Cameroon - Franck Biya: Dolphin in the deep end?

His tour in the North is very much like being put into orbit, Without official function, but influential in Etoudi, the son of the Cameroonian head of state is increasingly looking like a successor.

History will remember that Biya, the second of the name, entered politics on November 6, 2022, the day of the fortieth anniversary of his father's accession to power. Invited by Aboubakary Abdoulaye, the lamido of Rey-Bouba (northern Cameroon), Franck Biya was received with pomp during a meeting organized in Garoua and widely covered by the media. But very clever who can say with precision what we witnessed that day. Although he has an office at the Etoudi Palace and takes advantage of the title of unofficial adviser to the Head of State, the only son of the couple that Paul and Jeanne-Irène once formed, now 51 years old, does not appears on any organization chart of the presidency and has no official title.

This former businessman, who for a time lived in the south of France, not far from the principality of Monaco, has never run for elected office. The lamido of Rey-Bouba is, on the other hand, the vice-president of the Senate. He is also a key figure in the constitutional scenario of the devolution of power: in the event of a vacancy, it is indeed the President of the Senate who is called upon to succeed the Head of State. however, the incumbent, Marcel Niat Niifenji, is now over 88; victim of recurring health problems, he is often absent. It is therefore not incongruous to think that Aboubakary Abdoulaye could be brought in to replace him at short notice. And this is where the meeting in Garoua, bastion of the ruling party, comes into its own.

Officially, it was organized by the Democratic Rally of the Cameroonian People (RDPC).
Problem: the guest of honour, even the son of the founding president, is not a member of any party body. Moreover, until this day, no one had seen him wear the blue and white scarf. However, for several months his supporters have been active with more or less finesse. They
baptized "the Franckists" and constitute a heterogeneous movement, which does not benefit from the official anointing of the principal concerned. But this one did not disavow them either.

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Perhaps Franck Biya undertook the trip in a private capacity, the monarch having later claimed that his guest had come to offer his condolences on the death of his mother. Except that the funeral took place more than a year ago… Whichever way you take it, the event looks like a political communication enterprise designed to probe people's minds. And All-Yaoundé widens their eyes, plunged into an abyss of perplexity.

False leads

The scenario of a pure and simple orbiting does not correspond to the Biya style. For forty years, and despite the pressures, the Head of State has always been reluctant to push his son into the political cauldron, he who knows nothing of the expectations linked to a succession. We have long scrutinized the clue and looked for the sign that would indicate the identity of the one to whom the president plans to bequeath the keys of Etoudi. But, as a cunning politician, he never let anything show. He multiplied the false tracks, hiding behind the Constitution to declare that he had no dolphin – “Cameroon is not a monarchy!”. Since nature abhors a vacuum, the now ninety-year-old puppeteer has often taken care to whet the appetites of his close collaborators himself by giving them attributions, prerogatives and delegations of signature... He left the press to lose themselves in conjecture.

On the future of “dolphins” finally fallen out of favor, some of whom are serving long prison sentences. It is true that this exercise in style having revealed all its tricks, the suitors – obviously undeclared – have learned to avoid the trap of impatience. So can the president make Franck Biya his heir without contradicting himself?

Deputy and president of the Cameroonian Party for National Reconciliation (PCRN), Cabral Libii takes date. “This trip is for us, without a doubt, the public presentation of the desired successor [by Paul Biya], says the opponent. It is therefore the latent launch of an electoral pre-campaign. The chosen strategy is that of the fait accompli. If, from a legal point of view, the citizen Franck Biya has the right to do what he wants, what happened on November 6, 2022 is, from a political point of view, a crime of 'initiated. »

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Mute cinema

Others assure that Paul Biya has no dynastic succession plans, even if he cannot prevent the citizen Franck Biya from running for the presidency. The president's son is eligible, of course, but can he win without the support of his father and the means of the State? And, suddenly, here is that Cameroon wants to unravel the mystery of this man so discreet that even his political baptism of fire was played out like silent cinema. In Rey-Bouba, he did not speak; most of his fellow citizens have never even heard the sound of his voice. He lives surrounded by a few childhood friends and flees society life.

However, at the beginning of 202O during a dinner-debate organized at the Maison de l'Amérique Latine, in Paris, by Olivier Zegna-Rata, a former chief of staff of Hervé Bourges, the son Biya spoke on the theme of investment financing in front of a surprised audience of journalists, diplomats, bankers, heads of investment funds and heads of organisations, including the managing director of the French Development Agency. The guests of the day are not the only ones to think that they have underestimated the fifties. “He is familiar with the system built by his father, including
in its worst ways, and formulates good ideas for reform”, claims a former European ambassador accredited to Yaoundé. Evolving under the radar, the eldest of the Biya siblings takes care of his networks.

Louis-Paul Motaze, the influential Minister of Finance, is his cousin and owes him – in part – his morocco, as does Alamine Ousmane Mey, in charge of the Economy. He is reputed to be close, too, to the former minister Roben Nkili, younger brother of his late mother; Modeste Mopa Fatoing, Director General of Taxes; and Samuel Mvondo Ayolo, Director of the Civil Cabinet of the Head of State. He is also linked to ex-tennis player Yannick Noah, to whom he opened the doors of Etoudi.

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In France, the former businessman, who interrupted university studies in the United States to embark on logging and who served as an intermediary for large groups wishing to invest in Cameroon, regularly sees Franck Paris, Emmanuel Macron's Africa adviser. Nothing should be deduced from France's position, insists another member of the Macronist galaxy. “There is no official position at the Élysée concerning the succession, explains this source. There are several tracks and different accents depending on whether the analyzes emanate from the military, intelligence, business or diplomatic circles.

Most of those I see start from the idea that the succession will be played out inside the presidential camp. But it is true that some push for a succession of the father by the f,Is under the pretext that it is necessary to maintain stability, security, and to safeguard interests. One thing is certain: in Yaoundé as in Paris, everyone is waiting for the hour of clarification. But, around Etoudi, the ambitious are numerous and not all will necessarily agree with the choice of Paul Biya.

George Dougueli

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