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Cameroon Hopes African Football Can Inspire Education Within Indigenous Communities

Map of Cameroon, Central African Republic
Map of Cameroon, Central African Republic

Cameroonian officials are using Africa’s top football (soccer) tournament, the Africa Football Cup of Nations, or AFCON, to promote education among the ethnic Baka people. The Baka live in the rainforests as hunter-gatherers with little access to social services. But with AFCON in progress, they have been coming to local villages to watch the matches on TV.

An indigenous person from Mbang village sings his support for Cameroon’s national football team, the Indomitable Lions, as it seeks a championship in the ongoing Africa Football Cup of Nations.

Mbang is a village in Lomie district near Cameroon’s eastern border. Scores of indigenous football fans have been assembling at villages like this to watch matches since AFCON started on January 9.

Local officials and local businessmen have built fan zones with television sets so indigenous people can watch the games.

On Saturday, the fans rejoiced as Cameroon beat Gambia 2-0 to qualify for the semi-finals of the competition.

Fifty-four-year old fruit seller Zambe Ngueila identifies as indigenous.

Ngueila says he bought and installed a 32-inch TV set for indigenous people, his brothers and sisters, to be able to watch AFCON matches. He says he bought and installed solar panels to power his TV because his village lacks electricity.

Ngueila said he receives at least 30 clients each time there is an AFCON match and the number doubles when the Indomitable Lions are playing.

The government is trying to take advantage of the situation. The Ministry of Basic Education said it dispatched at least 200 teachers to talk to indigenous football fans and encourage parents to send children to school.

One of the teachers dispatched to Lomie is 26-year-old Georgette Minouh, who also identifies as indigenous. Minouh says the government is using her as an example to show that education opens doors to success.

She says the world is evolving constantly and it will be impossible for indigenous people to continue living secluded lives in forests. She says they must open up to the external world and improve their health and living conditions.

Teachers remind indigenous people that primary education is free. They tell the children that Cameroon football players have had at least basic education, and it would be difficult for them to play football at national and international level without an education.

Felicien Mballa is mayor of Lolodorf, a southern farming and hunting town that is home to several hundred indigenous people. He says the lack of birth registration is the first obstacle for children in the villages who have agreed to be educated.

Mballa says he has launched an operation to establish birth certificates for 160 indigenous children who have, within the past three weeks since ACFON started, accepted to go to school. He says he is very certain that before AFCON ends in Cameroon several hundred additional children will be enrolled in schools in Lolodorf.

Cameroon’s National Institute of statistics says the country has about 80,000 indigenous people in all, and three-quarters of their children are not attending classes.

The government says it is creating schools in the forests as part of its effort to accommodate the children’s educational needs.