Nigerian Senator Dino Melaye and his many scandals

A controversial Nigerian senator is currently in detention at an Abuja hospital after allegedly jumping out of a police van to try and escape custody. The incident is the latest in a series of scandals linked to the colourful politician, Dino Melaye.

The chain of events that led to Mr Melaye’s exit from a police vehicle, through its window, began in mid-March.

That month, the police arrested two members of an armed gang. Kabiru Saidu, also known as Osama, and Nuhu Salisu, nicknamed “Small”, confessed to taking part in a number of kidnappings and armed robberies. They also accused Senator Melaye, 44, of supplying them with money and weapons – charges he denied.

As a result, the police declared that Mr Melaye was wanted on a charge of supplying illegal arms to his political supporters, and they even said they had asked the international police agency Interpol to issue a warrant for his arrest in case he tried to flee the country.

However, the senator remained at large, his security detail was not removed by the police in the capital, his name does not appear on the Interpol Red Notice site – and he even posted a photo of himself on Instagram shaking the hand of a policeman:

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Arriving obajana air trip

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He was eventually arrested at Abuja’s Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport international airport on his way to Morocco.

Mr Melaye’s team says he was pushed out of the vehicle the following day and that the arrest was politically motivated.

News of his alleged jump, or push, trended on Twitter shortly afterwards.

But this is not the first time Mr Melaye has rocked social media.

The music video

Senator Melaye clearly loves the finer things in life. His Instagram profile features pictures of him posing in designer boutiques wearing bright coloured trainers and tight jeans, or in front of a row of luxury cars.

This opulent lifestyle has on occasion landed him in hot water.

He was criticized late last year after making a cameo in a music video of Nigerian rapper Kach, who also happens to be the son of the country’s oil minister, Ibe Kachikwu.

The video for the song, called Dino, features luxury cars, women in underwear, and $100 bills being thrown around. Mr Melaye is also seen stepping out of a sports car, wearing a T-shirt with the word “legend” written on it.

Some Nigerians criticised the senator on social media for the ostentatious display of wealth, particularly at a time when many civil servants in his home state of Kogi were owed several months’ salaries.

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My Toys. My passion Noni! Talk oya talk

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The dark side

The online newspaper, Sahara Reporters, reported in March last year that Mr Melaye did not have a degree from Harvard University as he had previously claimed. He had only attended a week-long seminar at the elite US university.

Mr Melaye defended himself during a television interview, saying that anyone who had attended an institution and received a certificate was a graduate.

But there is a darker side to the allegations against Mr Melaye.

He first came to public attention in 2010 when as a House of Representative member he was suspended for taking part in a fist fight in the chamber during a move to impeach the then speaker.

In July 2016, during a closed-door session of the Senate, he allegedly threatened to beat up and “impregnate” female colleague Oluremi Tinubu on the senate floor.

Dino Melaye at a glance:

  • Elected Senator for Kogi West in 2015 for ruling APC party
  • Fallen out with Kogi state governor Yahaya Bello, also from APC
  • Allegedly threatened to beat up and “impregnate” a female senator
  • Accused of making false claims about an assassination plot
  • Faces recall petition

    Nigeria outrage at senator’s rap video

    Mr Melaye denied saying this, claiming it would be impossible to impregnate Mrs Tinubu because she had gone through the menopause.

    Mrs Tinubu later said she forgave Mr Melaye, but added that she would not be intimidated by anybody.

    Senator Tinubu is married to the national leader of the ruling All Progressive Congress (APC) party, Bola Tinubu, who is considered one of the country’s most powerful politicians.

    The assassination plot?

    The federal government took Mr Melaye to court earlier this year for allegedly providing false information about an alleged assassination attempt on his life.

    In April 2017, Mr Melaye accused Yahaya Bello, Kogi’s state governor, of being responsible for a failed assassination attempt on his life. Mr Bello and Mr Melaye are both members of APC, but frequently clash in what many see as a struggle for control of the state.

