By Saron Messembe Obia
Cameroon’s two Anglophone regions the North west and South west constitute a minority of English speakers in a country where French speakers are the overwhelming majority, since decolonization more than 60 years ago. In late 2016, crisis sparked off in the two regions, appealing on political and economic discrimination against English speakers by the central government, which spilled over when lawyers, students and teachers began calling for reforms. Government’s refusal and delay to respond to revendication, provoked rebels to declare in 2017 independence of the two regions, which they call “Ambazonia”. This report focuses on South West region, reviewing attacks in some schools, while providing recommendations in order to restore peace in a country endowed with several resources.
Human security challenges continue to moderate national and international activities in Cameroon, following numerous attacks on schools and abduction of students, teachers and even members of NGOs. The scenario reported by Aljazeera, BBC and the Guardian about 276 girl students kidnapped from the Chibok Government Girls’ Secondary School, Borno state, on April 14, by the Islamist group, Boko Haram is replica in Cameroon. Though the scenario in Cameroon is emerging, abductions of students and teachers, murder of civilians and security officers. Human rights activist, politicians and members of international organizations continue to appeal on the state to end the crisis in South West and North West Regions (NOSO) of Cameroon.
The main reason of secessionists is to prohibit students going to schools. Education is a basic fundamental human right enshrine in national and international laws. The focus of this paper is the South West region, Meme division, Kumba, based on several attacks carried out by cell groups. In order to understand the crisis in the two English speaking regions of Cameroon, its necessary to out pin that different bands of armed civilians have emerge to organized defense and insurgent groups, and have taken control of certain parts of Cameroonian territory. Some of the organizations aspiring for political change are; the Southern Cameroons National Council (SCNC), Southern Cameroons Anglophone People’s Organization (SCAPO), Southern Cameroons Youth League (SCYL), Movement for the Restoration of the Independence of Southern Cameroons (MORISC) (CHRDA, 3. Jun 2019), and the Southern Cameroons Ambazonia Consortium United Front (SCACUF), which identifies itself as the interim government of the Federal Republic of Ambazonia considered as a ‘virtual state’ by some Cameroonians.
In the quest of a new state, some armed groups have claimed responsibility of attacks, such as; the Southern Cameroons Defence Forces and the Ambazonia Defence Forces (ADF is the military arm of the Ambazonia Governing Council). The emergence of local cells proclaiming themselves as Omega in a video (4 November 2020), when they attacked the Kulu Memorial College in Mile 4, Limbe, as well as Ambazonia Restoration Army in Belo/Boyo, the Nso Liberation Army in Bui, the Tigers of Manyu in Manyu Division, and the Red Dragons of Lebialem Defence Force in the locality of Lebialiem.
Pragmatic nature of the crisis
A key component of Ambazonia’s ideology is hostility towards independence and it has gained notoriety for its repeated attacks on schools, as well as teachers, administrators, and students, wreaking havoc on an already fragile education system. There is massive exodus by persons in crisis regions scared of killings, abduction and beheading of state actors in conflict regions. The impact of attacks on education on women and girls often differs from that on boys and men (Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA), 11. October, 2018).
Targeted attacks on schools and abduction of students and teachers, is harmful for access to formal education. The tendency is that they had been forced to suspend their education after their school was attacked or permanently dropped out of school because of the attacks. Poverty is the single greatest obstacle to education in South West and North West Regions of Cameroon, and parents’ ability to pay for school expenses has been further impeded by the conflict. The economic impact has made many parents to be reluctant to send their children back to school after attack on their school. Many schools have equally been closed for significant periods due to insecurity, some destroyed or seriously damaged during an attacks.
Impact of the conflict on education
The education system in South West Region, Cameroon was already fragile before the conflict sparked in 2017, with significant numbers of children never attending school and large numbers dropping out without completion of secondary and university. Given the high rates of poverty, many parents could not afford to send their children to private schools in other regions exempted from the crisis, because of the costs of education, including school fees, uniforms, and textbooks. Some parents are used to sending their children to formal schools long before the emergence of the crisis.
Prior to the conflict, there were significant regional disparities in educational attainment, with children from the south west and north west regions were much less likely to attend school. For example, In the North West region, on September 3, 2018, the first day of school, approximately a dozen students were abducted from the campus of the Presbyterian School of Science and Technology (PSST), Bafut, along with the principal of the institution (CHRDA, 3. Jun 2019).
