The school year in Cameroon starts Monday with hundreds of schools in the troubled western regions reopening their doors for the first time in three to five years. Anglophone separatists previously used threats to keep the schools closed, but some rebels, for the first time, are saying they should be spared from the conflict.
Cameroon’s government said Monday that several hundred schools reopened in its restive English speaking North West and South West regions.
Most schools in the regions have been shut down for three to five years, since the start of a separatist conflict to carve out an English-speaking state from Cameroon and its French-speaking majority.
Ngida Lawrence Che is the most senior government official in Nkambe, a western district. He says at least half a dozen schools that were sealed by separatists in the 17 villages that make up Nkambe have reopened.
"The turnout in these schools is so encouraging. Every single village of the sub division can boast of functioning schools," said Che. "This time around, our populations are more than ever before determined that these schools must go operational. Proof is that the populations of these areas under the leadership of their traditional and religious authorities came out to clear the school campuses.”
The government reports that separatists attacked or set fire to more than 200 schools between 2017 and 2019, and nearly all schools in the Northwest and Southwest regions were shut down. Teachers and school children escaped to safer localities.
Capo Daniel is defense chief of staff for the Ambazonia Defense Forces, or the ADF, said to be the largest separatist group in Cameroon. He says ADF has also, for the first time in 5 years, given instructions for schools to reopen.
"The future independent state of Ambazonia will not be governed by uneducated people," Capo said. "That is why it is very important for us to institute this alternative educational system even in the middle of our struggle for separation from Cameroon.”
Capo however warned government troops not to set foot on any school campus in the restive regions. He said fighters have been instructed to make sure the national anthem of Cameroon is not sung in English-speaking schools.
Capo said any school that fails to respect ADF orders will be closed, and their teachers and students will be punished.
Asheri Kilo is the secretary of state to Cameroon’s minister of education. She says children in areas where fighters still prohibit education should be admitted in schools in safer areas. She says the government will continue to deploy troops to make sure that all Cameroonian children in conflict zones have access to education.
"You know that we are suffering the problem of insecurity, but while certain places get worse, other places are getting better and the minister has devised a way of using those teachers who were posted in places that are not exactly safe to go to places that are safe and make up the manpower so as to teach these children,” Kilo said.
There was no immediate word Monday on how many students in the North West and South West regions had returned to school. For some, it will be the first time in class sine 2016.