Cameroon’s 85-year-old president Paul Biya has formally declared that he will run again in the country’s upcoming elections, seeking a seventh term.
Biya has been head of state since 1982, when he took over following the resignation of Ahmadou Ahidjo who was in power since independence in 1960.
“Aware of the challenges, we must take up together to ensure a more united, stable and prosperous Cameroon. I am willing to respond positively to your overwhelming calls. I will stand as your candidate in the upcoming presidential election,” Biya said in a Twitter post on Friday.
Cameroon is scheduled to hold elections on October 7. The vote comes at a tumultuous time for the country facing an Anglophone separatist movement and security threats posed by the Boko Haram armed group.
If re-elected, Biya could extend his rule well into his 90s. Only Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, the president of Equatorial Guinea, has ruled uninterrupted for longer in Africa.
The president’s main rival is 49-year-old Joshua Osih of the main opposition Social Democratic Front (SDF).
Professor Elvis Ngolle, one of Biya’s allies and a former minister, argued that the president is the candidate to beat.
“His candidacy is one that brings hope, not one that is based on adventure but one that is driven by experience. It will ensure more stability, and more continuity because he is a known quantity,” Ngolle said.
“It is the people themselves who have been calling on him to run again. He has simply responded to these calls. So, indeed, he is a candidate of the people. He is the one the people want,” he added.
But Wilibroad Dze-Ngwa, a professor and political analyst, said there is no level playfield in the upcoming elections.
“Biya’s chances of winning are very very high because the results are known even before the elections. The elections will be organised by a body made up of people appointed by him, mostly from his political party,” Dze-Ngwa said.
“As the days go by, the machinery to rig elections are being improved on year-in, year-out. Unless the opposition comes together under one canopy, then we might have some threat. There has been consistent division among the opposition political parties,” he added.
Biya, who has ruled virtually by decree since taking office, got rid of constitutional term limits in 2008, allowing him to run again. The move sparked riots in which more than 40 people were killed.
Earlier this month, he postponed parliamentary elections also set for October by a year, arguing that the electoral calendar was too cramped.
The election comes as English speakers in the country have been protesting for months against alleged marginalisation by the Francophone-dominated administration.
Separatist leaders in the Anglophone regions want to secede and form their own country, called Ambazonia.
The growing tensions with Anglophone separatists has degenerated to armed confrontation with the military. The separatist armed campaign has killed 84 troops since last September. Biya has since declared war against the separatists, describing them as terrorists.
The armed movement grew out of frustrations in late 2016 by English-speaking teachers and lawyers with the dominance of the French language and the marginalisation of Cameroon’s Anglophone population.
The uprising is seen as a potential threat to the elections.
“Elections will take place, citizens who feel like voting would vote and citizens who don’t feel like voting have a right not to vote. It is not the security situation that will stop the law from being enforced,” Ngolle said.
“As long as we have guns, intimidating everybody and putting fears into everyone, we are simply blocking our chances of finding common grounds, finding consensus or going through dialogue. Nobody will dialogue with gunshots going up here and there,” Ngolle added.
Camerron is also facing the threat from Boko Haram fighters crossing the border from neighbouring Nigeria and carrying out attacks.
This week, rights group Amnesty International accused Cameroonian soldiers of extrajudicial executions of people suspected of being Boko Haram members, including women and young children.
The Cameroonian government dismissed the video of the apparent killings, which is circulating online, as fake news.
More than 160,000 people have been internally displaced by the fighting and tens of thousands have fled to Nigeria, according to the United Nations.