Cameroonians went to the polls today. In an interview with SlateAfrique, Achille Mbembe (b. 1957, Cameroon ) explains why no one else but the 78-year-old incumbent Paul Biya stands a chance to win. “Having stripped society of all security, [the current regime] now holds the entire population by the balls”:

SlateAfrique: Can they hope for regime change?

Achille Mbembe: Under the current circumstance, regime change is not possible through the ballot box. Change in this country will come through an armed rebellion spearheaded or not by a political organization or by foreign forces (as was the case in Cote d’Ivoire); through the natural death or assassination of the autocrat; or even through a coup de force by dissident elements within the army. Beyond that, all paths to a peaceful change initiated by Cameroonians themselves are blocked. From this perspective, the forthcoming election is a non-event.

SA: How do you explain Paul Biya’s longevity at the helm of the state for 29 years?

AM: Having understood very early on that in order to stay as long as possible in power, one had to do nothing, Biya put in place a new system of government which I call government by inaction. Biya studied Machiavelli a lot, and successfully adapted his lessons to a typically African situation. Paul Biya’s genius is to have discovered that power has no objective other than power itself. The goal of those in power is not to accomplish any grandiose project whatsoever. It is simply to hold on to power. Thus, to govern is to not govern.

SA: At 78 years of age, is Biya still capable of governing?

AM: Definitely, even though he is senile. But he invented this masterful formula, that of the spectral or ghostly government. It is a formula which always succeeds. He doesn’t even need to be alive to govern. Since it is all about transforming power into the power to do nothing, I bet that he will still be able to govern even from the grave.

Read the rest of the interview here (in French) or here (in English).