    Mr Melaye has posted videos on social media of himself singing songs taunting the Kogi governor, earning him the nickname of the “singing senator”.

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    Yahaya Bello ma lo prison

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    His political future

    Senator Melaye is currently fighting for his future in politics.

    He is challenging a recall of his senate seat after a petition of almost 200,000 voters demanded his dismissal. The petition, which was submitted in July 2017, cited his “poor performance”. It also says that the senator is un-reachable, and has distanced himself from his constituents.

    But, Senator Melaye argues that the signatures are not from Kogi state voters.

    The Independent National Electoral Commission (Inec) says it will proceed with the recall process, and will verify the signatures on the petition.

    The results are due to be released in the coming days. This will be followed by a referendum in Kogi, where voters will be able to decide whether he stays or goes.

    If he loses the vote, he will be the first senator in Nigeria’s history to be recalled by his constituency.

    The singing senator may end up singing a much sadder tune.

Winnie Mandela: Soweto send-off for anti-apartheid fighter

Crowds have gathered in South Africa for the funeral of the anti-apartheid campaigner, Winnie Madikizela-Mandela.

Thousands of mourners have crowded into a stadium in Soweto, near Johannesburg, where the campaigner is being given a high-level send-off.

Her casket was draped in the national flag, and her granddaughter Swati Dlamini Mandela read the eulogy.

Mrs Madikizela-Mandela, former wife of Nelson Mandela, died earlier this month at the age of 81.

A controversial figure, Mrs Madikizela-Mandela was lauded for her role in the anti-apartheid struggle.

But she was later shunned by the political elite for endorsing punishment killings for government informers.

  • Obituary: Winnie Madikizela-Mandela
  • The women who loved Nelson Mandela
  • What Winnie Mandela meant to South Africans

    Mrs Madikizela-Mandela was a social worker when she met her future husband, then a prominent anti-apartheid campaigner, in the 1950s.

    They were married for a total of 38 years. For almost three decades of that time, they were separated by Mr Mandela’s long imprisonment. They had two daughters together.

    After Mr Mandela was imprisoned by the apartheid regime, Mrs Madikizela-Mandela became an international symbol of resistance to apartheid.

    She too was jailed for her role in opposing white minority rule.

    To her supporters, she became known affectionately as “Mother of the Nation”.

    But Mrs Madikizela-Mandela also found herself mired in scandal for decades.

    She was accused of conducting a virtual reign of terror in parts of Soweto by other members of the ANC in the late 1980s, and in 2003 she was convicted of fraud.

    She will be buried in Johannesburg.

    Winnie Madikizela-Mandela

    1936: Born in Transkei

    1958: Married Nelson Mandela

    1969: Jailed for 18 months for anti-apartheid activities

    1976: Banished to rural area by apartheid authorities

    1991: Convicted of kidnapping

    1996: Divorced from Nelson Mandela

    2003: Convicted of fraud

What Winnie Madikizela-Mandela meant to me

As Winnie Madikizela-Mandela is laid to rest, South Africans share how the anti-apartheid campaigner changed their lives – some in very personal ways.

Nolwazi Duma

“Winnie Mandela meant a lot to me, she was an inspiration to the nation and the whole of Africa. She put a mark on how strong women are in South Africa.

“She empowered us and taught us that you should never give up in anything that you do. No matter what the circumstances are you need to do what you feel is right.”

Buyima Jola

“Everything that I do, I do because I learned it from her, including being stubborn. I know that stubbornness carries women through when men think that they can suppress us.

“I want to say to her: ‘You are mama, I am mama Africa. In your absence I will represent you in every principle and value that you stood for.'”

Paballo Chabedi

“Mama Winnie donated things to our school in Orlando West, not far from where she used to live. Her two last birthdays she spent in our school.

“She cared about young people, she donated pads to little girls in our school also.”

Mercy Sidyiyo

“Mama was like a mother I never had. She made us to be brave, to stand up for our rights.

“I remember in 1986 when I first met her. There was a death in the area and the police wanted to stop the funeral but she came, picked up the coffin and pulled it along alone. Then everybody stood up and had the courage to carry the coffin, and we had the burial.

