Yaounde — There were isolated incidents of unrest in Cameroon on Sunday as voting began in an election widely expected to extend the rule of President Paul Biya, who is one of Africa’s last multi-decade leaders.
While voting went on smoothly across much of the central African country, a drive by secessionists to disrupt the election meant not all polling stations were open in Anglophone regions and there were outbreaks of violence.
Security forces shot dead at least three armed separatists in the northwest English-speaking town of Bamenda, a security source said. This report could not be verified independently.
Elsewhere, a separatist fighter shot at a convoy of cars carrying journalists, but nobody was wounded, according to one witness.
Biya, 85, has ruled for 36 years and victory on Sunday would give him a seventh term, bucking a tentative trend in Africa towards presidential term limits. The only current African president to have ruled longer is Equatorial Guinea’s Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo.
In a speech after casting his vote in the capital Yaounde, Biya did not make specific reference to separatist violence.
"The election campaign took place peacefully," he said.
"Now we must hope that they (Cameroon citizens) keep this self-control when the results are out."
Oil and cocoa-producing Cameroon has had economic growth of more than 4% a year since Biya was last elected in 2011, but many of its 24-million citizens live in deep poverty.
A secessionist uprising in the Anglophone northwest and southwest regions, home to 5-million people, has cost hundreds of lives and forced thousands to flee either to the French-speaking regions or into neighbouring Nigeria.
Biya did not visit the English-speaking regions during his campaign. The problem with his rule is his bid to centralise a diverse population in a country founded in 1961 on the promise of federalism and autonomy for its regions.