By NFOR Hanson NCHANJI
There is an interesting debate in the Southern Cameroons on whether pupils and students from all villages and towns should resume school this coming academic year. While I agree that the education of a child should not be mortgaged for whatever reasons, I also think both sides should consider a ceasefire for an effective school resumption. The fewer attacks on schools in the past months show that there is a willingness on the part of the Separatists to allow children go to school, but is the government prepared to stop invading villages and burning houses?
Barrister Agbor Felix Nkongho, former leader of the Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium, CACSC, and the founder of the Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa has been championing back to school since 2018. He said on Tuesday, July 9, 2019 that, ” The main industry in the North West and South West Regions is education. Unfortunately, this industry has remained closed down for three years now. The consequences have been devastating. Prior to October 2016, more than 6000 schools were operational within the region. As at December 2018, less than 100 schools were operational; meaning nearly 5900 schools were closed down with over 40,000 students out of school and over 40 schools burnt down. As of June 2019, UNICEF reported that over 600,000 children are out of school in the Anglophone regions. More and more students have migrated to the French-speaking regions to pursue education. Paradoxically, as children massively migrate to the French-speaking regions, they carry along with all the investment on education to the regions and get to be absorbed by the French system the Southern Cameroonians claim to be fighting against. The school boycotts’ lack of foresightedness has caused the Anglophones to increase the marginalization of their own economy and facilitating the process of assimilation.”
I read through comments on Facebook page and discovered that many are in support of his campaign but others have asked very pertinent questions. many are clamoring today for an effective school resumption come September but have failed to address the root cause of the problem. How did we get here? Why was there a school boycott? Has the government addressed the issues raised in November 2016 when the teachers embarked on an indefinite strike action? Is the environment safe for children to go to school?
I personally want school to resume but we must all go on the table with clean hands. The government has been telling the international community that Separatist fighters are the ones holding children from going back to school. This is partially false. The first thing we have to know is that, some schools are still functioning in Southern Cameroons especially in big towns where less attacks are witnessed. The evidence is that since 2016, there have been students writing the General Certificate of Education and pupils writing the First School Leaving Certificate. The numerical value of this resumption is the main issue. Schools in the hinterlands have remained shutdown as there is no one to sensitize them.
Secondly , the government is playing a double game. She has intensified attack sin villages with over 200 villages burned by her soldiers. How then can students and pupil go to school when soldiers shoot at any male child they see in villages during an attack? how can they go to school when their school uniforms, books, shoes and everything have been burned down by trigger happy soldiers? For us to come to the table with clean hands, the government need to declare a ceasefire and or promised to attack the Ambazonia fighters only in their camps and not in civilian populated areas.
I have seen pictures of children in Njinikom in Belo division, North West region and it is purported that an Ambazonia fighter, popularly called General RK has ordered that school should resume in this area. This is a good example of someone who wants children to go back to school. If all Ambazonia fighters declare their willingness to let children go to school and make a ceasefire in school premises and civilian populated areas, the government will be caught by her own trap.
A front-line Ambazonia Activist, Mark Bareta, reacting to the school resumption campaign has listed some salient points:
Going forward what must we do to educate people who are still in the war tone areas?
1. Separatists movements have no more embargo on schools functioning. If you noticed that has been the case for more than a year now and the decision has simply be left for parents to decide. The continuous nagging about school resumption aches most of the fighters who dropped out from schools if we must know. Access the security of your area and make an informed decision
2. The aspect of schooling can only be possible in safe zones and all campaigns should be geared towards creating those safe zones. And that means forcing both parties on the table. I want to see campaigns to safe the life of children and Ambazonians killed. I want to see Campaigns to force Cameroun to end hostilities and dialogue and I want to see campaigns to help those in bushes. That is the first campaign so that even those trapped in bushes can have the opportunity to get that education too.
3. As the aspects of schooling becomes difficult in over 80 percent areas in Southern Cameroons, we must be looking at creating programmes that educates our children even in those difficult areas, not schooling. Pilots programs away from the traditional schooling. Those are projects campaigners should be thinking.
4. Work hard to get a truce so that some areas are no go zone. In other war areas, fighters by their own might develop these buffer areas , some through joint agreements but in our case we still very much sporadic
5. Encourage separatist fighters in their areas of some form of control to make it possible and put in place special forces to guarantee kids study or get involved in pilot education programs.
I agree and disagree with mark Bareta. In my analysis above, I clearly stated that fighters have allowed parents to decide whether or not to send their children to school with fewer attacks on school infrastructures. The government is yet to show good faith on this point. I disagree with mark Bareta on the point that education mostly informal as he opines should take centre stage in Anglophone communities. Classroom Education; General, Commercial or Technical is very important for the future of our children. Children must be allowed to go to school.
Education is non negotiation. My final point is that both sides should stop playing games and map out a way forward for school resumption. The government should stop saying that Ambazonia leaders do not want school resumption when her troops are specialized in killing young men in villages, babies and even those who sit calm in their houses. For there can be no good environment for education if soldiers in military wear keep parading villages and towns with heavy weapons.
Also, Ambazonia hardliners must stop giving the government reasons to cry out to the international community that the ineffectiveness in school resumption is due to threats coming from the leaders. Some of these leaders whose children are abroad studying are the first to say there will be no school resumption. I strongly believe that if both parties love to see children go to school, they will come together, bury their pride and sit on the dialogue table; if not anything they say to the international community will just a game.