On January 30, 2018, a teacher at the Government Primary School in Ntungfe was shot by an unidentified man carrying a locally made gun for failing to observe the boycott operation (ghost town or contri Sunday). The same day, a teacher at the Baptist Comprehensive High School in Njinikejem was assaulted by a man armed with a 30-centimetre-long knife for not enforcing the school boycott. Given these examples, is no surprise that four years of conflict have had dire consequences for education in South West and North west regions of Cameroon, especially as fighters continue to targeted formal education, destroying schools, killing students and teachers, and abducting others.
The Biya’s Plan for rebuilding the North west and southwest regions was discussing in what was termed; the Grand National Dialogue: The Anglophone crisis has extensively expanded the severity of all challenges against formal education in the both regions. Educational milieus have been targets of several attacks by separatists fighters, resulting in the destruction and abandonment of many educational facilities, mass migration to other regions, and the consequences decrease in access to education and high rate of prostitution and deteriorating health condition.
MENJI (Lebialem – South West Region)
Lebialem-South West Region of Cameroon is one of the areas where secessionist began their ‘struggle’, precisely in Menji. Menji Council which was the former Nweh Mundani Council was created by Decree No 95/082 of 24th April 1995. Menji is 45 km from Bakebe which is found along the Kumba-Mamfe road and 256 km from Buea (capital of the South West Region) through Kumba and Bakebe. Menji council area is bounded to the South West by Tinto municipality in Manyu Division, a base for local cells. The crisis in the two English speaking regions has been marked with several attacks on schools since 2016. As such, youths burned down parts of the Catholic Primary School in Menji, on October 17, 2017. On November 24, 2017, Amnesty International reported the burn down of administrative block, a classroom, and school records of the Government Bilingual High School in Menji.
MUYUKA (Fako – South West Region)
Muyuka is a small town in Fako Division of the South West Region of Cameroon, located about 31km from Buea, the Region’s capital. The locality has also been a suitable target for secessionists.
On 25th April 2018, Mr. Ashu Thomas Nkongho, the senior discipline master of Bilingual High School (B.H.S), Kossala, in Meme Division of the South West region, was shut by unidentified gunmen, while on school campus, for failing to respect school boycott order (CHRDA, 3. Jun 2019). He was shot in the early hours as 7.30 AM, when unidentified gunmen invaded the school on a bike forcing children and teachers to flee from campus. Mr. Ashu Thomas later died at the Kumba District hospital. The incident caused consternation – students and staff had to flee the campus for safety. The Vice Principal Enongene Henry and several students had to fled from the campus after the incident as security forces were deployed to the school. The same month a local chief in a church and a priest, were alledgely murdered by unidentified men for opposition to secession by the Northwest and Southwest Regions.
On 30th April 2018, Sophie Mandengue Maloba, a 42-year-old teacher of a government primary school in Muyuka, in Fako Division of the South West region, and a mother of three children, was shot by unidentified gunmen suspected to be separatist fighters appealing for educational lockdown in the region.
In June, 2018, two upper sixth students of the General Certificate of Education examination centre at Government High School, GHS Ngamlikum in Kumba, were abducted. While one of them was released on the same day, the other spent several days in captivity before eventually regaining freedom.
The 2020 Fiango Massacre
In the early hours of Saturday 24 October 2020, unidentified gunmen stormed Mother Francisca International Bilingual Academy Fiango, in Kumba, South West Region, shot and killed at least six children and injured about eight others. Government officials place responsibility on secessionist insurgents who are seeking to form a new state in Cameroon’s English-speaking west. The six students assassinated were; Victory Camibon Ngameni (11 years), ANAMGIM Jenifer (12 years), Ngemone Princess (12 years), Che Telma Nchangnwi, Zakame Rema (09 years) and Chema Syndi (another student later died). While those injured were; Francisca Akindam, Mbong Blessing, Moka Juliet, Aghaino Princess, Golden James, Acha Christabel, Ndum Princess, Belinda Marian, Rosemary Wase, Tifu Lydia Favour, Someni Matula Ange, Efouet Therese and Mounge Remy.
Senior Divisional Officer for Meme, Chamberlin Ntou’ou Ndong fearlessly condemned the attituted of the community; “I cannot understand that during the day, separatist fighters are attacking innocent children. The surrounding population witnesses without doing anything. That is why I have given instructions for them to all be arrested”.
LEGAL FRAMEWORK IN CAMEROON
The Preamble of the Constitution of Cameroon adheres to human rights standards of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), 10 December 1948, the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, 1989, and other ratified international conventions. The Preamble declares that “human persons, without distinction as to race, religion, sex or belief, possess inalienable and sacred rights.” The first three articles of the Preamble of the Cameroon Constitution of 1972 (rev. 2008) provide:
- All persons shall have equal rights and obligations. The State shall provide all its citizens with the conditions necessary for their development;
- The State shall ensure the protection of minorities and shall preserve the rights of indigenous populations in accordance with the law;
- Freedom and security shall be guaranteed each individual, subject to respect for the rights of others and the higher interests of the State.