“It was difficult as there was tear gas and we faced being arrested because the police said nobody except the family would attend the funeral. But she did it.”

Tshepiso Maleswena

“Mama Winnie was the first feminist icon – other than my grandmother – that I encountered. For me she symbolised strength, the smashing of patriarchy, a rule breaker, a badly behaved woman, a woman who coloured outside the lines.

“To young black women her legacy is that you need to live your truth and fight the beast that is patriarchy.”

Mpho Matidze

“My brother was already in exile when I was born in 1979, and Winnie fought so that our family could be reunited. I finally saw him again in 1992.

“She is a woman who stood against all odds. She gave her life to the struggle of this country, against the apartheid government, so that people fighting for liberation could come back and we could all live in a democratic and liberated South Africa.

“We are celebrating the fruits of Mama Winnie’s work today in South Africa.”

Pamela Ndenmde

“Mama Winnie taught us respect – to respect our neighbours and love your neighbours as you love yourself.”

Sihle Sithole

“Many people say Mama Winnie is the one who kept the fire burning when Nelson Mandela and others were still in jail.

“But I say she didn’t just keep it burning, she collected the firewood – in fact, she made the fire even hotter. To us she is the definition of liberation.”

Faith Mazibuko

“Winnie Mandela made sure that we understood the role of women in South Africa – the need for our emancipation, mobilisation, organisation and unity.

“She used to say that as women we are victorious because it is us who hold the knife at its sharpest point.

“We should see to it that there are more and more Winnie Mandelas within our communities.”

Sikhumbuzo Moloi

“Her legacy is that she pushed women into the political scene. They had been left behind for too long.”

Obituary: Winnie Madikizela-Mandela of South Africa

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela became a potent symbol of South Africa’s anti-apartheid struggle when she was banished and jailed for campaigning for the rights of black South Africans and her husband’s release.

For decades she and her then-husband, the iconic Nelson Mandela, were the country’s most famous political couple – but Mr Mandela divorced her in 1996.

After their separation she kept his surname and they maintained ties, leading to critics accusing her of attempting to use his name for political mileage.

In later life her reputation later became tainted by a fraud conviction and murder accusations, which she denied.

Born in Bizana in the Transkei in 1936, she met Mr Mandela in 1957. He was married at the time to Evelyn Mase but the marriage was breaking up.

The next year they married – she was a young bride, 16 years his junior, glamorous and strong-willed.

However, they were destined to have little time together as political activism and a period in hiding kept Mr Mandela apart from her.

He was jailed for life in 1964 and only released in 1990.

While he was in prison, she took on an increasingly political role, partly because of constant harassment by the South African security police.

She became an international symbol of resistance to apartheid and a rallying point for poor, black township residents who demanded their freedom.

‘Mother of the Nation’

Her resistance to harassment and championing of the anti-apartheid cause led to periods of imprisonment from 1969, much of it spent in solitary confinement.

In 1976, the year of the Soweto riots, she was banished from the township to a remote rural area. At one stage her house was burned down, with suspicion falling on the South African security forces.

This led to her being dubbed the “Mother of the Nation”.

By the mid-1980s and the start of a long period of township militancy against the white government of President P W Botha, she was back in Soweto and at the heart of the struggle.

Winnie Madikizela-Mandela

1936: Born in Transkei

1958: Married Nelson Mandela

1969: Jailed for 18 months for anti-apartheid activities

1976: Banished to rural area by apartheid authorities

1991: Convicted of kidnapping

1996: Divorced from Nelson Mandela

2003: Convicted of fraud

Her image and activism drew to her many anti-apartheid activists, including a group of young men who became her personal bodyguards.

They became known as the Mandela United Football Club.

Her prominence led to great influence over young, radical township activists but also growing controversy.

As activists turned on suspected police informers or collaborators, the use of rubber tyres filled with petrol as brutal murder weapons, known as “necklaces”, became widespread. At one rally she controversially seemed to endorse their use.

