Cameroon is marking its annual Youth Week activities by focusing for the first time on the country's Anglophone separatist conflict. Officials are urging the teaching of English and French to try to bridge the gap between the country's English speakers and its French-speaking majority.
As part of the activities, 80 students from the Government Bilingual High School Essos sang that Cameroon is one and united. In the song, the students said tolerance and peace are needed to foster cohesion and live together as one in the central African country.
Similar songs calling for patriotism were being sung in all academic institutions as part of activities marking Youth Week. University students this year also joined in the weeklong activities.
Nalova Lyonga, Cameroon’s minister of secondary education, said she asked teachers in all schools to educate students to love their country and live together in peace and harmony despite linguistic and cultural differences that fuel tensions.
"Everybody should attempt to understand the other person and no longer say to anybody that I don't understand your English. We don't want to hear that. Let them use their language and not feel left out within an entity called Cameroon, and all of the languages should be the bridge that takes you closer to the next person in the place called Cameroon," she said.
Lyonga said Youth Week activities are also encouraging students to speak Cameroon's two official languages, English and French. She said the government was also using Youth Week to urge a return to peace in the restive English-speaking Northwest and Southwest regions.
Violence erupted in the two regions in 2016 when teachers and lawyers protested alleged discrimination at the hands of the French-speaking majority. The ensuing conflict between government forces and separatist groups has since killed several thousand people.
In 2017, officials created a commission to promote the use of both languages.
George Ngwane, a member of the commission, said it has encouraged many French-speaking Cameroonians to see that English and French have the same status.
Speaking from the town of Buea, he said most government offices no longer neglect English speakers, and that classes are underway to teach public office workers both languages.
"One has seen a degree of sensitivity towards the practice and the use of the two official languages that can help us promote peace and national unity. When I hear certain ministers today trying to give equity to the two languages, I would say there are some strides that have been made, but there is a lot that needs to be done," Ngwane said.
Cameroon says the ongoing campaign will reduce tensions if people under 35, who make up about three-fourths of the population, can learn to speak the two languages regularly.