YAOUNDE - Cameroon observed a day of national mourning Sunday, with the central African state’s flag flying at half-staff and millions of people taking to the streets, mosques, and churches to condemn barbarism and killing. People are also asking for investigations to be opened and for suspected killers and those promoting the separatist crisis that has killed 3,000 people in four years to face justice.
Oumarou Mallam Djibril, a Muslim cleric, leads prayers at an ecumenical service at the Multi-Purpose Sports Complex in Cameroon’s capital, Yaoundé. Among the nearly 1,000 civilians who have come out to observe the day of national mourning is 40-year-old Catholic, Stephen Ngwa.
Ngwa says his younger sister’s daughter was killed when gunmen attacked a school in the English-speaking southwestern town of Kumba on October 24. He says the pain inflicted on innocent citizens by the separatist conflict in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions is unbearable.
"These acts of barbarism should not continue again," he said. "I want to use this opportunity to once more plead with boys and girls who are carrying guns in the North West and South West to drop their guns, for we are tired. This is not our portion."
Choir members in OK? Yaoundé, besides praying for the killed children, asked God to bring peace back to Cameroon’s English-speaking regions.
The government, along with Cameroon’s Ecumenical Service for Peace, mosques, and Catholic, Baptist and Presbyterian churches reported that similar services took place all over the country.
The military held ceremonies in memory of the slain children. Radio and TV stations broadcast special programs in their memory.
Marie Theres Abena Ondou, Cameroon’s minister of women’s empowerment and the family says Africa should reflect on and condemn the massacre of children at the school in Kumba. She says the killing of Cameroonian children who only wanted education is unconscionable.
“Let us go back to June 16, 1976, when young Hector Pieterson, who was only 12 years old, was killed in his school during the mass killing of Soweto in South Africa," she said. "Since then this date has been established as the Day of the African Child. On October 24, 2020, it was not just one child. Where did these children go wrong? What crime did they commit?"
Gunmen stormed the Mother Francisca International Bilingual Academy on October 24, killing seven children between the ages of nine and 12. Cameroon officials blamed Anglophone separatists for the attack. Separatists said the military killed the children to give their fighters a bad name.
Cameroon has been marred by protests and violence since 2016, when English-speaking teachers and lawyers took to the street to denounce the overbearing influence of French in the bilingual country. The central government in Yaoundé responded with a military crackdown and separatists took weapons, claiming that they were defending English-speaking civilians.
Violence in the Anglophone regions has claimed more than 3,000 lives and caused the displacement of more than 530,000 civilians, according to the United Nations.
The Norwegian Refugee Council reported in June, that Cameroon tops the list of the most neglected crisis on the planet since 2019.