Several days after his reelection was announced, Cameroon’s president Paul Biya received a letter of congratulations from French president Emmanuel Macron, dated October 25. Biya published it on his official Facebook page on October 29. Cameroonians social media users quickly starting expressing doubts as to the letter’s authenticity. It turns out the letter is indeed authentic…but was never meant to be shared publicly.
Biya was officially reelected for a seventh time on October 7, with a landslide 71.28 percent of the vote. His opponent Maurice Kamto was credited with 14.23 percent of the vote, a result that he still rejects. The official results were announced on October 22.
The letter in question is brief. In three paragraphs, Macron outlines what he considers to be the major challenges in Cameroon: the situation for the country’s youth, the crisis in the country’s Anglophone regions, and the fight against Boko Haram. He assures Biya that France will stand with Cameroon.
As soon as the letter was published, it was met with doubts: many Cameroonians contacted the France 24 Observers, some of them asking about its authenticity, others certain that it was fake. One Cameroonian site listed three details that raised suspicions: the letter did not contain the official emblems of the French state; the signature looked different from Macron’s usual signature; and finally, the letter was dated October 25, but was published on Biya’s official Facebook page four days later, a delay that some found odd.
CheckNews, which is the fact-checking service of French daily Libération, contacted the French president’s office to find out the truth of the matter. The Élysée confirmed that this letter is indeed authentic, but that it was never meant to be shared publicly.
Contacted by the France 24 Observers to find out why Biya’s official Facebook page decided to publish the letter, Cameroon’s communications minister, Issa Tchrioma responded, “This is an eminently diplomatic question, which falls under the exclusive remit of the president of the Republic”, and that he had no comment. However, he added, “The fact that the Élysée confirmed the authenticity of the letter was a perfect response to the president’s detractors, who claimed that this letter was fake”.
The letter’s late date and the Élysée’s intent for it to stay private may be explained by the French government’s unease with Biya’s handling of the crisis in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions, as the French radio station RFI noted following the announcement of the official election results.
In response to the results, the French government initially published a statement from its foreign affairs ministry on October 23. Macron did not make the customary congratulatory phone call to Biya, either.
The letter in question was sent three days after the results were announced.