Article 45 of the Constitution of 1972 (rev. 2008) further provides, “Duly approved or ratified treaties and international agreements shall, following the publication, override national laws, provided the other party implements the said treaty or agreement.” Below are some international human rights instruments, whose provisions are directly relevant to the crisis in the two English speaking regions in Cameroon:
- African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ratification on June 20, 1989).
- Convention on the Non-Applicability of Statutory Limitations to War Crimes and Crimes against Humanity (accession on October 6, 1972)
- Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC; ratification on January 11, 1993) and its Optional Protocol (ratification on February 4, 2013)
- International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR; ratification on June 27, 1984).
Signatory to several international conventions, Cameroon has positive obligations to respect, protect, and fulfill these rights mentioned in the above conventions and protocols. Cameroon is also a signatory of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties of 23 May 1969, which provides that “every treaty in force is binding upon the parties to it and must be performed by them in good faith.” Cameroon being a signatory to these international instruments, is therefore bound to respect human rights and freedoms.
Consequences of attacks on schools Early marriages and prostitution
Insecurity is a major factor for early marriages and prostitution in conflict, and in areas where victims or refugees migrate in search for shelter and food. Attacks on schools, has led many girls being taken out of school exacerbating the tendency to get marry, others engage in prostitution in the quest for money to travel to other countries for quest for better living. However, some parents may consider early marriage as a mechanism for survival, especially during periods of insecurity, which the in-law usually abroad will be sending money for the family, also has a number of increased risks.
Young girls who engage in early marriage are not often mentally or emotionally prepared to negotiate for safer sex or withstand the pressures from her predator. Using Nigerian as example with Boko-Haram, UNFPA stated that “the health consequences of early marriage among adolescents include, early child bearing; increased risk of STIs and HIV; high infant and maternal mortality and morbidity, prolonged and obstructed labor which may result in fistula and the corresponding consequences of social exclusion.”
Suffering Due to Trauma
Mental health is a vital issue in child growth as well as educational development. Many students and teachers, in the region are psychological depress (nightmares, easily frightened, and inability to focus). Incidences encountered (attacks during lessons) has ongoing impact on their education. An example in place are students of the Kulu Memorial College Limbe. Another issue is the insecurity on school campuses and attacks on schools makes it difficult for parents as well as students in the region to condole with normalcy provided by attending school.
As a result, most parents refute their children to return to school, because of inadequate security measures. The visit of the Minister of Secondary education (MINSEC) and Minister of Basic Education of Cameroon at Mother Francisca International Bilingual Academy Fiango-Kumba appeal for trauma counseling and psychosocial support is needed for children and teachers and the need for mental health responses. The ministers of secondary and basic education, have been providing teachers with training to build their capacity to teach children in their classrooms who have been traumatized by the crisis. In addition to government efforts, civil society organizations and NGOs have developed programs to respond to the enormous need for psychosocial services.
The socio-political crisis in the South West and North West regions in the Republic of Cameroon is as a result of structural marginalization and clash of cultures (Criminal Justice System and education) aimed at assimilating minority Anglophones. This paper highlights recent developments, with hostile environment for students and teachers, who are increasily targeted by radicalized armed separatist groups and secessionist forces, and their role of the government is now than more essential in restoring peace in the two regions in the country. Despite international community frequently responds, appealing for dialogue and seeking peace, with increasing attacks on soft targets, civil-military relations is an essential in other to combat secessionist forces.
‘No war is just, attack on education is evil’. The incidences expose in this report are evidence of gross violations of human rights and crime against humanity; the right formal education, assassination, kidnapping of students and teachers are some of the atrocities which continue to plague the two regions, with a significant number of civilian victims. With the support of international community, human rights violations can be minimized, but the political solution for peace appeal to Cameroonians in the framework of dialogue.
Security in South West and North West regions of Cameroon have been fragile, with increasily attacks on civilians, military and the worst on educational milieus. In order to provide necessary recommendations for the state, one must analyze the risk for each school that is currently open to students at all affected locations, particularly schools located in remote areas. The report did not explore all schools currently operating, but focus on those attacked, in order to provide recommendations in other to limit future intentions.
- Investigate past incidents
The government in collaboration with security consultants identify the modus operandi of secessionist and explore the protection gaps from past attacks. Community policing will be helpful in order for the military machine to adopt new strategies to prevent abductions, killing of students, teachers, as well as civilians in the region.
