The Africa Report | Although ‘Franckists’ are not very well organised, they nevertheless manage to make themselves heard. Who are they and why do they want Franck Biya, the son of Cameroon’s President Paul Biya, to come to power one day?
The text has the feel of a religious sermon. Published on Facebook on 24 September, it speaks about the “sacred union of hearts” and the need to keep “the flame of peace and unity lit”. The name of its author attracts more attention than even the content of the text, which evokes “the Cameroon [we] would like to teach our children”. For Mohamed Rahim Noumeu is none other than the founder of the Mouvement Citoyen des Franckistes pour la Paix et l’Unité du Cameroun, MCFPU, (Citizens movement of Franckists for the peace and unity of Cameroon)
‘A man with a divine destiny’
The term “franckists” refers to men and women who support 51-year-old Franck Biya, the only son of Jeanne-Irène, who died in 1992. They openly express their hope of seeing him succeed his father, Paul Biya, as soon as the latter steps down from the position he has held for nearly 40 years.
Borrowing expressions from the Gospel, the MCFPU behaves like the political party it is not, without paying much attention to those who accuse it of wanting to transform the Cameroonian Republic into a monarchy governed by a law of dynastic succession. After all, its members see Franck Biya as “a providential man with a divine destiny”.
The MCFPU is the main one of the so-called Franckist movements. It has existed since 2013 and, for a long time, its activities were limited to posting on a Facebook group. Franck Biya’s return to Cameroon in 2020 has given it a certain prominence. Previously removed from his father’s business, the eldest Biya child is now one of the head of state’s advisors. He has set up an office at the Etoudi Palace, from where he manages the dossiers that the president has entrusted to him.
Does he hope to succeed him? The question is now being asked, even though the main person concerned has not answered it and has neither welcomed nor rejected these overflowing expressions of affection. This cleverly maintained vagueness has also thrown 52-year-old Noumeu into the spotlight. Many see his movement as a tool that can be used to gauge public reaction in the event that Franck Biya becomes a candidate.
Signs and banners
Little concerned until now by the activism of this Cameroonian living in the US, the Etoudi palace began to pay special attention to him when France’s Emmanuel Macron visited Yaoundé last July. The Franckists hoped to take advantage of the French president’s visit to make themselves heard. They had even planned to deploy activists, placards and banners along the route that Macron was meant to take through the heart of the capital.
But things didn’t go as planned. Other organisations showing their support for Franck Biya entered the fray. Anxious to ensure that the cacophony would not disrupt the official programme, the Cameroonian presidency’s civil cabinet asked the security forces to silence them.
Five hours before Macron’s plane landed on the tarmac, the police took action. Commissioner Messanga, head of the Territorial Security branch at Nsimalen airport, and the Yaoundé central commissioner had banners and placards seized.
About 20 activists were arrested and placed in police custody. An investigation was opened and entrusted to the Directorate of General Intelligence. Police officers conducted a series of interrogations over three days and tried to unravel the web of this intriguing phenomenon.
In addition to the MCFPU, there is the Réseau National des Jeunes Acquis à Franck Emmanuel Biya pour la Paix et la Stabilité au Cameroun (National network of youth in support of Franck Emmanuel Biya for peace and stability in Cameroon) , headed by Garba Aboubakar, as well as the Mouvement des Febistes (Febist movement) and the Rassemblement Républicain des Franckistes du Cameroun, RRFC (Republican Assembly of Cameroon’s Franckists).
There is not one Franckist organisation, but rather groups that are independent of each other.
Not to mention the Mouvement Citoyen pour la Paix et l’Unité (Citizen’s movement for peace and unity) and the Mouvement Citoyen pour l’Émergence (Citizen’s movement for emergence) – both founded by MCFPU defectors. There is even a second MCFPU, which bears the exact same name as Noumeu’s movement, but is instead led by a certain Alain Fidèle Owona. The Réseau National des Jeunes Musulmans, which supports Franck Biya, is the latest addition to the political landscape.
“There is not one Franckist organisation, but rather groups that are independent of each other,” says Bertrand Ndzana, a member of the RRFC. “What brings us together is the desire to see the president’s son in power. Some see him as a kind of new version of Paul Biya, who will be able to preserve the values [that his father defended]. Others want to keep or obtain an enviable position,’ he adds frankly. The RRFC makes no secret of the fact that it is based in Ebolowa, in the southern region where Biya is from.
“The profusion of support movements for a figure, especially for one that is close to power, is nothing new,” says someone familiar with local political life. “Before the Franckists, we saw organisations such as Jachabi (Jeunesse Active pour Chantal Biya) and Presby (Jeunesse de Paul Biya) dominate the landscape, then disappear. Today, Franck Biya arouses such interest because the matter of succession has not been resolved.”
The hand of an influential minister?
Is Franckism a spontaneous phenomenon or is the hand of an ambitious man behind this sudden enthusiasm? In Yaoundé, some people, speaking on condition of anonymity, have linked this movement to an influential minister from the South who, in the clan war that is tearing Yaoundé apart, would like to tip the balance in favour of the South and the Bulus.
This clan revolves around Samuel Mvondo Ayolo, the director of the presidency’s civil cabinet, Bonaventure Mvondo Assam, a nephew of the head of state, and Franck Biya himself. This clan’s fiercest opponents include many people from the eastern region, the first lady Chantal Biya and the presidency’s secretary-general Ferdinand Ngoh Ngoh.
“When we look at the career of some Franckists, we may have some doubts about the sincerity of their activism,” said the source. “In the past, Mohamed Rahim Noumeu was, for example, a fervent supporter of the singer Lapiro from Mbanga, a virulent critic of Paul Biya. Today, he finds himself on the side of power… And he is far from being the only one.”
How far will the Franckists go? Although the activists arrested during Macron’s visit have been released, the Cameroonian services are now keeping an eye on them. Paul Atanga Nji, the minister of territorial administration, demands that these organisations be legalised before they are allowed to carry out any activity.
The licence issued to the RRFC has been cancelled as a result of this pressure. “In the Cameroonian context, the legal recognition of political associations remains an exclusive prerogative of the territorial administration,” Sylyac Marie Mvogo, the prefect of Mvila (South), said in a statement. It will undoubtedly take more to discourage the Franckists, who are aware that their champion was officially presented to Macron on 26 July.