Paul Biya Biography

Paul Biya, often referred to as Cameroon’s ‘lion man’, has been the President of Cameroon since 1982, making him one of the longest-serving leaders in Africa. Despite initially being inspired to become a priest, Biya pursued education in Paris and eventually joined the civil services. Through hard work and dedication, he climbed the ranks to become the Prime Minister and later assumed the role of President. However, his leadership has been marked by authoritarian rule and a failure to improve Cameroon’s economy. As a result, Biya is now considered one of the world’s top 20 worst dictators.

Quick Facts

  • Also Known As: Paul Barthélemy Biya’a bi Mvondo
  • Age: 90 Years, 90 Year Old Males
  • Family:
    • Spouse/Ex-: Chantal Biya, Jeanne-Irène Biya
    • Father: Etienne Mvondo Assam
    • Mother: Anastasie Eyenga Elle
    • Children: Anastasia Brenda Biya Eyenga, Franck Biya, Paul Biya Jr.
  • Presidents
  • Black Leaders
  • Political ideology: Political party – People’s Democratic Movement
  • Founder/Co-Founder: Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement
  • Education: École nationale d’administration, Sciences Po

Childhood & Early Life

Paul Biya was born as Paul Barthelemy Biya’a bi Mvondo on February 13, 1933, in Mvomeka’a village, South Region French Cameroon, in a modest family, to Etienne Mvondo Assam and Anastasie Eyenga Elle. He attended Catholic mission, Ndem, when he was seven. Seeing his excellent performance, his French tutor suggested him to become a priest, after which he was enrolled in Edea and Akono Junior Seminaries, at the age of 14. He moved to a high-class secondary school, Lycee General Leclerc, Yaoundé, where he studied Greek, Latin and philosophy, apart from other subjects. After completing high school, he went to the University of Paris to study law and political science. He graduated in 1960 with a degree in law. Thereafter, he pursued public law from the Institute of Overseas Studies.

Career

Upon his return to Cameroon in 1962, he was appointed in-charge of the Department of Foreign Development Aid, reporting directly to President Ahmadou Ahidjo. Despite differences in their backgrounds and personalities, Ahidjo became his political mentor, under whom he held various positions, including director of the cabinet, general secretary of the presidency, and minister of state. He was appointed as the Prime Minister of Cameroon by Ahidjo in 1975. After the sudden resignation of Ahidjo in 1982, Biya succeeded him as the next President. He conducted presidential elections in January 1984 and got re-elected as the President. Following two military coup attempts on Biya in August 1983 and April 1984, Ahidjo was arrested and put on trial for his involvement and sentenced to life imprisonment. He dissolved CNU and established a new party, Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (CPDM) in 1985, as its President. Under his presidential term, he took major steps to improve the economic condition of Cameroon; however, it started facing economic crisis in 1987, affecting the export of its natural resources, which continued till 1996. He was re-elected for a second term in the 1988 presidential elections. It was during this term that he permitted formation of opposition parties, due to increasing pressure from his countrymen. The first multiparty elections were conducted in 1992, with the opposition candidate being John Fru Ndi from Social Democratic Front (SDF). Although officials claim that Fru Ndi won, Biya declared himself the winner. The opposition parties, including Fru Ndi, boycotted the 1997 presidential elections alleging them to be fraudulent. As a result, Biya won and once again continued as President. To improve his country’s economic situation, he set up deals with Chad, United States, and China. Although imports and exports started growing, matters within Cameroon were far from settled. Despite the opposition parties claiming the elections to be rigged, he won the 2004 presidential elections and was sworn in for the fifth term. Political scenario in Cameroon became unstable, especially due to prevailing problems between Francophones and Anglophones. However, when Biya rose to power, he chose to support Francophones, thus taking no steps to fix the issues. Realising his inability to contest for President in 2011 following the two-term limit, he chose to make amendments in the 1996 Constitution claiming it to be unfair on limiting people’s choice, to ensure he stays in power. Even though violent protests were held to cancel the revision of the Constitution, the National Assembly agreed to make changes in 2008. He further got immunity for himself from any possible prosecution after leaving office as President. In 2009, he was voted at number 19 in the Top 20 list of ‘The World’s Worst Dictators’ by Parade Magazine. With the 2011 elections, he became the President of Cameroon for the sixth term. Presently, he is also serving as the National President of CPDM, a position he has held since its formation in 1985.

Major Works

He is known for ending the dispute over the oil-rich territory of Bakassi Peninsula with his neighbor, Nigeria, by moving to the International Court of Justice and signing the Greentree Agreement with the Nigerian government, in 2006.

Personal Life & Legacy

He married Jeanne-Irene in 1960. The couple did not have any kids but she adopted Frank Biya, an offspring from Biya’s extra-marital affair. After Jeanne’s sudden death in July 1992, he re-married Chantal Biya, 38 years his junior, in April 1994. The couple has two children – son Paul Biya Junior and daughter Anastasia Brenda Biya Eyenga. The first couple of Cameroon is constantly under media coverage, mostly due to their luxurious lifestyle. He owns two presidential Boeing 747s, two private mansions in Cameroon, and other homes in Switzerland and France. Trivia: A lion and lioness have been named after this first couple at Yaoundé’s Mvog Beti Zoo.

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