Even greater controversy came when she was accused by senior anti-apartheid activists of involvement in the killing of a 14-year-old township militant, Stompie Seipei.

Disgrace and divorce

Stompie had been seized by Ms Madikizela-Mandela’s bodyguards in 1989 and was later found dead.

Members of the ANC leadership accused her of being behind the killing and of conducting a virtual reign of terror in parts of Soweto.

From prison, Mr Mandela continued to support his wife.

In 1991, after his release, she was charged with the assault and kidnapping of Stompie and one of her bodyguards was charged with his murder.

She denied the allegations but was found guilty of kidnapping and sentenced to six years imprisonment.

This was reduced to a fine by an appeal court.

Her marriage to Mr Mandela broke down in the years after his release and they were divorced in 1996.

President Mandela accused her of adultery, and in the same year, dismissed her as deputy minister of arts and culture – the only post she has held in government since white minority rule ended.

Her split from Mr Mandela did little to harm her political standing among poor, black South Africans who saw her as their voice at a time when the ANC had adopted pro-business policies.

But at the same time she became known for an increasingly lavish lifestyle, arriving to testify at Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings in a white Mercedes limousine surrounded by bodyguards.

In 2003, Ms Madikizela-Mandela suffered another blow when a court convicted her of fraud and theft in connection with a bank loan scandal.

The sentencing magistrate compared her to a modern-day Robin Hood, fraudulently acquiring loans for people who were desperately short of money, but he said that as a prominent public figure she should have known better.

An appeal judge overturned the conviction for theft, but upheld the one for fraud, handing her a three-year-and-six-month suspended sentence.

This dented her career, but she remained respected in the ANC, and was an MP until her death.

At the ANC conference in 2007, she was elected to the party’s top decision-making body, the National Executive Committee, and in the 2009 general election, she was placed fifth on the list of ANC MPs nominated for parliament, in a clear sign that then-President Jacob Zuma saw her as an electoral asset.

She would later clash with him and become political patron of the youth leader Julius Malema.

Final years

Ms Madikizela-Mandela described being there for the final moments of her ex-husband’s life in 2013, and appeared in a prominent position at memorial services in his honour.

After his death, she became embroiled in a legal battle over his village home, which she wanted for their two daughters, Zinzi and Zenani. The Supreme Court affirmed a decision that she held no claim to it in January 2018.

The same month she was honoured with an honorary degree from Makerere University in Uganda for her anti-apartheid campaigning.

Although she remained in the political limelight, she was granted leave from parliament in March 2018 due to ill health.

A family spokesman confirmed her death on 2 April, aged 81.

Her family said she had suffered from a “long illness” and had been in and out of hospital in the last months of her life.

“She succumbed peacefully in the early hours of Monday afternoon surrounded by her family and loved ones,” spokesman Victor Dlamini said in a statement.

Paul Biya: Cameroon’s ‘absentee president’

Cameroon’s President Paul Biya has been in power for 35 years. But while his longevity in office is a talking point at home, the time he spends out of the country has stirred international comment – as Paul Melly, an associate fellow of Chatham House, explains.

Criticised by some for a supposedly “hands-off” style of rule, Cameroon’s President Paul Biya recently held a cabinet meeting for the first time in more than two years.

Presidential elections are scheduled for October and Cameroonians are waiting to hear if the 85-year-old will seek a further term. But no such announcement was made at the meeting.

Mr Biya has been in power since 1982, making him one of Africa’s longest serving leaders. Under his rule, Cameroon has survived an economic crisis and moved from being a one-party state to multi-party politics.

But it has also been marked by endemic corruption and reversal of democratic gains, leading to the abolition of term limits in 2008, which allowed the octogenarian to run for re-election in 2011.

Today’s Africa is changing. The era of decades-old presidencies is slipping away. Satellite TV and the internet tell a growing urban audience about democratic changes of power in other sub-Saharan countries.

Some 60% of Cameroonians are under 25 and so were not even born when President Biya first came to power. There is massive demand for jobs and viable livelihoods.

