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Cameroon Says Separatist Conflict Slows Reconstruction in Western Regions 

Schoolchildren, their parents and teachers hold a protest after gunmen opened fire at a school, killing at least six children as authorities claim, in Kumba, Cameroon, Oct. 25, 2020.
Schoolchildren, their parents and teachers hold a protest after gunmen opened fire at a school, killing at least six children as authorities claim, in Kumba, Cameroon, Oct. 25, 2020.

Cameroon says fighting between troops and rebels is slowing reconstruction of homes, schools, hospitals, and other public buildings in its troubled western regions. Authorities say in the three years since the launch of a reconstruction plan for thousands of homes and hundreds of public buildings damaged in the seven-year separatist conflict, less than 100 have been re-built.

In a broadcast on Cameroon state media Tuesday, 50 children sang in their classroom at the Cameroon Baptist Convention Inclusive Primary School.

The children sang that they love their school because without it they would not be able to count from one to ten and to speak English well.

Vega Gladys is the head teacher at the school in Bamenda, the capital of Cameroon's mostly English-speaking Northwest region.

She says the government repaired the school last year after it was damaged in 2018 during clashes between troops and anglophone separatists.

"The reconstruction work by the government has been a boost in that the children have nine classrooms that they can sit freely. There were about one hundred benches donated to decongest the classrooms and the children's performance is increasing," she said.

Vega said the number of children in the school has increased from tens of students in 2018 to several hundred this year, some of them displaced from ongoing fighting.

But the school is one of only 60 re-built while hundreds of others were abandoned.

Rebels on social media have vowed to make the English-speaking Northwest and South regions a breakaway nation they call Ambazonia.

The rebels say government schools and offices are legitimate targets as they are used by the French-speaking majority to suppress the English-speaking minority — a notion which authorities reject.

Yaoundé in 2020 launched a reconstruction and development plan for the Northwest and Southwest regions.

The government promised to reconstruct 12,000 private homes, schools, hospitals, bridges, and markets that were destroyed or damaged in the fighting.

But deputy coordinator of the reconstruction plan Njong Donatus says so far, they’ve re-built less than one hundred.

He blames ongoing fighting for the slow pace and says rebels regularly seize and destroy construction materials and abduct workers for ransom.

"We are at the recovery phase of the plan to bring back the two regions to where they were before the crisis, and I think that it is to the interest of every son and daughter of our regions to come on board so that we get this done. I will equally call on children who are in the bush (rebels] that it is time for them to come out so that our people benefit from this. Some of the areas are still hostile and we have difficulties penetrating those areas," he said.

After a visit to the Northwest and Southwest regions last week, officials said the construction plan would need an additional $100 million to rebuild from the seven years of fighting.

The original plan called for $150 million in rebuilding costs.

Cameroon says it will provide 70% of the funds while the rest will be covered by international donors, including the U.N., France, and Japan, and private companies — both local and foreign.

Cameroon’s President Paul Biya announced the reconstruction plan in 2020 after a national dialogue to solve the conflict, which separatists did not attend.

The International Crisis Group estimates the conflict has killed about 6,000 people and displaced more than half a million in Cameroon's western regions.