of state, 1968–75, prime minister, 1975–82; president, Republic of Cameroon, 1982—.

Member: Union Nat. Camerouaise; decorated chevalier, Order de la Valeur Ccmerounaise; commander, Nat. Order Fed. Republic Germany, Nat. Order Tunisia; Grand-Croix Nat. Order of Merit Senegal; grand officer, Legion of Honor (France).


From a childhood in a small Cameroonian village where he lived in poverty, Paul Biya has raised himself to the head of his country, taking over first the job of prime minister and then in 1982 the role

of president of Cameroon. He has held that position ever since, retaining power in a series of elections— every seven years—that were boycotted by some and called fraudulent by others. He is known as a sometimes hard and oppressive leader.

Biya was born on February 13, 1933, in Mvomeka'a, Cameroon, a village in the southern part of the country. He grew up rather poor. When he was seven he was sent to a Catholic mission in Ndem to go to school. While he was studying he excelled and one of his French tutors thought his work was so good that he determined that Biya should become a priest. He was admitted to Edea and Akono Junior Seminaries when he was 14, which were run by the Saint Esprit fathers. He next won a place at the Lycee General Leclerc school in Yaounde, the capital of Cameroon. The Lycee Leclerc is French Cameroon's most prestigious high school. While there Biya studied—among other things—Latin, Greek, and philosophy. Because of his continued good work, Biya was accepted to the University of Paris where he studied law and political science. He obtained his law degree in 1960. He stayed on in France for a couple years after graduation to study public law.

While Biya was in Paris the Republic of Cameroon managed to gain independence. Its population was somewhere between 16 and 17 million. The national languages were English, French, and 24 African language groups. The main religions of the country were Indigenous, Christian, and Muslim. Geographically the country is located between West and Central Africa, between Nigeria, Chad, Central African Republic, Congo, Gabon, and Equatorial Guinea. The nation's economy was based on oil production and refining, food production, light consumer goods, textiles, and lumber. Its chief crops were coffee, cocoa, cotton, rubber, bananas, oilseed, and grains.

Biya returned to Cameroon in 1962 just in time to take part in one of the most important times in Cameroon's history. The country had been split into French and British territories, and was further split into Christian and Muslim areas. In January 1, 1960, the French half of the country won their independence and Ahmadou Ahidjo was named president. The English section won independence on October 1, 1961. Part of that section joined Nigeria and the rest joined with the French zone. When they joined together the country was renamed the Federal Republic of Cameroon. So when Biya returned he was able to join a newly constructing government as part of the Department of Foreign Development Aid, of which he was put in charge. He reported directly to Ahidjo.

The president became Biya's mentor despite the disparities in their pasts and personalities. Under Ahidjo, Biya held several positions including director of the cabinet, secretary general of the presidency, and minister of state—the highest ranking minister in Cameroon's government. He was named prime minister in 1975, a position that made him the legal successor to the presidency. At the same time that Biya was moving up in the government he was advancing in the single party that made up Cameroon's government, the Cameroon National Union (CNU). He proved to be skilled at party politics, a trait that would serve him well later on.

Ahidjo resigned his presidency on November 6, 1982, for health reasons and Biya took over as president. Because he was still the head of the CNU, Ahidjo assumed he would still retain control over the country—because there was only one party, many thought the position as leader of the party (the organization that made policies and laws) was actually more important than president. That was all to change. At first Biya seemed to be deferring to Ahidjo, but then he started to make some changes. When he did this some of the ministers and close aides refused to follow his lead, preferring to remain loyal to Ahidjo. When he saw this, Biya began to replace them with men loyal to him rather than to Ahidjo. For this and other reasons Biya had a falling out with Ahidjo causing Ahidjo to leave the country, at which time Biya took over his position as party leader as well. After Biya became head of the CNU he abolished it and instead set up the Cameroon People's Democratic Movement (CPDM). It was around this time that some put forth the idea of allowing multiple parties in the country, but Biya would not allow it.

There were two coup attempts in Biya's early days in office, one in August of 1983 and one the following April. When both failed, Biya's power became more palpable and established. Because of Ahidjo's earlier arguments with Biya he was believed to be behind the coup attempts and he was officially accused. Biya's popularity grew, and he won his first real election on January 14, 1984.

The 1980s passed rather well for Biya's new cabinet, but starting in the early 1990s popular discontent started to rise. Because of these complaints, according to Funk … Wagnalls , "Biya slowly and reluctantly began to implement political reforms." Even then Biya's reign was not approved of by all his countrymen. He refused to allow any other political parties to work in Cameroon until the mid-1990 elections when, because of increasing demonstrations, he finally gave in and allowed other parties to form and vie for the presidency. The elections were a disaster. Most historians agree that Biya was defeated in the election by John Fru Ndi, but Biya had himself declared the winner and then declared a state of emergency and released troops to fight the massive demonstrations that followed the pronouncement. Loads of Fru Ndj supporters were arrested, and Amnesty International, the human rights organization, documented many instances of illegal arrests, torture, and death at the hands of Cameroonian police.

