By Ngala Handel
Cameroon’s President Paul Biya made no mention of an American missionary killed in his country during a key address to his nation. The murder of Indiana native Charles Wesco just last week has drawn the attention of U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and the U.S. State Department.
Paul Biya, Cameroon’s president of 36 years, has been sworn in for another seven-year mandate. President Biya, who makes limited public appearances, made no mention of the murder in a speech following his swearing into another seven-year term.
The 85-year old took the oath of office Tuesday in the capital Yaounde and promised to defeat terrorism – a threat in the Far North of the country and also likely a reference to the separate conflict in the West of the country where an armed insurgency to break away from French-speaking Cameroon is gaining momentum.
Biya in his inaugural speech also avoided discussing the American missionary who was shot last week during a crossfire between separatists and Cameroonian soldiers. 44-year old Charles Wesco from Indiana later died from his wounds at a local hospital.
Wesco had moved to Cameroon just two weeks before his murder with his wife and eight children. Wesco was in a vehicle with his wife, a son, and another missionary when he was shot.
Paul Biya’s nearly 40 decades as president have been characterized by allegations of corruption and abuse of human rights.
The US State Department congratulated Biya for a “largely peaceful” and expressed it a separate statement said it believed that Wesco’s death had been accidental: “we believe the victim was caught in crossfire,” a State Department statement read in part.
“Charles lost his life while he and his family were sharing the gospel in Cameroon,” the Vice President said in a statement issued by his office, “Karen and I will be praying for Charles’ wife Stephanie, their eight beautiful children, and all those whose lives had been touched by his work and witness. And we will pray that they take comfort in the sure knowledge that Charles heard those words ‘Well done good and faithful servant.’”
Under Ahmadou Ahidjo, Cameroon’s first president from independence in 1960 Biya worked as a bureaucrat in the 1960s. He later served as secretary-general of the presidency from 1968 to 1975. That year he became prime minister a position he held until he became president in 1982. He would be 92 when his current seventh term expires and would have been president of the West African nation for 43 years.
Were he to serve that long he would be the longest-serving African head of state in a republican form of government. Former Libyan leader Muammar Ghazzafi was in power for 42 years before being removed in a NATO-led military intervention in 2011. The longest-serving African head of state in modern times was former Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, who ruled for 44 years before being removed via a communist coup in 1974.
The government has blamed Anglophone rebels for Wesco’s murder who have in turn blamed the government. The Wesco’s had saved for years to move to Cameroon as part of a missionary group.
“God allowed it for a purpose,” Wesco’s wife said of her husband’s death.
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