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A generation of unschooled Cameroonians, another generation of conflict?

IRIN | “As we trekked, they kept on telling us that they don’t want us to go to school again,” says 15-year-old Martha Lum, four weeks after being released by the armed gunmen who kidnapped her along with 78 other children and staff members in Cameroon.

Lum’s story is becoming common across the country’s Northwest and Southwest regions, where the conflict between anglophone separatists and francophone armed forces that’s claimed hundreds of lives has made schools a battlefield.

Since the anglophone conflict escalated in late 2017, more than 430,000 people have been forced to flee their homes. In May, the UN’s emergency aid coordination body, OCHA, said approximately 42,500 children were out of school. However, local rights groups estimate that number has now increased fourfold following frequent abductions.

Some 20,000 school-age children now live in the bush. With no learning materials or trained teachers, they have no access to a formal education. Parents and local officials worry that the children could be driven to take up arms, becoming a lost generation that perpetuates the conflict and the humanitarian crisis.

“Imagine that these children miss school for five or 10 years because of the fighting, hearing the sound of guns every day, and seeing people being killed; what will become of them?” says 45-year-old mother of four *Elizabeth Tamufor.

“We have been hiding in the bush for more than a year,” she tells IRIN. “I am sure the children have forgotten what they were taught in school. You think in five years they will still be hiding here? They will probably pick up guns and start fighting.”

The fear of schoolchildren and young students joining the armed separatists is already a reality for some. *Michael, 20, used to be a student before the conflict started. He joined the separatists when his friend was killed by government forces.

“I replaced books with the gun since then. But I will return to school immediately we achieve our independence,” he says.

Right from the start

The roots of Cameroon’s anglophone conflict can be traced back to education. The separatists fighting for independence from French-majority Cameroon say the current school system symbolises the marginalisation of the English language and culture.

After years of discontent, in November 2016, anglophone teachers began an indefinite strike to protest what they said amounted to systematic discrimination against English-speaking teachers and students. In response, government security forces clamped down on protests, arresting hundreds of demonstrators, including children, killing at least four people and wounding many more.

This caused widespread anger across the Southwest and Northwest regions, which a year later led to the rise of the armed separatist groups now fighting for independence and a new English-speaking nation called “Ambazonia”.

Although the majority of teacher trade unions called off their strike in February 2017, separatists continue to impose curfews and abduct people as a means to push the local population to refrain from sending children back to school.

As a result, tens of thousands of children haven’t attended school since 2016. Local media is awash with stories of kidnappings of children and teachers who do not comply with the boycott, while rights groups say the disruption of education puts children at risk of exploitation, child labour, recruitment by armed groups, and early marriage.

“Schools have become targets,” a July 2018 Human Rights Watch report notes. “Either because of these threats, or as a show of solidarity by parents and teachers with the separatist cause, or both, school enrollment levels have dropped precipitously during the crisis.”

In June, Amnesty International said at least 42 schools had been attacked since February last year. While latest statistics are not available, it is believed that at least 100 separate incidents of school kidnapping have taken place since the separatist movement turned violent in 2017. More than 100 schools have also been torched and at least a dozen teachers killed or wounded, according to Issa Tchiroma, Cameroon’s minister of communication.

The separatist view

Speaking to IRIN last month in Bali, a town neighbouring Bamenda – the capital of Northwest region – armed separatist leader *Justin says his group is enforcing the school boycott started by the teacher trade unions.

“They (teachers) started a strike action to resist the ‘francophonisation’ of the anglophone system of education, and the evil francophone regime arrested and detained their colleagues, shot dead schoolchildren, and you expect us to sit down and watch them killing our people?”

“We don’t want the schoolchildren of Ambazonia to be part of the corrupt francophone system of education,” he said. “We have designed a new school programme for them which will start as soon as we achieve our independence.“

*Laba, who controls another group of armed separatists, is more categorical. “When we say no school, we mean no school,” he says emphatically. “We have never and will never kill a student or teacher. We just want them to stay home until we get our independence and begin implementing our own system of education.”

