YAOUNDE - The teachers' strike in Cameroon’s two English-speaking regions is coming up on 11 months with no end in sight, though the government tells VOA that talks are ongoing.
Thousands of teachers celebrated World Teachers’ Day Thursday in Cameroon’s capital.
Twenty-six-year-old Ernestine Tabe left her school in the English-speaking town of Kumba last month to look for a job in Yaounde. She had been without salary for five months due to the ongoing strike.
"I decided to come here in order to get myself involved in teaching, so that the zeal in me would not die down, because as a teacher you are always eager to teach others to know,” she said.
Most of the schools were sealed in Cameroon’s two anglophone regions, the northwest and southwest, last November when lawyers and teachers went on strike demanding reforms to address what they describe as the overbearing use of French in the bilingual country.
Gideon Tanda is a leader of one of the teachers’ trade unions that called the strike.
"You take a francophone teacher and send to the anglophone section of the country and an anglophone teacher to the francophone part of the country to go and be teaching French instead of the subject that he was trained for," he said. "What do you think? That person cannot perform. There is bad faith.”
“Government is not listening, and it is so deplorable now that we have had a lot of killing," he said. "People are on the run, others are nowhere to be found, just missing. I feel terribly bad as a teacher that at this point in time people have to miss classes for a whole year and they are about to miss another year.”
Anglophone separatist groups joined the movement demanding the English-speaking regions form a new state they call “Ambazonia.”
Calls for independence
Tens of thousands of people took to the streets in the regions earlier this week to support the independence calls. Security forces squashed the demonstrations, killing at least 17 people according to Amnesty International.
VOA spoke to Teachers Association of Cameroon leader Valentine Tameh by phone from the northwestern town of Bamenda.
"We are asking for teachers to be redeployed into classrooms where their operational language permits them to operate," said Tameh. "We are asking for exams of francophone orientation to be taken out of the English-speaking subsystem of education. We asked for the creation of a polytechnic [school] to take care of anglophone students."
Since the strike began the government says it has recruited 1,000 English-speaking teachers, paid subsidies to private schools, and some jailed leaders of teachers’ unions have been freed.
The governor of the southwest region, Bernard Okalia Bilai, is urging teachers to return to their classrooms.
He says the state is here to guarantee their security. He says officials will continue to talk to address the teachers’ grievances throughout the year.
Schools in the two anglophone regions that have defied the call to strike have been targeted by arson attacks. Militant separatist groups are believed to be responsible, and some parents say it is not safe for to send their children back to school.
The government estimates just 20 percent of students expected in the English-speaking regions have shown up for class since the school year began in September.