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President Biya to face difficult questions on official visit

Video by Nicolas GERMAIN

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2009-07-22

Cameroonian leader Paul Biya has arrived in France for a four-day official visit, however, his visit looks certain to be overshadowed by corruption allegations and tough questions on Laurence Vergne.

The president of Cameroon, Paul Biya, who arrived on Tuesday, will have to wait until Friday before meeting with his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy. Before being received at the Elysée Palace, the Cameroonian leader will meet former prime minister and current Bordeaux Mayor Alain Juppé, then dine with Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner, before finally meeting with Sarkozy on Friday, the last day of his tour.


This four day wait before the official meeting with Sarkozy is being viewed in certain quarters as a sign of cooling relations between the two countries.

“This is not a traditional state visit,” says Jean-Claude Shanda Tonme, director of the African Centre of International Politics and author of “Reflections on the Social Crises of Cameroon”. According to him, the rapport between the two heads of state is “rubbish”.

For Antoine Glaser, editor in chief of “Letter From the Continent”, this visit from the so-called Sphinx – a reference to Biya and his taste for secrecy – symbolises the end of any special Franco-Cameroonian relationship.

“This invitation looks like, above all, some sort of compensation, because last year Sarkozy promised to come to Cameroon in 2009, the only place in the CFA Franc (area of Africa which still uses the Franc) where he had not yet visited,” Glaser says. A diplomat close to the proceedings agreed with this perception, but wished to remain anonymous. “Due to his busy agenda, Sarkozy could not go to Yaoundé,” the diplomat said. “But in order to maintain France’s friendship with Cameroon, he sent Prime Minister François Fillon at the end of May and then invited Biya to France.”

An officially tense visit

Sarkozy will thus give his visiting counterpart only one interview and a luncheon. Biya, on the other hand, will need to face the Cameroonian diaspora, who are likely to ask him about goods he had acquired under suspect circumstances, revealed at the end of June by the Catholic Committee Against Hunger and for Development.

“Cameroon’s civil society abroad also intends to let Biya know that it is time for him to leave political life,” says Guinean journalist Lanciné Camara, president of the International Union of African Journalists and a director at “African Duty” magazine.

In power for the past 27 years, Biya the “Man-Lion” has ruled his country with an iron fist to ensure that he holds onto presidential office. In April 2008, the strong man of Yaoundé modified the constitution to allow himself to run for office again in 2011.

In addition to demonstrations planned by Cameroonian opposition groups while he is in France, the fatal shooting of a 31-year-old French biologist, Laurence Vergne, in Yaoundé in January 2007 is also overshadowing Biya’s visit.

During an official visit to Paris in October 2007, the Cameroonian leader assured the family of the victim that he “personally guaranteed” that justice would be done. But two years after the incident, the circumstances of the young woman’s death have still not been clarified.

Yet another issue – that of a “free Cameroon” activist, Thierry Michel Atangana, who has been imprisoned in Yaoundé for 12 years for diverting public funds – also awaits Biya in Paris. At least, that is what his lawyer, Rémi Barousse, is hoping. Barousse has been lobbying for the transfer of his client to French soil.

Date created : 2009-07-22