Southern Cameroons Problem: The case for school resumption
Over the last eight months, Anglophones have clearly expressed their frustration with a political system that has poisoned their delight and made it hard for many of them to serve their country. Anglophone lawyers, teachers, engineers, political scientists and journalists have always complained about the system that has reduced them to second-class citizens in a country they hold is theirs too. Prior to 1993, Anglophone students could not cope in the country’s lone university. They were always cut out of professional schools as the competitive examination test papers were always in French, a language many of them never mastered. After many demonstrations in which many students were beaten and killed, the government finally thought it wise to set up an Anglo-Saxon university in Buea in 1993 to meet the educational needs of Cameroonians of English expression.
However, prior to the creation of the University of Buea in 1993, many Anglophone students had missed out on many opportunities in life just because they could not get the sound education they needed. The only salvation that was available was clearly designed for students from rich homes. The Cameroonian educational system had clearly rejected 20% of its population and going to America, Canada, the United Kingdom and Nigeria was the option that was out of reach for poor students. Poverty was robbing poor brilliant students of a bright future due to poor government educational policies. Many Anglophones have carried this pain in them for decades and the frustration has been unbearable. While many may not have had parents who could send them to rich countries for educational purposes, their courage and determination to reach those countries have enabled them to be there and that explains why there are two million Anglophone Cameroonians living abroad today and seeking to make their voices heard.
The Anglophone Diaspora is well educated, with many studying in some of the best American, Canadian and British universities and most of them have been working hard to help their siblings back home for them to study in the best possible conditions. The lack of good learning conditions in government schools was one of the many reasons why Anglophone teachers went on strike. Their objective has always been to impart knowledge to students in the best possible conditions. They want their junior brothers and children to have what they never had and this can only occur if the right conditions are in place. They deserve a pat on the back for this move that has caught the government’s attention. The international community is aware of the government’s failure to create those necessary conditions and the world is watching the government as it scrambles to prove its worth when it comes to making the Anglophone minority feel at home.
The failed 2016-2017 academic year should be considered by the government as a wake-up call. It must understand that if the disruption of the academic year by Anglophone activists has been successful, it is because it had abdicated its responsibilities vis-à-vis its citizens. While it gives the impression that education is highly subsidized in Cameroon, it has over the last decades failed to find out how parents actually finance their children’s education. Its creation of many government schools in Anglophone Cameroon is a laudable act, but most of these schools simply exist on paper with no real educational infrastructure. Many communities have worked hard to build shacks that can enable their children acquire knowledge and this has been very displeasing to so many Anglophones who clearly feel that their region is being neglected and marginalized.
With regard to the fees, members of the Diaspora have stepped in to help ensure their family members get the education that will give them the competitive edge in future. With two million Anglophones living out of the country, it is obvious that each one of them puts one or two children through school in Cameroon, be it in primary school or university. With their financial influence, the Diaspora easily holds sway over many children and parents in Cameroon and that explains why the Diaspora could easily disrupt the academic year. The government should understand that he who pays the piper calls the tune. Even when it was harassing mission schools for them to open their doors despite threats of destruction, the government simply did not understand that it was not the mission schools that were paying the fees, but members of the Diaspora who had clearly stated that there would be no school for a year in Cameroon. Private schools are for-profit institutions and when those who finance those schools declare that they will no longer pay the fees, those schools are bound to shut their doors and wait for the government to address its issues with the citizens who have clearly expressed their frustrations.
The whole notion of disrupting the academic year was thrown into the mix when pictures of Buea University students being molested by the police and military showed up online and quickly went viral. This gave the Diaspora a huge propaganda tool and those pictures have come back to bite the government big time. The Diaspora which has been holding grudges against the government felt it was time to prove that it had the right muscles to challenge the government and it has indeed packed a punch. It threw the deadliest punches at the government, with many landing where it hurts the most. Students in schools across the Anglophone region were pulled out of school and made to understand that their future could not be guaranteed by a regime whose objective has always been to play to the gallery. Anglophone activists seized the moment to ensure a blank year would be declared in Cameroon. This has not been achieved, but their strategy of disrupting the academic has worked like a charm. Indeed, it has worked beyond expectation. The academic year has been totally messed up and the government of Cameroon has been portrayed around the world as an ineffective and corrupt dictatorship that passes off as a democracy.
