During his recent visit to Paris, the usually media-shy Paul Biya gave a rare 40-minute interview to the French international cable network France 24. He discussed a wide range of issues from the 2011 elections, to his relations with opposition leader John Fru Ndi, corruption, his successor, and the repatriation of the corpse of former President Ahmadou Ahidjo who is buried in Dakar, Senegal.
The interview which was conducted by Ulysse Gosset was broadcast this evening on Le Talk De Paris. Viewers and interested parties around the world had the opportunity to send in their questions prior to the interview.
This was President Biya's first interview in France since his stormy 1990 interview with the late Yves Mourousi on Radio Monte Carlo.
Here are choice excerpts from the interview (my unofficial translation):
On whether he intends to run for a third term
The 2011 elections will definitely take place but I consider them distant. I have a seven-year mandate, half of which I have already completed. Presently, we have other priorities and the constitution does not permit me to run for a 3rd term. That said, we have other immediate issues: the fight against corruption, AIDS and poverty, stability in the Central African sub-region. Therefore, I think that these questions about the 2001 elections are premature...
Cameroon has other problems to resolve, but I leave it up to those who want to launch this debate. There are some people who say that the president should take part in the  elections for continuity. I'll allow the debate take place, but for now the constitution does not allow me to run for a third term. I also know that the constitution is not etched in stone. The people will decide what is good for them. So we are listening, however, I urge my compatriots to focus on more urgent tasks.
On not having a political successor or heir
We have made all these efforts to establish a democracy. When the time comes, there will be candidates. The idea of preparing someone (to take over) is a practice common to monarchies and oligarchies. Cameroonians are mature and they will choose when the time comes… the term "heir" does not resonate well in a Republic.
On President Sarkozy's controversial Dakar speech
I listened to the speech. I think that it should be read and reread... My opinion is closer to that of the South African President... I think that this speech marks a milestone and a new era of cooperation between France and Africa. This speech was meant for adults. What I retained from it was that Africans have to stop complaining about the colonial past and colonial alienation, that they should take full charge of their double heritage: their African heritage - which is theirs and is inborn - and what they acquired through contact with the West, and that they should turn towards the future.
Many countries were colonized by the Romans, for example. Japan was more or less colonized during the Meiji era. [But] it acquired technology and a certain Western culture and today, it is a great power. I think that this is the call made to the youths. I believe that this is what should have been understood from that speech. There are also very beautiful passages where he points our the contribution of African culture to the modern soul. We are moving towards a mixing of civilizations [and] we cannot move towards the universal by withdrawing back to the pre-colonial golden age. We are a little bit of everything; we are Africans [influenced by] the contribution of the West, of Christianity, Islam... It is important that we project ourselves into the future and enter into modernity.
On the repatriation of Ahidjo's corpse to Cameroon
The repatriation of the former President’s corpse is a family matter in my opinion.
I have no objections and I would like to point out that his son is a member of parliament. I don't have any problem with the family of my predecessor; his sons and daughters come and go as they wish without being bothered. The decision to repatriate President Ahidjo’s corpse or not depends on his family. I have no objections or comments to make in that regard.
On a possible meeting with John Fru Ndi
It is true that we've never met. We once agreed to meet and he decided that the meeting should take place in the village, my village, which is not very far from Yaounde. He did not show up at the last minute... I am willing to meet him.
What he expects of the Sarkozy presidency
We expect France to continue to offer its cooperation and friendship to Africa. We have ancient ties, cultural ties, at a time when we are witnessing the linguistic imperialism of certain languages, it is worthwhile preserving a space where French is spoken. And I think that France is a great country... I expect that existing economic, cultural and financial relations will continue.