Fru Ndj and his party boycotted the 1997 elections, refusing to take part in something they called a charade. Biya, they have said, runs an authoritarian government, not a democracy, and many have complained that he only supports and helps members of his own community, the Francophones. Issues between northern Francophones and Southern Anglophones have done nothing but increase since Biya took over the presidency. Biya has been pushing all Anglophones out of office.

Despite internal conflicts, Biya has been working to bring Cameroon into a better financial situation. In 2000 Biya set up a deal with Chad president Idriss Deby to install a pipeline from Chad to the Cameroon port of Kribi to transport oil. The oil wells were thought to be feasibly ready to distribute by 2005. The World Bank helped fund a small part of the operation, its "first foray into supporting oil production, " according to the New York Times.

In March of 2003 Biya visited with President George W. Bush at the White House in the United States to discuss trade between the two countries. Cameroon had been attracting more foreign investment and its economy was growing. With an eye to continuing this trend, Biya visited Shanghai, China, in September of 2003 and met with Mayor Han Zheng to discuss strengthening the ties of friendship between Cameroon and Shanghai, and even with the entirety of China. Imports and exports between the two nations had increased by 300% at the beginning of 2003.

Yet things inside Cameroon were still unsettled. "[Biya's] main failing, I believe, was a lack of dynamism, which meant that, too often, there was a disparity between the policies he professed and what actually happened, " William Quantrill, British Ambassador from 1991 to 1995, was quoted as having said in the Africa News Service. Biya has become well known for being unwilling to delegate even the smallest of tasks, causing great delays in the resolution of small matters.

In 2004 Biya was again reelected to Cameroon's presidency, although again opposition parties claimed that the elections were rigged. After he was elected he chose a prime minister to help clean up the public sector. Things had gotten a bit slovenly with government employees coming in later and later and many not doing their work at all. The first step was to lock the door at the ministry offices and refuse admittance to anyone who was late. Director of General Administration Johnson Doh Okie told the New African , "This is just part of efforts to modernize the Cameroon administration, maintain discipline and order, and ensure that people are unctual. Things will not be the same again. The president has decided there will be a change. The time of recreation is over."

In May of 2005 Biya met with Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo in Geneva, Switzerland, to resolve disputes over the Bakassi Peninsula, something that had been going on since the split up of the British section of Cameroon in the 1960s. The meeting was held by the United Nations. Nigeria, in accordance with a 2002 dictate, was supposed to withdraw their troops from the area, but by 2005 they still had not done so. Biya asked the United States to help encourage Nigeria to withdraw from the area (which is rich in oil) by applying pressure on the country since they are one of Nigeria's biggest trading partners.

These were not Biya's only concerns for his new term. Biya's new government was to focus on five points. First, he wanted to modernize the democratic system and fight corruption. Second, he planned on improving the five percent economic growth rate by improving agricultural systems and examining industrial and tourism policies. Third, he wanted to more evenly distribute the growth rate as there were sectors who did not benefit from the growth. Fourth, he wanted to ensure peace and security and better equip law-enforcement agencies so they could more successfully fight crime, insecurity, and terrorism. And fifth, he wanted to improve Cameroon's image internationally.

Unfortunately, Cameroon's citizens in 2005 were still feeling unrest, largely due to the problems between the Francophones and the Anglophones, which Biya has seemed unwilling to fix. He reorganized his entire cabinet when he entered his new term of office in 2005, but rather then give more seating to the underrepresented Anglophones, he gave less. People have expressed a concern that if this continues there will be a civil war. There are other problems in the government as well. According to the Africa News Service, an organization called Transparency International published a report called the Global Corruption Barometer. In 2004 they listed Biya's government as being one of the most corrupt in Africa. They did a study and found that 51 percent of Cameroonians admitted to having paid a bribe at some point in the year previous to the report's release. That was higher than anywhere else in the world.

Biya's private fortune is estimated to be somewhere near $75 million. He also owns two planes, two mansions in Cameroon, and homes in France and Switzerland. Biya has been married twice. His first wife, whom he divorced, died in 1992. He remarried in 1994. Biya has three children. The world looks on eagerly to see Biya implement his new plans for Cameroon to bring the country more firmly into the 21st century.



Almanac of Famous People , 8th ed., Gale Group, 2003.

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Africa News Service, December 9, 2004; December 14, 2004; April 11, 2005; May 9, 2005; May 17, 2005; June 17, 2005.

Independent (London, England), March 20, 2003, p. 6.

New African , March 2005, p. 25.,

New York Times , October 19, 2000, p. A15.

Xinhua News Agency, September 25, 2003.

Catherine Victoria Donaldson

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