Cameroon President Paul Biya attends the Paris Peace Forum, France, November 12, 2019. REUTERS/Charles Platiau

 

Biya, in power since 1982, hopes the Central African country’s first-ever regional vote will appease critics who say he has neglected the 10 provinces, and also end a bloody four-year insurgency in the west by English-speaking separatists.

More than 10,000 local representatives took part in the election to appoint the councils, made up of regional delegates and traditional rulers, putting into action a 1996 law that promised decentralised government but was never enacted.

Opponents say it is just a way for Biya to broaden his reach into local politics. The officials who voted in the election are overwhelmingly Biya supporters and will help enforce his will in the regions, they say.

The vote was marred by scattered violence. Separatists killed one regional office in the northwest, one of two regions where fighting between separatists and the government has killed more than 3,000 people and forced 500,000 from their homes since 2017.

The electoral commission’s results showed Biya’s Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement (RDPC) winning a majority in all regions except Adamaoua, where a party led by his tourism minister came out on top.

The councils will have a say over development but cannot alter laws enacted by the national parliament.

The crisis in the Anglophone regions began in 2016 when police cracked down on peaceful protests by lawyers and teachers demanding that the mostly Francophone government allow them to work in English.

Cameroon’s linguistic divide dates back to the end of World War One when the League of Nations split the former German colony of Kamerun into zones of French and British administration.