Cameroon’s octogenarian President Paul Biya, who has ruled the central African country with zero tolerance for dissent for a third of a century, will hold his first Cabinet meeting since 2015 on Thursday, his office announced.
Little discussion is expected at the gathering, which is behind closed doors. A brief letter calling his council of ministers to the Unity Palace did not reveal the agenda and officials were not permitted to speak to journalists, government spokesman Issa Tchiroma Bakary said.
“The only person authorised to speak is the communication minister, and that’s me, but unfortunately, I’m currently in France for medical treatment,” he told Reuters by telephone, adding that Prime Minister Philemon Yang would give a statement afterwards.
Biya has ruled virtually by decree since taking over from a retired predecessor in 1982 and then winning an election by 99.98% a year later.
The meeting comes as Cameroon faces an election scheduled for October, in which 85-year-old Biya is expected to run again, and a violent separatist movement in its western Anglophone region that a military crackdown has failed to quell.
The economy has been sluggish because of low prices for its main exports oil and cocoa and falling crude oil production. It was not by helped a shutdown in the economy of its restive Western region, which before the first crackdown in 2016 was becoming an unlikely hub for start-up tech firms.
If past Cabinet meetings – often two or three years apart – are anything to go by, there could just be one man talking. One in 2011 lasted ten minutes in which Biya entered, read out a speech, then left.
At the last council in October 2015, shortly after a sweeping reshuffle, local press reported that Biya had ordered ministers to “accelerate preparations for the important sports celebrations” that Cameroon was to host, namely the women’s and men’s African Cup of Nations soccer matches scheduled, respectively, for 2016 and 2019.
Outside of such meetings, Biya often meets his ministers at the airport between private trips abroad with his wife Chantal, famed locally for her luxurious dresses and bouffant hairdo. Their favourite destination is Switzerland.