Children in Cameroon’s two restive Anglophone regions have boycotted school at the start of the 2019/2020 academic year in the country.
While school-going kids in the other Francophone majority regions have begun the academic year hitch-free, the future of those in the two minority Anglophone regions remains undefined owing to an ongoing crisis.
The Anglophone Problem
Since 2016, schools in the two English speaking regions – out of ten regions – have remained grounded as a result of constant gun battles between separatist fighters and Cameroon’s defense and security forces.
The Anglophone minority which accounts for about 20 percent of Cameroon’s close to 24 million inhabitants, decried the marginalisation from the Francophone majority government.
Anglophone lawyers and teachers protested the deployment of mostly French speaking professionals to work in Anglophone courts and schools – a move which they claimed sought to erode the Anglophone heritage. In 2017, angry Anglophone youth took up arms after their peaceful protests were violently quelled by security forces. Since then, the North West and South West have remained hard to govern as the youth demanded a break-away from Cameroon to form “Ambazonia,” a new English-speaking country.
Despite several calls from international bodies that the warring parties — Anglophone separatists and Cameroon’s military — should create an enabling environment for children to return to school, they have stayed adamant.
How anglophone activists see it
Anglophone activists on the one hand have said schools can only resume in what they claim to be their territory — Ambazonia, if a buffer zone is created, stating that the Cameroonian military is not out to protect but to kill Anglophone citizens — a claim which government denies. According to them, Anglophone Cameroon is not safe for children to return to school.
The government of President Paul Biya on the other hand has blamed separatist fighters for barring the smooth functioning of school activities in the two crisis ravaged regions. The government has rejected calls to engage in a meaningful dialogue that would put to an end the conflict which is nearing its third year.
Deadly clashes between non-state armed men and government forces have made life difficult for students and teachers.
Any hope for children?
Education experts say if proper care is not taken, children will have to stay home for a fourth year. The National Education Secretary General of Cameroon Teachers Trade Union (CATTU), Semma Valentine, also told EboniGram that the 2019/2020 academic year in Anglophone Camerooon took off poorly.
“I’ll put school resumption at less than 05%. This is a generous score because the few schools that managed to open their doors are those situated around military barracks.”Valatine Semma – CATTU
On Monday September 2, which was the date for school resumption, roads were blocked, streets deserted, while major towns and cities in the Anglophone regions were characterised by deafening gunshots. A two-week-long lockdown, imposed by separatist fighters, further exacerbated the situation.
“School resumption for 2019/2020 in these two regions was a farce. It is a lamentable situation that calls for urgent action,” Semma intimated.
The toll on Anglophone families
The hostile environment has caused many a parent to relocate their children to safer Francophone regions for education. Families who can not move their kids to such regions believe their children have a bleak future as long as the life threatening conflict keeps deteriorating. The CATTU Chief Scribe said such an atmosphere can jeopardize yet another school year.
“I see a very bleak future for the entire school year in these two regions because of the prevailing situation and as a result of what obtained last year,” he added.
The battle between the regime’s long-time octogenarian president, Paul Biya, and leaders of the break-away Ambazonian Republic is seemingly far from ending. International organizations and bodies such as the African Union, United Nations Organisation, and the US Congress have entreated the government to initiate a frank dialogue that would eventually create a conducive atmosphere for children to return to school.
According to UNICEF, about 80% of schools have been shut down in Anglophone Cameroon, forcing over 600,000 children to drop out of school, owing to the Anglophone armed conflict.