There are about 20 armed separatist groups across the two English-speaking regions. They operate independently, and separatists have publicly disagreed on the various methods of imposing the school boycott.

Both Justin and Laba accuse the government of staging “some” of the school abductions in order “to discredit the image of the separatists internationally”. But they also admit that some armed separatist groups are guilty of kidnapping and killing children and teachers.

“We don’t kidnap schoolchildren,” Justin says. “We just impose curfews to force them to stay home.”

But for many parents and schoolchildren, staying at home for this long is already having devastating consequences.

‘Everything is different’

Parents who can afford it have enrolled their children in schools in the French-speaking part of the country – mostly Douala and Yaoundé. But the influx has caused fees to rise in the francophone zones. Tuition fees that normally cost $150 annually have now more than doubled to $350.

Beyond the costs, parents also need to transport their children from the troubled regions, along a very insecure highway, to apply for enrollment.

When they get there, success is far from guaranteed. A lot of the francophone schools are now at full capacity and have stopped accepting students from anglophone regions, meaning many children will likely have to stay home for yet another year.

Those studying in a new environment can also take quite a while to adapt.

George Muluh, 16, had been at a school in the Southwest region before the conflict but is now attending Government Bilingual High School Deido in Douala.

“Everything is just different,” he says. “I don’t understand French. The classrooms are overcrowded. The teaching method is different. I am getting more and more confused every day. I just want the conflict to end so I can go back to the Southwest to continue my studies.”

It might be a long while before George has that opportunity. To the Cameroonian government, the teachers’ grievances have already been solved.

“The government has employed 1,000 bilingual teachers, allocated two billion CFA ($4 million) to support private education, transferred teachers who could not speak French and redeployed them to French zones. These were the demands of the teachers. What do they want again?” asks Tchiroma, the minister of communication.

But Sylvester Ngan, from the Teachers Association of Cameroon (TAC), which defends the rights of English-speaking teachers in the country, says most of these measures are cosmetic and don’t solve key issues related to French-only exams and francophone teachers in English schools.

Leave the children alone

While the government and teachers’ unions argue about who is right and what education system to implement, the war is ongoing, people are dying, and tens of thousands of children are not in school.

“No reason can be advanced to justify the unwarranted attacks on children in general and pupils who are seeking to acquire knowledge and skills,” says Jacques Boyer, UNICEF representative in Cameroon. “All children in the regions must be able to go to school in peace.”

President Paul Biya, 85, who just won another seven-year term after 36 years in power, has ignored calls for an inclusive dialogue to end the conflict. The first related measure he undertook after the October election was the creation of a commission to disarm and reintegrate former armed separatists.

Cameroonian political analyst Michael Mbah describes the move as “a joke”, saying that a ceasefire and dialogue must precede any serious attempt at disarmament and reintegration.

Meanwhile, the next year looks bleak for children like Lum whose futures are being decided by a war beyond their control. “I have always wanted to become a medical doctor,” Lum tells IRIN, but she now fears her dream will be shattered by the persistent conflict.

“Leave the children alone,” says *Raymond, a father of four whose offspring haven’t been able to study for close to two years now.

“We, parents, cannot afford to raise a generation of illiterates,” he says. “The future of the children is being sacrificed, just like that.”  

*Names changed at the request of the interviewees for security reasons.

at/si/ag

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36 comments

  1. Even in big and developed country like the US for example, there is no age or school limit.
    Let parents and children stop pushing the old time school and age limit of Mr. Biya / CPDM
    to block a better ulternative by the new gov`t of Ambazonia.
    The cruz of the resistance and declaration of war by Mr. Biya etc on SC, is to stop the
    advancement of our progress. Be patient, please parents and children, the IG, with men
    of calibre like Sessikou Julius Ayuk, Dr Sako etc, have very good intentions for us all.
    The stumbling block, is Mr. Biya, France and a few sellouts in his clan and party, for
    selfish reasons.
    The war shall end some day and Ambazonia shall rise to fall no more but to be a pace
    setter. We have traveled abroad, seen what and how others did it to be at the top.
    Patience, patience.

