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English-speaking Students Do Not Return to School in Cameroon

Millions of school children have failed to show up for the start of the school year in Cameroon's English speaking regions, even after the government freed most of the jailed leaders of anglophone protests.

A teacher at Ntamulung bilingual high school in Bamenda, Cameroon, is teaching 20 children who have shown up on day one of the school year. At least 70 were expected in the classroom.

Schools have been closed in the English-speaking northwest and southwest regions of Cameroon since November last year when lawyers and teachers called for a strike to stop what they described as the overbearing influence of French. After strike leaders were arrested, pressure groups called for their immediate and unconditional release before resuming classes.

Last week, 55 of the 75 anglophone protesters were released and their charges in a military tribunal dropped.

Analysts said it was an important concession to the strikers’ demands that could open the way to renewed talks to the end the crisis.

But separatist groups are asking for Cameroon President Paul Biya to release another 20 people, to call back those who escaped into exile, and to recall 5,000 soldiers deployed to the English-speaking regions before dialogue can begin.

FILE - Cameroon's President Paul Biya waves.
FILE - Cameroon's President Paul Biya waves.

Journalist Finnian Tim, who was released from jail after seven months, says the detainees wish to see schools reopen.

"We were pleading with our brothers to stop whatever thing they were doing, because what they were doing, like ghost towns, was not helping us in any way. We are pleading with them to instead stop. Schools can go on for me. My children have stayed home. I paid fees last year for close to 1,300,000 francs (about $2,000 US dollars) for all children I sponsor in school. It went like that, so why should I tell my children to stay home again?" he asked.

The government sent senior officials to the anglophone regions to convince parents to send their children to school. The Secretary of State in the Ministry of Industries, Mines and Technological Development, Fuh Calistus Gentry, visited northwestern Cameroon.

"The state can not sit and fold its hands and see people being prevented from going to school, such a state becomes an irresponsible state in the eyes of the world community," Gentry said. "If you prevent someone from going to school, it can not be accepted."

President Biya has announced reforms in response to the strike, like a new common law division at the Supreme Court, the creation of English departments at the country's school of magistracy and the appointment of the first anglophone to head the judicial bench of the Supreme Court. But he has said that he will engage in no dialogue that threatens national unity.