Episode 09: Closure of Schools in the Northwest Region of Cameroon

Episode 09: Closure of Schools in the Northwest Region of Cameroon
Original Language: 

For six years, schools in the Northwest Region of Cameroon have been closed due to conflict, a situation that has significantly impacted local people. In this episode of the Comundos Podcast, we have invited a guest from the affected area in Cameroon to offer insights into this pressing issue. This episode expands upon the digital story he made earlier with Comundos:

The Closure of Schools in the Northwest Region of Cameroon

At the end of the episode, our guest shares his thoughts on his experience participating in our digital storytelling course. 

Podcast Duration: 
Linmei Yu and Neba
Tuesday, January 2, 2024
Podcast Category: 



Linmei (LM): Hello! Welcome to the Comundos Podcast. I am your host, Linmei. Today, we will focus on the topic of school closures in the Northwest Region of Cameroon, which have disrupted many people. This topic is related to SDG4 Quality Education and SDG16 Peace, Justice, and Strong Institutions. You can watch the video we are discussing by searching on Google for "closure of schools, Cameroon" or through the following link.

We're honored to have Neba, the creator of the story "The Closure of Schools in the Northwest Region of Cameroon," with us today. Due to privacy concerns, we have replaced the author's real name with another name. He will share his firsthand insights into the challenges, reasons, and possible solutions surrounding this pressing issue with us. We will also discuss his experience of following our course on digital storytelling.

Thank you so much for joining the Comundos Podcast, Neba. In your story, we learned that most of the schools in the Northwest region of Cameroon have been closed for the past six years. We understand that the trigger for this was a teachers' strike, but later, separatists also got involved. The situation worsened. Students and teachers who went to school were killed.

So today, can we start with discussing what challenges students are currently facing?

Neba (N): Yes. Currently, children go to school, but almost like they are thieves or sneaking. There is still constant fear of death, as threats to the lives of students still abound. There have been instances where teachers have been killed and learners likewise. Insecurity is the main hindrance to children going to school. There are instances where children are threatened with death, and school head teachers and principals are also executed summarily. In September, when the school year normally starts, separatists usually insist on a two-week lockdown where people are not allowed to move. During this period, people whom they deem are defaulters are summarily executed.

In the early years of the conflict, there was a call for the total shutdown of schools. But, after some time, separatist factions started calling for a return to school, with other factions opposing. Some factions denied the idea of schools resuming, while others said confessional and private schools should resume, not the government schools. This policy makes life for poor parents difficult, since education is free in government schools. Parents who cannot afford it are thus left behind. Some also ordered the official curriculum be scrapped, without providing another alternative.

Within this confusion, there are still attacks on school children and teachers. This is further compounded because of the multiplicity of separatist factions operating in Anglophone Cameroon. Poverty has resulted from the violence where parents are unable to afford fees for the schooling of their children.

LM: It’s truly disheartening to hear that. I can imagine how difficult this must have been for students and teachers in your region. Could you also tell us what difficulties schools have encountered as a result of these closures?

N: Yes. Among the difficulties schools have encountered, so many schools have been targeted with arson attacks. When these schools are burnt down, the learners lose out, as their learning spaces are no more. Many government schools have suffered from this. Some have become camps and hideouts for separatists.

We also had decapitations, [or] where students have had their fingers chopped off because they went to take exams. Among the many challenges is also kidnapping for ransom. There are reports of students and teachers being kidnapped, and ransoms demanded before they are released.

LM: That’s really sad. Then, how many students are currently unable to access education in the region?

N: There are many, but we do not have official figures, but there are communities where schools have been totally left out, and children cannot access any form of schooling. The figures are not very clear.

LM: Have some individuals managed to leave this region in pursuit of education and to avoid danger?

N: Yes! So many children have had to leave their homes in the Anglophone parts of the country to the French-speaking parts of the country. This is in order to go to school in a more peaceful environment. The figures range between 100,000 to 300,000 children.

LM: That's really a big number.

Well, we also learned that school closures are prevalent in both the Northwest and Southwest Regions of Cameroon, which are known as Anglophone regions. Why has this situation occurred in these regions? Could you please provide us with some historical context regarding the conflicts in these regions?

N: Okay. Prior to 1961, the former British Southern Cameroons was a trusteeship territory of the British. When the time came for the territory to gain independence, the British established that the territory was not fit enough to be independent. The internal divisions among the political class at the time, the population of the territory at the time, and the lack of a stable economy are believed to be some of the reasons Britain did not grant the option to Southern Cameroons, which is today called the Northwest and Southwest Regions. In 1961, the Southern Cameroonians were asked to choose whether to join Nigeria or Cameroon, which they chose to join Cameroon.

There were dissenting voices who still wanted an independent country for the former Southern Cameroons. A popular pressure group was formed called the Southern Cameroons National Council, which advocated for a non-violent means to gain independence. Other voices were also calling for the use of arms.