The opposition Social Democratic Front has now recognised these generational realities. Earlier this year, the party’s leader, John Fru Ndi, 76, stepped aside to make way for a new presidential candidate, 49-year-old businessman and former pilot Joshua Osih.

Swiss hotel

This is the challenge that confronts Mr Biya as he decides whether to stand for a further term that could take him into a fourth decade in power in a country hungry for change.

His repeated absences from the country have riled critics.

His foreign travels have been the subject of an online spat between the state-owned Cameroon Tribune newspaper and the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), which calculated the amount of time the president spent abroad using reports from the daily newspaper.

The OCCRP estimates that the president spent nearly 60 days out of the country last year on private visits.

It also alleges that he spent a third of the year abroad in 2006 and 2009. The Intercontinental Hotel in Geneva is said to be his favourite destination.

The state-owned Cameroon Tribune called their investigation “a clear electoral propaganda”.

Back home, President Biya adopts a low-key style, staying out of the limelight and sometimes retreating to his home village.

He entrusts the day-to-day running of the government to the Prime Minister, Philemon Yang, who holds monthly gatherings of a “cabinet council”.

The prime minister is accorded wide latitude to manage the work of his ministerial team, while the head of state meets senior figures in private at the presidential palace in the capital, Yaoundé.


Read more:

Cameroon jails Biya critic for 25 years

Deaths in Cameroon independence protests

Why has Cameroon blocked the internet?

Cameroon minister mocked for low bow to president

More about Cameroon


President Biya’s hands-off approach has led critics to talk of an “absent president”.

However, this relationship at least partly reflects Cameroon’s unusual dual heritage of both British and French colonial rule. President Biya, like his predecessor Ahmadou Ahidjo, is from the Francophone regions, while the premier is always an Anglophone.

The president has to be seen to leave the head of government to get on with the job, says one non-partisan Cameroonian analyst.

So when President Biya does summon ministers to a rare formal cabinet gathering, it is usually for a special reason.

The most recent one was the official first meeting of a new ministerial team after a reshuffle earlier in the month. It is similar to the last cabinet meeting, in 2015, which had come soon after the previous government revamp.

This time there was speculation that Mr Biya would announce whether or not he would stand in this year’s election, to seek yet another term in office – but in fact he gave no hint of his thinking on that.

Yet the surprise cabinet meeting did matter in another way.

Language matters

For more than a year, Cameroon’s Anglophone regions in the North-West and South-West have been mired in crisis.

This started as a protest by lawyers and teachers demanding better provision for the use of English.

But tensions rose, leading to confrontation between the security forces, a 93-day blackout of internet services across Anglophone Cameroon, and separatist militants fighting for an independent “Ambazonia”, with a rising death toll on both sides.

The government took steps to address the language issues, but the situation still looks dangerous. Both the UK and France have discreetly pressed for dialogue.

President Biya responded with a cabinet reshuffle on 2 March, signalling a carrot and stick approach: firmness on security and law and order was balanced with the creation of a ministry for decentralisation, holding out the promise of greater local control over development and public services.

He used this rare cabinet meeting to show his full backing for his ministers as they pursue this twin-track strategy – a firm stance on security in the troubled Anglophone region, but, at the same time, decentralisation, to give local people more control over their own affairs.

So, the so-called absent president had to show a firm hand while also preparing to loosen his grip.

Liberia – the country where citizenship depends on your skin colour

Tony Hage has lived in Liberia for more than 50 years.

It is where he went to university. Where he met his wife. Where he set up his successful business.

He has stayed when so many others have fled the country’s years of unrest- determined to see the country he loves and calls home succeed.

But Mr Hage, it could be argued, is a second-class citizen in Liberia. In fact, he is not a citizen at all – prohibited from becoming a full member of Liberian society because of the colour of his skin and his family’s roots in Lebanon.

‘They will enslave us’

Liberia, on Africa’s west coast, was established as a home for freed slaves returning to the continent, escaping from unthinkable misery in the United States.