- Risk analysis for schools in remote areas
The government should review security protocols for schools that are currently open in remote areas. The government (particularly the security forces) should consult with educational personnel and some community persons, in order to develop best protection measures.
- Provide emergency preparedness program
Educational personnel and administrators of schools in affected regions should be trained in order to respond to any eventual attack on school premises. The program (training) should constitute; implementation security protocols of the school when under attack, and ensure that students and staff know what steps to take if their school is attacked. The government (security officers in collaboration with NGOs) should ensure that the program be updated on a regular basis, with regards to attacks on schools in the region.
- Properly train security guards
The government (through administrative authorities of the division) should ensure that security guards are properly trained before their deployment to schools and not take actions that might endanger students and school authorities. Some best practices which security guard must implement with the support of administrators of the school are but not limited to;
- Ensure that students as well as visitors put on badges
- Search school bags and scan buildings and offices before resumption of classes
- Ensure that daily security reports (SMS or Mail) are submitted in areas where VHF communication not available
Secessionist and other local cells should ensure their combatants comply with international humanitarian law and international human rights law, by taking the following steps to:
- Immediately cease all attacks on education, including attacks on schools, on students and teachers;
- Desist from any threat to students will to go to school;
- Avoid torture of students and teachers, as well as sharing of nude pictures
Amnesty International, Research Report, A Turn for the Worse: Violence and Human Rights Violations in
Anglophone Cameroon (London: Amnesty International Publications, 2017) at 5 [Amnesty International
2017]. See also CHRDA, “Letter to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the
Anglophone Crisis: 2 Years Later” (December 5, 2018). Online <https://chrda.org/2018/12/05/letter-to-theunited-nations-high-commissioner-for-human-rights-on-the-Anglophone-crisis-2-years-later/>/
African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, “Resolution on the Human Rights Situation in the
Republic of Cameroon’’, ACHPR/Res. 395 (LXII), 62nd Ordinary Session, (2018) online:
http://www.achpr.org/sessions/62nd_os/resolutions/395/ [African Commission, Cameroon Resolution].
Centre for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa (Cameroon) and the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights (Canada), “Cameroon’s Unfolding Catastrophe: Evidence of Human Rights Violations and Crimes against Humanity in the Anglophone Regions of Cameroon” (June 3, 2019). Also available online: https://static1.squarespace.com/static/5ab13c5c620b859944157bc7/t/5cf685bc19d167000186c6fb/1559659972339/Cameroon%27s+Unfolding+Catastrophe+%28June+2019%29_report.pdf
CHRDA reports that 553,775 persons have been displaced, “Upsurge of IDPs in Cameroon’s Anglophone
Regions,” (20 December 2018), online: https://chrda.org/2018/12/20/upsurge-of-idps-in-cameroonsAnglophone-regions//
International Crisis Group, “Cameroon’s Worsening Anglophone Crisis Calls for Strong Measures” Briefing
No. 130 / Africa (19 October 2017). Online <https://www.crisisgroup.org/africa/central-africa/cameroon/130-
cameroon-worsening-Anglophone-crisis-calls-strong-measures> [ICG Briefing No 130], at 7.
“I Will Never Go Back to School” The Impact of Attacks on Education for Nigerian Women and Girls by Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA), 11. October, 2018. https://reliefweb.int/report/nigeria/i-will-never-go-back-school-impact-attacks-education-nigerian-women-and-girls-summary
Preamble, Constitution of the Republic of Cameroon, Law No. 96-06 18 January 1996 to amend
Constitution of 2 June 1972 [Constitution].
Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, African Union, 11 July 2003, as adopted by the Meeting of Ministers, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on 28 March 2003, and the Assembly of the African Union at the second summit of the African Union in Maputo, Mozambique, 21 July 2003.
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, arts. 19 and 20; see also The Declaration on Human Rights Defenders (A/RES/53/144).
UNESCO, “Cameroon: Joint Statement of UNICEF and UNESCO on Abduction of Education Personnel
and Attacks against Schools in the South-West Region of Cameroon” (June 1, 2018). Online
<www.unesco.org>. See also, Refugees International, “Crisis Denied in Cameroon: Government Refusal to
Recognize Suffering the NWSW Deters Donors” (May 29, 2019). www.refugeesinternational.org
United Nations, Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, (23 May 1968), United Nations, Treaty Series,
vol. 1155, at 331, online: <https://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6b3a10.html>
(The Author is the Editor of crimeandmoreworld.com)
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