Oct. 9 (Bloomberg) -- Cameroon’s Paul Biya may extend his 29-year rule in an election today as the splintered opposition fails to take advantage of slumping oil production and the government’s inability to meet poverty reduction goals.
Biya, 78, of the Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement, will compete against 22 candidates for the support of 7.5 million registered voters. His main challenger is John Fru Ndi who is representing the Social Democratic Front party in his third bid for the presidency. Voting begins at 8:30 a.m.
As Africa’s fourth-longest sitting leader, Biya has consolidated power, benefiting from a divided opposition to seek another seven-year term. He is pledging to boost investment in agriculture in a country where half the population make a living from farming and spur economic growth that the World Bank says isn’t fast enough to cut poverty.
“Recent economic growth has been relatively modest and underperformed the dynamics recorded across Sub-Sahara Africa,” Samir Gadio, an economist at Standard Bank Group Ltd. in London, said in an e-mailed note to clients. The dominance of the ruling party may lead to “policy inertia.”
While the International Monetary Fund estimates growth will accelerate to 3.8 percent this year from 3.2 percent in 2010, that’s still less than the 5.2 percent expansion in sub-Saharan Africa. The economy is forecast by the IMF to grow 4.5 percent in 2012, compared with 5.8 percent for the region.
Obiang, Dos Santos, Mugabe
Given its current growth trajectory, Cameroon won’t meet goals set by the United Nations to halve poverty by 2015, according to the World Bank.
Biya, who won 71 percent support in the 2004 election, is the longest-serving African leader currently in power after Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo of Equatorial Guinea, Angola’s Jose Eduardo dos Santos and Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe.
Cameroon, which borders six other nations on Africa’s West coast, generates about 35 percent of its foreign income from oil, according to the Institute for Security Studies, based in South Africa’s capital, Pretoria. Agriculture makes up about a third of the economy, employs 50 percent of the population and is the source of half of export earnings.
BowLeven Plc, based in Edinburgh, is drilling for oil in Cameroon. Switzerland’s Barry Callebaut AG owns Cameroon’s sole cocoa-processing plant, Sic-Cocoa, with the government. Oil output fell to 5.3 million barrels in the first quarter from 6 million barrels in the same period in 2010, the state-owned National Hydrocarbons Corp. said on May 18.
Both Biya and Fru Ndi have pledged to boost agriculture in Cameroon, which follows Ivory Coast, Ghana and Nigeria as the continent’s fourth-biggest cocoa producer. Cameroon produces arabica and robusta varieties of coffee as well as palm oil.
Biya pledged to created boost youth employment in agriculture to 165,000 by 2014 by boosting farming, cutting taxes on some exports and lowering customs duties on imports of industry equipment, he said in a campaign speech Oct. 4. Fru Ndi also promised to create jobs for young Cameroonians and expand a public health-care program, according to an Oct. 3 report on state-owned broadcaster Cameroonian Radio Television Corp.
The central African nation may face “significant violence” in the port city of Douala and other urban areas during and immediately after the vote amid discontent at the prospect of Biya’s continued rule, Sebastian Spio-Garbrah, managing director with New York-based Da Mina Advisors, said in an e-mail.
A group calling itself the Army for the Liberation of the Cameroonian People claimed responsibility for opening fire on the Bonaberi bridge on Sept. 29 in Douala, according to London- based Control Risks. Opposition groups have “denounced delays in the publication of voter lists and distribution of voter cards, as well as alleged attempts to prevent opposition leaders from campaigning,” the risk-analysis group said on its website Oct. 5.
In 2008, 100 people were killed when security forces opened fire on people protesting the rising cost of living, according to Amnesty International.
--Editors: Nasreen Seria, Antony Sguazzin
-0- Oct/08/2011 23:00 GMT
To contact the reporters on this story: Pius Lukong in Yaounde at firstname.lastname@example.org; Emily Bowers in Accra at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Antony Sguazzin at firstname.lastname@example.org -0- Oct/08/2011 11:40 GMT