Perhaps, then, it is unsurprising that when the constitution was created, a clause was put in restricting citizenship to just those of African descent, creating “a refuge and a haven for freed men of colour”.

Hundreds of years later, Liberia’s new president, the former footballer George Weah, described the rule as “unnecessary, racist and inappropriate”.

What’s more, Mr Weah said, discriminating against races “contradicts the very definition of Liberia”, which is derived from the Latin word “liber,” meaning “free”.

The pronouncement has sent shockwaves through some parts of Liberia.

“White people will definitely enslave black Liberians,” businessman Rufus Oulagbo tells the BBC, bluntly.

He fears any move to widen citizenship away from just black people would damage Liberians’ chances to develop their own country.

In particular, he says, allowing people from other countries to own property would be dangerous.

Mr Oulagbo is not the only one to voice these fears: a new advocacy group, Citizen’s Action Against Non-Negro Citizenship and Land Ownership, has been set up to fight the president’s plans.

“Every nation has a foundation on which it was built – if you undermine that foundation, the nation will definitely crumble,” the group’s leader Fubbi Henries told the BBC.

Mr Weah, he said, “needs to focus on the right policies for Liberians”.

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    “Right now the prime focus is how to get our businesses on track, our agricultural and educational sectors on track, not citizenship or land ownership to non-Negroes,” he said.

    It is true Mr Weah has his work cut out without changing the constitution.

    Despite its wealth of natural resources, Liberia is ranked 225 out of 228 countries when it comes to average income per person, at just $900 per year for 2017.

    In comparison, the US figure was $59,500, while the UK’s was $43,600.

    In fact, a third of Liberia’s GDP comes from those living overseas – with some families entirely dependent on remittances from the US.

    Mr Weah has been blunt in his assessment of the situation: Liberia is broke, and he is going to fix it.

    After years of civil war – not to mention the devastating effect of the Ebola epidemic in 2014 – the promises are music to most Liberian ears.

    But changing the law now, Mr Henries says, would be like putting a two-year-old boy – Liberians – and a 45-year-old man – outsiders – in a boxing ring and seeing if they could have a fair fight.

    “He will take undue advantage over that little child,” he said. “Liberian businesses don’t have that same leverage.”

    Harmony

    The fear of outsiders is nothing new. The Lebanese community is used to it.

    “Probably some people might take this as a threat – that foreigners are coming to take over,” Mr Hage tells the BBC from his home in Monrovia. “That’s not the case.”

    At its height in the 1970s, Liberia’s Lebanese community was 17,000-strong. Now, after Liberia’s long civil war, it numbers around 3,000 – barely a drop in the ocean in a population of four million.

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      At one point, Lebanese families had businesses across the country. Even now, the community owns some of the country’s top hotels and businesses.

      But, says Mr Hage, that should never worry their Liberian-born neighbours.

      “Lebanese were all over in this country and it wasn’t any threat; and we have enjoyed living with Liberian people,” he said.

      “Liberian people are fine people; and we have lived together for all these years, we have had inter-marriages. The records speak for Lebanese in this country.”

      In fact, he believes that should Mr Weah’s proposal go forward, it would open the way for even more cooperation.

      But on a personal note, it would mean a huge amount to him.

      “I have always hoped that one day the clause would be changed.

      “I celebrated my 15th birthday in Liberia, I have never regretted living in Liberia.

      “I am happy not because I am not a Liberian, I am happy because President Weah is looking at the future of this country,”

Paul Biya: Cameroon’s ‘absentee president’

Cameroon’s President Paul Biya has been in power for 35 years. But while his longevity in office is a talking point at home, the time he spends out of the country has stirred international comment – as Paul Melly, an associate fellow of Chatham House, explains.

Criticised by some for a supposedly “hands-off” style of rule, Cameroon’s President Paul Biya recently held a cabinet meeting for the first time in more than two years.

Presidential elections are scheduled for October and Cameroonians are waiting to hear if the 85-year-old will seek a further term. But no such announcement was made at the meeting.

