In April 1991, the University of Maryland Eastern Shore in the United States announced that it had awarded President Paul Biya an honorary doctor of laws degree, and that the President would travel to the United States for the award ceremony.
This announcement was greeted with outrage particularly within the Cameroonian student community in the United States which launched a protest campaign through the Cameroon Students’ Association of the United States (CAMSA-USA).
The students’ association sent letters of protest to officials in the state of Maryland and the State Department, members of congress and authorities of the University of Maryland, accusing President Biya of “corruption, embezzlement . . . the jailing of people without reason." CAMSA also announced that it would picket the ceremony if the university went ahead with the award ceremony.
The US media also joined in. For example, an article in The Baltimore Sun of May 1, 1991 titled “Bringing dishonor to an honorary degree” lamented that:
it is unfortunate that the University of Maryland Eastern Shore is conferring its honors on president Paul Biya at a time when the university community in Cameroon is under attack and when he has lost legitimacy in the eyes of his people.”
William P. Hytche, the University’s President, defended the award stating that the school had "cleared the idea" of awarding Biya a degree with both U.S. and Cameroonian diplomats. He also pointed out that “The decision to confer an honorary degree on Biya stemmed from a five-year $7.8 million agricultural research agreement between the Maryland school and Cameroon to increase production of yams and others root crops.”
On May 5, 1991, President Biya was conferred the Doctor Honoris Causa during a ceremony which was picketed by CAMSA-USA members. The award of the honorary doctorate was supposed to spruce up Biya image’s and turn national and international attention away from the infernal cycle of political protest and police repression that had become commonplace in Cameroon. Instead, the trip to the United States turned out to be a major public relations nightmare for the regime, as the president drew negative attention and was shunned by a number of US officials, among them Governor Douglas Wilder of Virginia who cancelled a scheduled trade and investment meeting with President Biya "because of a scheduling conflict.”
Note: For an alternative and triumphalist version of President Biya’s visit to the United States, see the booklet published by the CPDM Central Committee titled Paul Biya in the United States: Support from the West (CPDM Central Committee Secretariat, 1991).