Bishops call for an end to fighting so school can resume
As children in Cameroon are getting ready to start a new school year, the bishops of the country’s strife-torn English-speaking regions are calling for an end to hostilities so young people can get an education. All six bishops of the Bamenda Ecclesiastical Province have jointly issued “a 9-Point Consolidation Message” to Christians, in which they make a strong appeal for peace.
The Catholic bishops said “The school boycott for the past two years with another threat of a third year has had a deeply negative impact,” adding that it would be “suicidal” to continue denying children their right to education. They said only an irresponsible society would compromise the irrevocable right of children to education. The bishops pointed out that wealthier people could still afford to educate their children in French-speaking Cameroon or abroad
However, poor children often end up joining rebel groups or becoming thieves or prostitutes. The school boycott dates back to October 2016, when lawyers and teachers went on strike in the two English-speaking regions of Cameroon over what they saw as the erosion of their educational and legal systems by the country’s Francophone-dominated administration.
Teachers in Anglophone regions raised a number of concerns including:
- increasingly prominent use of French in schools run in the Anglo-Saxon tradition
- discrimination against Anglophone students in admission to professional schools
- use of French-style exams – usually poorly translated into English – in technical schools, leading to a high failure rate among Anglophone students
- francophonisation of Anglophone universities.
Lawyers also demonstrated against the increasing use of French in the country’s common law courts. Protests developed into a full-scale armed rebellion, with separatists in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions calling for an independent state of “Ambazonia”. As one of their strategies, Ambazonian leaders called for the boycott of schools, claiming they were forcing the French language on locals. This led to a spate of arson attacks in which hundreds of schools were burned down. Many other schools in the area have been also been abandoned.
Ambazonia leaders’ response to the Bishops’ Message sent mixed signals. While recognising the right of parents to educate their children, the Ambazonia Defense Forces say they are unable to guarantee the children’s safety.