Mr Biya has been in power since 1982, making him one of Africa’s longest serving leaders. Under his rule, Cameroon has survived an economic crisis and moved from being a one-party state to multi-party politics.

But it has also been marked by endemic corruption and reversal of democratic gains, leading to the abolition of term limits in 2008, which allowed the octogenarian to run for re-election in 2011.

Today’s Africa is changing. The era of decades-old presidencies is slipping away. Satellite TV and the internet tell a growing urban audience about democratic changes of power in other sub-Saharan countries.

Some 60% of Cameroonians are under 25 and so were not even born when President Biya first came to power. There is massive demand for jobs and viable livelihoods.

The opposition Social Democratic Front has now recognised these generational realities. Earlier this year, the party’s leader, John Fru Ndi, 76, stepped aside to make way for a new presidential candidate, 49-year-old businessman and former pilot Joshua Osih.

Swiss hotel

This is the challenge that confronts Mr Biya as he decides whether to stand for a further term that could take him into a fourth decade in power in a country hungry for change.

His repeated absences from the country have riled critics.

His foreign travels have been the subject of an online spat between the state-owned Cameroon Tribune newspaper and the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP), which calculated the amount of time the president spent abroad using reports from the daily newspaper.

The OCCRP estimates that the president spent nearly 60 days out of the country last year on private visits.

It also alleges that he spent a third of the year abroad in 2006 and 2009. The Intercontinental Hotel in Geneva is said to be his favourite destination.

The state-owned Cameroon Tribune called their investigation “a clear electoral propaganda”.

Back home, President Biya adopts a low-key style, staying out of the limelight and sometimes retreating to his home village.

He entrusts the day-to-day running of the government to the Prime Minister, Philemon Yang, who holds monthly gatherings of a “cabinet council”.

The prime minister is accorded wide latitude to manage the work of his ministerial team, while the head of state meets senior figures in private at the presidential palace in the capital, Yaoundé.


Read more:

Cameroon jails Biya critic for 25 years

Deaths in Cameroon independence protests

Why has Cameroon blocked the internet?

Cameroon minister mocked for low bow to president

More about Cameroon


President Biya’s hands-off approach has led critics to talk of an “absent president”.

However, this relationship at least partly reflects Cameroon’s unusual dual heritage of both British and French colonial rule. President Biya, like his predecessor Ahmadou Ahidjo, is from the Francophone regions, while the premier is always an Anglophone.

The president has to be seen to leave the head of government to get on with the job, says one non-partisan Cameroonian analyst.

So when President Biya does summon ministers to a rare formal cabinet gathering, it is usually for a special reason.

The most recent one was the official first meeting of a new ministerial team after a reshuffle earlier in the month. It is similar to the last cabinet meeting, in 2015, which had come soon after the previous government revamp.

This time there was speculation that Mr Biya would announce whether or not he would stand in this year’s election, to seek yet another term in office – but in fact he gave no hint of his thinking on that.

Yet the surprise cabinet meeting did matter in another way.

Language matters

For more than a year, Cameroon’s Anglophone regions in the North-West and South-West have been mired in crisis.

This started as a protest by lawyers and teachers demanding better provision for the use of English.

But tensions rose, leading to confrontation between the security forces, a 93-day blackout of internet services across Anglophone Cameroon, and separatist militants fighting for an independent “Ambazonia”, with a rising death toll on both sides.

The government took steps to address the language issues, but the situation still looks dangerous. Both the UK and France have discreetly pressed for dialogue.

President Biya responded with a cabinet reshuffle on 2 March, signalling a carrot and stick approach: firmness on security and law and order was balanced with the creation of a ministry for decentralisation, holding out the promise of greater local control over development and public services.

He used this rare cabinet meeting to show his full backing for his ministers as they pursue this twin-track strategy – a firm stance on security in the troubled Anglophone region, but, at the same time, decentralisation, to give local people more control over their own affairs.

So, the so-called absent president had to show a firm hand while also preparing to loosen his grip.