    • O yea, ‘you have traveled abroad and seen’ what others have achieved for themselves! Unfortunately, you still don’t know how they got to where they are today and you want to be exactly like them OVERNIGHT! You want so badly to be Anglo-Saxon and you curse your African heritage… and somehow expect miracles! No no no, Joshua, things don’t work that way. At this rate, you must expect only total destruction.

      • This ancient being Ras Tuge again. Bring it on you this delusional rabble rousing hard drug addict. You were jubilating all over the place Biya will fulfill his campaign promise and crush the uprising in 2 weeks. Hang in there, we are still killing your Israeli trained BIRs in their numbers everyday. Idiotic bastard. And before I finish, you are hiding in a Swedish basement if I can recollect, start by dislodging Kingsley Ebong who controls and command the Kupe-Mwanenguba one touch that has put up some brave moments against the colonial occupier to liberate Ebonji, Bangem, Nyassoso, Nyandong etc and then proceed to run your watery hard drug mouth in others. Pluck the low hanging fruits first and then we will continue from there.

        • Rasclaaat, never kid yourself that the Nkosse is fighting for the benefit of the Ngraffi. We are different people with different motivations and we will NEVER be in one nation with you. The Bakossi nation is doing fine, and your people are dying over there like flies, Loser!

        • Rad Thug, Kossi people kill themselves more than any other clan so you technically cannot live together pothead. Are you not in Sweden to tell Ebong that or are you too afraid of the young man? Idiot.

  2. We have only one message which is Lrc to get out of our land. We have come to realize that Cameroun cant govern itself and letting them as our leaders is a big mistake. Education in Ambaland will be state of the art when we free ourselves from colonial Cameroun. We have a better option and we can lead our people and we are not corrupt. We are creative and we have the enormous human capital

  3. SEPARATIST aka SECESSIONIST

    The priority now is to kick LRC out from SC. Every other thing must wait.

    • SEPARATIST aka SECESSIONIST

      **** Interim Government Uncovers Biya’s 289 Release Scam ****

      Moreover, after reviewing the lists of purported detainees released by French Cameroun, the following irregularities were observed:
      1. Names of deceased Ambazonians who died in prison as a result of the inhumane treatment by French Cameroun were on the list.
      #41 – Wolen Vitalis
      #43 – Wirsiy Frederic
      2. According to family sources, some detainees who were supposedly released precisely from the Bafoussam Central Prison were never abducted or jailed.
      a. Achankeng Fidelis
      b. Ninju Felix
      3. A sizeable number of the supposed detainees released are citizens from French Cameroun, not Ambazonians and definitely had no connection with the ongoing conflict.

    • SEPARATIST aka SECESSIONIST

      4. At the Yaoundé Central Prison (Kondengui), of the 82 detainees enlisted for release, only 63 were actually released.

      The Interim Government hereby concludes that the decree is a covert, conceived manipulative plan, aimed at deceiving the international community that the brutal dictator Mr. Paul Biya is taking measures to end the war he declared on the people of Ambazonia over a year ago. His soldiers still continue to kill unarmed Ambazonia civilians indiscriminately and burn down entire villages.

    • you said it exactly right. Lrc is a curse, I have never seen people as naive and lazy like camerounese. Their short-sightedness has caused a lazy-diaper-wearing-dictator to be there for eternity.

    • May our ancestors bless the mouth which speaketh wisdom.

  4. The end product of any EDUCATION determines how marketable it is. People will be dying to go for it if they value the product, otherwise they spurn it Look no further than how the greatest national industry (ADMINISTRATION) the products of schooling.

    With rampant unemployment, retirees and ex-convicts are brought back to fill job slots. Did anyone blink when Charles Ndongo went from retirement to DG of CRTV? Is Paul Atanga Nji not minister of MINAT, Fai Yengo Francis not commissioner of the Disarmament Commission? And do heavily titled Commandants, Generals, Lieutenants not gleefully drag citizens in mud, break open their homes and shoot disabled elderly relatives to death?
    How much inspiration do these inspire in those who would like to go to school and get an education?

