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Cameroon Paul Biya Elections

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Cameroon elections: The youth who've only known one president

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Law student Max feels that young Cameroonians do not have the opportunity to become fully-fledged members of society. Photo: Daniel Finnan/RFI

If you were born after the year 1982 in Cameroon, you will have only ever known one president your entire life. Young people make up a significant part of the country’s population and as Cameroonians go to the polls on Sunday to choose their president, the 35 year rule of incumbent Paul Biya will weigh heavily on the outcome.


“It’s weird because if you see another country you have a lot of different presidents every four, five or six years,” says Hervé, who works as an information systems consultant and uses the co-working space at the ActivSpaces tech hub in Douala.

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“In Cameroon there's only one president, I'm not comfortable with this situation,” he says, speaking to RFI during lunchtime at the ActivSpaces offices, where young people are hunched over laptops.

Hervé was born after President Biya came to power. He says he started to become politically aware in high school when they started to learn about history and geography - “it was evident, Cameroon is so weird, there’s no alternative here”.

Despite the octogenarian president’s long-standing rule, Hervé does not feel indifferent to politics, because he believes it affects everything. "Politics is everywhere," he says, referring to issues such as potholes in the road or other judicial matters. "There’s a direct link to our lives".

Jacques, a 22-year-old working on artificial intelligence and robotics, says the situation is complicated in Cameroon. Young people do not have the same political awareness as in other countries and there are also more pressing matters affecting their daily lives.

“Young people don't know about politics,” says the young tech entrepreneur. “It’s kind of dangerous here in Cameroon to talk about politics and to give your opinion. Young people just care about how to eat, how to earn money.”

The youth are more concerned with making ends meet, says Jacques. Photo: Daniel Finnan/RFI

According to a World Bank report on Cameroon published in 2016, unemployment primarily affects the youth, defined as people aged 15-34, where the jobless rate is an estimated 15.5 per cent.

The same report also finds that young people are worried about the economic situation in the country and the impact it has on future opportunities.

Will younger opposition candidates make any difference?

Classes have finished for the day at the University of Douala. Traffic buzzes past the faculty buildings while students chat to one another.

“The president has not allowed the youth to express themselves,” says 29-year-old law student Max. “We, the young people, we don't have the opportunity to integrate ourselves into society,” he says.

The youth have become more interested in politics during this election campaign, according to Max. He says the number of young opposition candidates in the field has encouraged the youth to become more “politically engaged”. Although he does point out that, “all the same, we remain convinced that it will be difficult to bother the president’s party”.

The presidential race is more balanced this year, according to Dmitry, although only President Biya is electable. Photo: Daniel Finnan/RFI

African literature student Dmitry says there is a “new dynamic” for the 2018 polls. The 24-year-old says, “the slices of the cake are equally proportioned,” especially in terms of the different candidates’ ages.

However, the divisions within the opposition and the lack of a grand coalition is a problem, says Dmitry. “He [Biya] has the legitimacy with the electorate who’ll go and vote,” he says, adding that Biya understands the “electoral game”.

Some 64 per cent of Cameroon’s population is aged 24 or younger, according to the UN World Population Prospects report for 2017. No matter what the age of the future president, he will need to tackle issues such as unemployment that directly affect young Cameroonians.