The government has a crisis on its hands. No promotion exams have been written in Anglophone Cameroon since the crisis began and new students will be looking forward to joining the world of studies and formal learning in September. Nursery schools were also shut down during the demonstrations. With thousands of children looking forward to going to nursery school, it will be challenging for the government to handle this tricky situation, especially as there is no proper infrastructure to handle exceptional situations like the one that has given it a black eye.
While Anglophone activists have scored significant political goals, it is necessary to start looking at things differently after eight long months. An academic year has been lost. The government may say what it likes, but the world knows that all its actions only amount to a charade. However, Anglophones, especially the activists, must start doing an evaluation of their activities to ensure that today’s strengths do not become tomorrow’s weaknesses. Our children, sisters and brothers have paid a huge price. They have been at home since October 2016. This should be considered as their contribution to efforts at reshaping Cameroon, both politically and economically. It is now time to give them a chance for them to return to school.
While it could be argued that the government could only feel the pinch if students stayed out of school, it would also be necessary to understand that the school boycott could have a significant long-term adverse impact on the children whose life the struggle seeks to reshape. In the absence of school over the next academic year, many students may simply skip school forever and their destiny will be ruined by a struggle that was designed to help them have a better life. Two academic years could be a long time in a girl’s life. In the absence of school, our young sisters and daughters will surely become vulnerable and there will always be people around to exploit that vulnerability. Many of them might become prey to predators and this could spell danger to a region that is seeking to fix everything at the same time. Anglophones are right in their quest for political and economic redress, but the search for redress should not pushed them into shooting themselves in the foot. The students can still return to school while the activists continue to pile pressure on a government that is already collapsing under the weight of age and illnesses.
Anglophone activists are a bunch of intelligent people. They can come up with new and innovative ways to pin down the government until it agrees to give the people what they want. But keeping children at home is like spoiling the future Anglophones want to fix. The key to a bright future is an education. Education, no matter how bad it may be, is better than ignorance. Living in ignorance is like living in perpetual darkness and that is not what we want for future generations. It is time to keep children out of the struggle. They have paid their own price and it is time to let them walk freely and happily to school so that they can look forward to replacing us wherever we are. Without an education, especially for the girl child, our future as West Cameroonians will be bleak. We do not want to build a nation or a region of illiterates or people who will carry the spirit of war in them all the time just because they have been robbed of that promise that could have put them in the world of great opportunities. Let’s give them a chance. The struggle should continue and must continue, but our children should be left out of it. I know this not going to be music to many ears, but if we want a bright future for our region, the region we all love, then we must let our children go back to school. Sending children back to school will not be a weakness. Our activists have demonstrated that they are capable of rendering West Cameroon ungovernable. This message has gotten across and I think the government will strive as much as it can to ensure that such a sticky situation does not end up on its hands again.
There are no doubt as to how the government can be made to feel the pain, but this advocacy for our kids to return to school cannot be the right place to throw up new ways that can make the government understand that an entire region is mad at it. The Anglophone community has smart and intellectual activists who can come up with new and innovative ways that will force the government to the negotiating table. Let’s not sacrifice the future just because we want to achieve our common goal today. This request is also a call for Anglophone activists to come up with new ways to challenge government authority in West Cameroon. Let’s take our children’s education and future out of the equation. Let’s use the same means that were employed to keep them out of school for one academic year to send them back to school. Let those call centers that were set up in Toronto, Houston, Washington DC, to advise parents not to send their children to school be used today to advise parents to let their children go back to school come September. Sending our children to school is not synonymous with yielding to government pressure. It is just testimony to our ability to reassess our strategies and to reinvent ourselves so as to achieve the bigger goal – that of achieving federalism or an independent Southern Cameroons.
By Dr. Joachim Arrey
Cameroon Concord News Group
About the Author: The author of this piece is a keen observer of Cameroon’s political and economic landscape. He has published extensively on the country’s political and economic development, especially in the early 90s when the wind of change was blowing across the African continent. He has served as a translator, technical writer, journalist and editor for several international organizations and corporations across the globe. He studied communication at the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom and technical writing in George Brown College in Toronto, Canada. He is also a trained translator and holds a Ph.D.