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Cameroon: School resumption at the mercy of separatist fighters

04.08.2019
Article from AFRIC Editorial
Students in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon have been caught in the brawl between the government and separatist fighters for over 3 years. Many including parents had willingly accepted to forfeit the education of their children as the price to pay for the Independence of the regions. With independence now being a thing of the distant future, there is a strong call for the resumption of schools in the two English speaking regions now known as ‘NO_SO crisis. Despite the fact that the government, parents as well as some activists are clamoring for schools to resume, the decision of an effective resumption still lies heavily on separatist fighters.

For the past 3 years, Cameroon has been facing a political stalemate which erupted in the two English regions of the country. The inability of the government to quell down the crisis at the very beginning led to devastating effects in several sectors of the economy. Separatist fighters have been bent on striking the government where it hurts the most, to make them succumb to their demands. The education and future of pupils and students have thus been used as a bait to lure government to listen to their demands. 3 years have come and gone, the strategy has seemingly failed and the fate of the students at this point remains unknown.

Teacher’s cry for marginalization compromises education in the regions

The unrest in the country sparked off in 2016 after lawyers in the Anglophone regions took to the street to decry marginalization and marginalization and devaluation of the system of Anglo-Saxon law. After sending several appeal letters to the government for dialogue, the lawyers resorted to a sit down strike from all court actions decided during a meeting with Presidents of the lawyers’ associations from the Northwest and Southwest regions in October 2016.

Their objective at the time was to call for the protection of the Anglophone system of law and education after what they termed an attempt by the government to ‘infiltrate and assimilate the common-law system’. However, the protests staged by the lawyers in major towns like Bamenda, Buea, Limbe and, Douala were met with a forceful crackdown by government authorities.

In November 2016 teachers in the Anglophone regions later joined the lawyers in their protest to protect the English culture in Cameroon. They demanded to stop systematique use of the French language in schools and courtrooms in English-speaking regions of Cameroon. This gradually led to the shutting down of schools in Anglophone regions barely a few months after the start of the 2016/2017 academic year. Teachers boycotted lectures and asked students to stay home until the government heeded to their demands.

Just 2 weeks into the crisis, more than 100 activists had reportedly been arrested while others were reported dead. The violent response by the authorities infuriated the population and foiled the crisis. Thus, the conflict took another dimension in October 1, 2017 when thousands of protesters stormed the street. During this period, those leading the movement had ensured that schools remained closed in the regions. They saw this as a means to pressure the government to look into their demands which did not eventually work out as planned.

October 1, 2017 when thousands of protesters stormed the street. During this period, those leading the movement had ensured that schools remained closed in the regions. They saw this as a means to pressure the government to look into their demands which did not eventually work out as planned.

In early 2017, the government went into negotiation with leaders of Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium (CACSC), an organization which consisted of lawyer and teacher trade unions from the Anglophone regions of Cameroon. Their later arrest in January 2017 gave protesters and more reasons for sabotaging the academic year. Illegally armed pressure groups demanded the immediate and unconditional release of the leaders before classes could resume. But by the time they were released, the demands of protesters had completely changed to federalism or independence of the two regions.

According to the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, close to 80 percent of schools in the English-speaking regions has remained closed while more than 600,000 children have been deprived the right to education.

Classrooms in these regions are now part of the ongoing fight between the government and separatist as an estimated 74 schools have been destroyed.

Attacks on schools may foil school resumption

Separatist fighters carried out attacks on teachers, students and, school properties to ensure the respect of school boycott that had been declared in the regions. Teachers who showed up for work were either threatened, killed or kidnapped while schools which remained opened were attacked and burnt. UNICEF reported in June 2018 that close to 58 schools had been damaged since the conflicts escalated.

In November 2018, 80 Students and their principal were kidnapped from a Presbyterian school in the northwestern region and were later released. In a video released on social media, the kidnappers identified themselves as “Ambazonia fighters”.

Similarly, 15 students from the University of Buea football team were kidnapped in the South West region of Cameroon, though it was not clear who committed the act. Furthermore, in December 2018, some six students and a teacher were kidnapped in Bamenda by unidentified gunmen.

However, the largest school kidnapping in the regions since separatist unrest began took place on February 2018 when close to 170 students were picked from the Saint Augustin’s College in Kumbo and released after a huge governmental negotiations.
According to reports, more than 300 students and teachers have been kidnapped since 2018. Human Rights Watch equally documented about 19 threats or attacks on schools, and 10 threats or attacks on educational personnel. All these attacks perpetrated by separatist aims to maintain containment of schools in the regions. With the current state of things, it is no very clear if schools will effectively resume this academic year.

Activists clamor for school resumption

Today, several activists are raising their voices to call for school resumptions in the two regions of the country. Civil society groups have been urging young people to return to schools in the country’s restive English-speaking regions. Mancho Bibixy, leaders of the coffin revolution recently launched a campaign from his prison cell to call on parents in the North West and South West regions of Cameroon to send their children back to school. Other back-to-school campaigns have been carried out by traditional rulers, the clergy as well as parents themselves.

Although parents are willing to send their children to school in the upcoming academic year, they worry more about the security of the kids due to the rise of insecurity in those regions. Many think that the government should as a sign of good faith demilitarize the regions to create a favorable environment for studying.  However, the effectiveness of school resumptions still heavily lies on the separatist fighters who called for a shutdown in the first place.

Article from AFRIC Editorial

Credit photo: google image/illustration

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