  5. Thanks ambazombians for creating the next “lost generation”

    • There’s a good chance that this lost generation would be better than those ones who went to some type of school, you check?

  6. Look at a classroom in this era! These delusional folks cannot contribute money towards improving the material condition of their own societies, yet they are contributing millions to amputate and murder poor school children who are forced to study in such filth. What a travesty… bunch of incapable thieves!

    • Rad Tuge Idiot. How is this classroom different from lycee Mendong where your kid brother Njume Franklin has been promoted as bursar from his headmaster primary school position? How is it different from that of lycee Etugebe that your venerated Paul Biya attended? It seems you’ve been cut off from that scrapyard sewage called country for such a long time. These are the reasons you could not qualify to host the African nations cup hard drug Addict. Your infrastructures where way below the standard of a third world country. As a matter of fact, Biya has slide your country into a 5 th world country but Ambazonia is coming out. Den of thieves. Nonsense.

  7. The man Tuge wants us to contribute money to build classrooms. I don’t know what drug he is on but it certainly works to make me laugh. What then is the use of all the taxes we pay in that country? Are the 65% we contribute as Ambazonians to larepublique treasury only to be used to develop Kribi?
    Our resources will be used for the revolution….it is called long germ thinking, an art totally foreign to larepublique.

    • Do you pay tax in Cameroon, huh little coon? What exactly does your Northwest contribute to Cameroon?

  8. Another bad news for ambazonians. Thier almythy general Ivo has been killed like a dog. It is not too late to save others from same fate. I am talking to the useless and coward diaspora which is sponsoring and enticing these kids to eat iron in the name of independence. The same diaspora which is spiting and blocking others from enjoying the same education that enabled them to apply and obtain scholarships or admissions around the world. Same diaspora filled with hate towards other Cameroonians simply because they speak in french, forgetting that it is because of that proximity with francophones, concomitantly with the compulsory french classes , that most of them were admitted to the Quebec immigration programme. Wuna go pay one day.

    • Well, those misled fellows were urged to lay down the weapons that they managed to steal from the army… including their hunting rifles, rocket propelled whatever and so on. They were asked to do this because the nation wants to decide the way forward. But those criminals categorically refused to do as requested. Many continue to boast that they will take their illusion to Yaounde, and all what not.

      But now, the time for mercy is OVER. Taking prisoners has proven to be very costly for the nation.

      Many of those delusional ‘generals’ have been killed and many more will die. They imagine that the criminal US will intervene on their behalf after they have massacred scores of innocent children and people who oppose their delusion. Amigo, Tiger, Ivo all dead. Commando fled to Nigeria.

  9. Breaking news:
    General ivo has been neutralized.
    He is dead

  10. SEPARATIST aka SECESSIONIST

    The US killed Osama Bin Laden. However, the Taliban never gave up the fight. The killing of General Ivo by LRC terrorists will NEVER stop the UNSTOPPABLE momentum or win the UNWINNABLE war. Southern Cameroonians should remain focused and united because a “Vivre ensemble” with the evil and demonic LRC is no longer an option.

    There ate hundreds of General Ivos. The struggle does not depend on persons or groups of persons.

    1. The arrest of Agbor Balla was celebrated by LRC citizens. However, the momentum instead increased.
    2. The arrest of H.E. Sisiku and his entire cabinet was celebrated in Etoudi and Paris. The momentum of the struggle instead increased.

    The above examples should serve as a warning to apologists of the Junta that this struggle can NEVER be stopped by killing General Ivo.

    • SEPARATIST aka SECESSIONIST

      A new General was appointed today by Dr. Cho Ayaba to replace General Ivo. The Taliban always replaced their leaders killed by the US.
      After 17 years of fighting in Afghanistan, the US finally accepted to NEGOTIATE with the Taliban.

      This struggle is difficult to stop because there are several warlords and leaders operating independently. LRC can, therefore, use bribery to stop the struggle.

      LRC has become very desperate. The greatest paradox that defies all human logic is that LRC and citizens are celebrating the death of General Ivo as if that would be the end of the struggle. This shows how naive and desperate LRC has become. Fact is General Ivo has become a martyr and role model for prospective Amba boys.