Late October 2016, a teachers and lawyers strike in Anglophone Cameroon transformed into an armed conflict as separatists seized the opportunity to start an armed rebellion, where they ordered the shutdown of schools till further notice. Since then, hundreds of thousands have been unable to access formal education. When the population resisted, the reign of terror began as schools were burnt, teachers kidnapped and killed, students stripped naked while returning from school, schools attacked, and some learners murdered in cold blood.

LM: It’s hard for both students and teachers. But we also learned the history of Cameroon now. Can I say that the former British Southern Cameroons is the predecessor of today’s Anglophone Cameroon?

N: Yes, Linmei. Yes, you are absolutely correct.

LM: From your story, we learned that the trigger for the school closures was a  strike of teachers and lawyers, and then separatists got involved. What’s the root cause of this calling for school closures from the separatists?

N: Okay. The separatists called for a closure of schools, citing that one part of the country had absorbed their educational system, and it was fast losing ground. This first seemed genuine, because the government gave in to the requests made by the teachers when they went on strike. We believe separatists just took advantage of the situation to call for an armed rebellion and declare independence for the territory they were fighting for. To separatists, calling for the closure of schools would attract international sympathy and attention to their cause, but it didn’t have the desired effect, so children were instead terrorized should they go to school.

LM: But school closures did bring some issues. In your story, you also mentioned many students who are unable to attend school have been forced into cyber fraud. Do you have any examples from your surroundings? And what consequences may be brought to the society because of school closures?

N: There are many examples. I have relatives and neighbors whose children have not seen the four walls of a classroom for six years running—some whose homes have been burnt live in bushes where there are no schools. On cyber fraud, it remains a challenging situation for the country to tackle. Prior to the conflict, young people were involved in cyber fraud, but the figures exploded when the conflict broke out. Due to lack of jobs, idleness, sometimes even laziness, a lot of young men are actively involved in scamming, locally called “nguess”. When other youths see their mates making quick cash online, the peer pressure makes them desire a similar lifestyle, all fallouts of the closure of schools.

LM: It seems that something should be done to resolve these issues. To address it, what measures has the government taken? And how effective have these measures been so far?

N: Okay. The first step the government took at the beginning was to address the professional queries the teachers raised, which were to redeploy French-speaking teachers back to their regions. This has been evident for all to see. When it comes to the steps taken to address the dissatisfaction of teachers, they have been taken into account, but the separatists aren’t pleased since theirs is the option for complete independence through war or armed conflict.

LM: But, the war or armed conflict has been bringing security concerns for both teachers and students these years. Like what you said, they risk their daily lives to teach and learn. To address these issues, what efforts do you think can be made by the general public, the international community, and NGOs?

N: Yes, there is a need for justice. And on this note, indictment of those who call for a continuous shutdown of schools. Those who have given the orders for the execution of children in schools should be prosecuted. Countries in Europe, where these people live and send out these devilish orders, should arrest and prosecute them, or even extradite them back to face the country’s judicial system.

LM: Well, can you give more details about the people in Europe?

N: There exists Cameroonians in Europe and America, who sit behind their keyboards and incite violence. They are mostly in countries like Belgium, they are in Germany, they are in Norway, some in America, who sit behind their keyboards and call for violence. Many of them also provide funding for these separatist groups on the ground in Cameroon.

LM: And what do you think the NGOs and civil society can do to get children back to school?

N: Well, NGOs and civil society organizations can provide support and assistance in the form of renovating schools, providing didactic materials for learners, paying school fees, and providing psycho-social support to victims of the conflict.

LM: I believe your suggestions and insights are crucial, and it sheds light on the importance of international cooperation and aid in ensuring the safety of people and the right to receive education for children.

Let's shift our focus back to the topic of digital storytelling. We would like to hear about your experience in taking this course. Could you please explain the significance of following our digital storytelling course?

N: My experience is amazing, absolutely amazing. This course on digital storytelling has helped me express myself and tell my own story, and something that I am passionate about, which is access to education for children. I learned to use digital storytelling tools like Audacity and OpenShot Video Editor.

LM: It's good to hear that! While following your completion of the digital storytelling course, what skills did you acquire, and how have they benefited you and changed your life?

N: Thank you so much for that question. First, I felt a sense of fulfillment after finishing and having my story finally published. Through the skills I learned, I am doing other digital stories that reflect the realities of people in my community. Through digital storytelling, I have contacted with people from different parts of the world, and I want to seize this opportunity to thank, especially, Mr. Sengafor Emmanuel of PROCEFFA, Mr. Bart Vetsuypens for giving me this opportunity to acquire this skill. To you, my friend Linmei, thank you for taking an interest in my story and wanting to know more about the situation of schools in my place.

LM: I am happy that you had a wonderful experience. And I also appreciate the story you shared with us. It’s my pleasure to talk with you today.

At the end of this episode, I would like to say thank you for listening to the Comundos Podcast and express my gratitude to my guest, Neba, once again for the insightful information we talked. Thank you, Neba. We will be back soon with another special episode. Bye for now.

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