Schools in Cameroon’s troubled Anglophone regions need to re-open at the beginning of the school year, according to the country’s only cardinal.
The country’s North West and South West regions have been suffering an ongoing insurgency by English-speaking rebels complaining of discrimination and marginalization by the French-speaking majority.
The boycotts began in 2016 with a strike by lawyers and teachers protesting the use of French in courts using the Anglo-Saxon common law tradition (practiced in the English-speaking parts of the country) and in Anglophone schools, and it soon boiled over to the general public, with many Anglophones calling for outright secession.
“It can’t continue this way,” the cardinal told Crux in his Douala residence.
In a recent visit to his hometown Kumbo – located in the North West region – Tumi said he came home with the shocking realization that schools in that part of the country do not function anymore. “A people who go for a single moment without school – what future do they have?”
“Assuming that the ‘amba boys’ become political leaders tomorrow, where will they get the educated manpower to work with for the good of the state?” asked the cardinal, referring to the common term for the rag-tag force fighting for the independence of the English-speaking regions of Cameroon.
Tumi noted that most of them are illiterate, and he said he doubted whether they really understand “the importance of education for the human being.”
He also admonished them for kidnapping teachers and students and described such actions as “torture.”
“There is a Catholic school in my village – St. Augustine’s College – where they went and kidnapped 150 students at night. Imagine the school age these days – these were children between 12 and 14 years. They were taken at night without shoes on and forced to trek for several kilometers. It’s torture,” the cardinal said.
“No matter their convictions, even if they are convinced that it’s necessary to continue fighting against established authority, they should allow schools to continue,” Tumi said.
Rather than negotiate, the government opted for military force to quell the tensions, leading to several deaths.
Originally most of the population wanted greater autonomy within Cameroon, as promised in the country’s original constitution, but the actions of the security forces have moved more and more in to the camp of those demanding outright independence for a country they want to call “Ambazonia.”
So far, at least 2,000 people have died in the conflict, and over 400,000 have been driven from their homes.
In 2017, several Anglophone groups called for a stop to the school boycott, calling it counter-productive, but were brandished as traitors by the separatists and school authorities who tried to reopen schools, and students who tried to attend them, were often kidnapped.
UNICEF, The UN’s children’s agency, estimates over 600,000 school-aged children aren’t attending classes in the Anglophone regions.
“Prior to October 2016, more than 6,000 schools were operational within the region. As of December 2018, less than 100 schools were operational; meaning nearly 5,900 schools were closed down with over 40,000 students out of school and over 40 schools burnt down,” said a July 9 statement by the Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa.
Other prominent voices are joining the cardinal in urging the rebels to stop their boycott.
Mancho Bibixy Tse, a journalist jailed for his support of the Anglophone movement, originally supported the school boycott.
He signed a document from his prison cell to call for the schools to be reopened.
He said the decision to campaign for an effective start to the new school year is borne “out of our consciences given the injustices our children have suffered for three years as a result of school boycott.”
“Our protest was for an improvement of the living conditions in the Anglophone regions. It was meant to be the voice of the voiceless masses who have been suffering without a way of letting the authorities know. It was meant to improve our educational system and not to destroy it,” Bibixy said in the June 20 statement.
“The Coffin Revolution [the local name for the revolt] is not the cause of the current crisis. Our peaceful course was hijacked, and we are suffering the consequences. We therefore are calling on parents in the two Anglophone regions to send their children back to school in September (2019). We are appealing to all political, religious and traditional authorities, development associations, Parent Teacher Associations, Civil Society Organizations, and human rights groups to join us in sensitizing our parents, children and teachers and all those involved in the education of our children for a total resumption of school in September,” the journalist said.
Tumi told Crux that is the right thing to do, so that “light will chase away the darkness.”