      SC will remain UNGOVERNABLE until the Anglophone Question is resolved.

    • SEPARATIST aka SECESSIONIST

      LRC can, therefore, NEVER use bribery to stop the struggle.

    • SEPARATIST aka SECESSIONIST

      The BIR is the weakest and the most indisciplined military on planet earth.
      The BIR cannot defeat jobless Amba boys fighting with Dane guns. The BIR is celebrating the killing of General Ivo, a person with ZERO military training, a patriot who defended the land of his ancestors with Dane guns.
      How can the so-called BIR and their apologists on this same forum be celebrating the death of a person fighting with Dane guns???.

      The writer will increase his monthly contribution to Amba boys ba 10%. This increase will buy a few grenades to send a few Bulu terrorists to their country in body bags.

      1. The Ministry of Decentralisation
      2. The commission on disarmament
      3. The commission on bilingualism
      4. etc

      will NEVER EVER be allowed to operate in SC.

  11. So “General” Ivo has been neutralize? When I watched this guy’s videos two weeks ago, out of curiosity, I felt as though he was just a stooge. Probably related to Ayaba Cho and was paying allergiance to the later. Kids just wasting their lives in vain. So sad!

    • There are a lot of lessons in a wasted life. We all have relatives dying on both sides of the divide and this is sad. Rejoicing over the death on one side is often followed by mourning a death on the opposing side, a not too comfortable scenario for any human being.

      Perhaps a little pause and a few questions may guide future course of action. Does humility play any role any more? Where did the zest for big titles and bravado – General, Field Marshall – come from? Why the irresistible temptation to make selfies and voice recording for publicity?

      • Ancient man, the answer to your question with regards to the zest for big titles and bravado is simple: it is called DELUSIONS OF GRANDEUR. The copycat PhDs are no exception to this dangerous condition.

        The world noticed when you left a comment a short while ago warning this young fellow about the dangers he was exposing himself to but nobody will ever listen to the lordly individual that you are.

        Now he’s dead and there is absolutely no lesson in wasted life. People are called upon to follow the path to glory when they can make informed choices. While hordes of misled youngsters across the Southwest are responding favorably to the rallying call of the nation, others continue to expect their brutal demise which is on its way!

  12. as much as we start shouting and looking for people to blame, we should be very honest with ourselves…
    Its not good when young people stay home and dont go to school..
    Lets look at cameroon the last 35 years under Biya, is there a difference with staying at home and going to school?..
    Those who attended school , went to university and completed are just hanging at home, driving Bend SIKIN and cant even afford for a meal not to talk of taking care of a family..
    Those who are in the bushes fighting for AMBA unfortunately have a job to do and can even end a living ..

    As long as we dont Analyse these things, we will never come out of these problems..People are suffering, the ary is raping and killing people and we spend time crying on young people with no future not schooling..
    SHAME

    • @biko

      So what are you proposing as an alternative, sir? The ambazonia thing is, definitely, doomed to failure. Our people are suffering like never before and lives are being wasted on both sides. Aren’t there any strategist in that your “republic”?
      When are you going to take this madness to the doorsteps of the culprits – Mr Biya and gang?
      Talking about schools, the only kids that have not been sent to school in the francophone provinces are those whose parents can’t afford. I was there not long ago and felt like throwing up each time an amber apologist tells me ” I just comot Yaounde for live my family”. Are you guys for real? This nonsense has to stop, like seriously!
      Again, don’t get me wrong, I am against the current regime but I don’t buy your approach at all.

      • @Africana it doesn’t need PhD to understand that ambazonia stuff is a scam only your brain is needed thus educating a fool like @biko is just a waste of time as you will be creating an educated fool.

  13. Ambazonia is the reason for your accelerated “decentralisation”.
    A principle enshrined in your 1996 constitution but which as usual was consigned to the dustbin.

    Ambazonian struggle gave us a federation which was killed
    Ambazonian struggle gave us GCE board
    Ambazonian struggle gave larepublicans office du Bacc
    Ambazonian struggle will send us to Buea