By Tazoacha Francis (Download PDF version)
In late 2016, the social and political forces in the now restive South West and North West (NW/SW) regions of Cameroon erupted as a crisis and quickly mutated into a human disaster with a rising human and property destruction that has been going on unabated. The impact of this lingers given that disasters, be they natural or anthropogenic have always had immense ramifications on human lives in the area they occur and even beyond.
The NW/SW regions have unfortunately become the theatre of such a ravaging disaster since four years ago triggered by accumulated layers of grievances meted on the consciousness of the Anglophone population in these regions of the country in tandem with marginalization particularly in the educational and legal systems by the Francophone-dominated government which led to widespread protests in September and October 2017.
The conflict escalated from a peaceful demonstration that was met with a heavy crackdown from the government security forces. This has resulted in the majority of schools in these two regions to be shot down because of security reasons. This situation has further been worsened with the emergence of the coronavirus (COVID 19) pandemic that was first identified in Cameroon in February 2020 . The COVID 19 situation in Cameroon has been evolving rapidly, with dozens of new cases reported each day. Adding to the current challenges of the armed conflict, the COVID 19 put the educational sector in Cameroon to a halt in March 2020 with far-reaching ramifications on the lives of the children of school-going ages, especially in the war-torn area.
For the past four years, the NW/SW regions have faced unprecedented crises, and the most prominent being the armed conflict and the COVID 19 pandemic. The Anglophone Cameroonian of the NW/SW regions felt cheated after the Foumban Constitutional Conference in 1961 which created an asymmetrical power relationship in the union of states known widely in scholarly circles as the Post-Foumban disequilibrium (Konings & Nyamnjoh 2013). The conference failed to achieve its aspirations, which were to create a distinctive two-state con-federation of equal status in Africa. Furthermore, the conference was aimed at creating an evolving bicultural con-federal nation in which the dissimilar legacy of each of the entities in coming together would grow . The Foumban Conference was therefore the foundation of the untold misery and sufferings of Ambazonia where the reality today is at odds with the intention that lured the joining parties into the union during the formative years of the new nation. The failures of the Conference that have been refused to be realized and corrected have led to the present predicaments in the NW/SW regions today. These long-standing grievances among the Anglophone population in these regions have created a humanitarian concern, especially in the educational and legal sectors. Schooling in the area has become dysfunctional and a complete absence of the role of law giving way to jungle justice in settling issues. The conflict has continued unabated with no party seeming to surrender and thus end the war. The corollaries of this historical mismatch have been enormous in the two regions in particular and Cameroon in general.
In February 2020 the impact of the armed conflict in these two regions was further compounded by the emergence of the COVID 19 pandemic that was born in Wuhan, China in December 2019 . This pandemic was first noticed in Cameroon in February 2020 and since then; Cameroon has been the epicenter of the pandemic in Central and West Arica. With the emergence of the virus, many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, including Cameroon, have been unprepared to handle the overwhelming health, social and economic repercussions of the pandemic, where most sectors including the educational sector are considerably fragile in responding to the shocks of the pandemic .
Impact of the crises
The crises in the NW/SW regions have brought immense negative ramifications that are being witnessed across all the sectors in the affected regions. The government’s wanton and indiscriminate repression resulted in youth’s radicalization. They took up arms and targeted first targeted the forces of law and order. As the momentum of the conflict intensified, the youth went on to vandalize public and private property. Public activities were disrupted with intermittent attacks and civilians were caught in the crossfire. Thus many families have been displaced and others have taken refuge in neighboring countries. The schools in the regions are being used as a weapon of war: more than 200 schools are currently affected. At least 72 of the schools have been destroyed mostly through arson (UNICEF, 2020). Teachers and children caught going to school are kidnapped, brutalized, and or ransom paid. Educational authorities have fled their administrative jurisdictions for safety. Some of the schools where children had fled from are used as military bases. Most of the schools especially in the rural areas have been closed down and about 850,000 children denied the right to education since 2017 (UNICEF, 2019). Many of these children who are deprived of their rights to education are victims of child labor and forced prostitution.
The emergence of COVID19 has further aggravated the challenges that the armed conflict has inflicted on the educational sector in the NW/SW regions. In March 2020 the government officially and prematurely closed down schools as a measure to mitigate the spread of the pandemic. As a result, all the 6,379 public schools were closed down in the two regions; out of which 3,692 in the NW and 2,187 in the SW in addition to that over 4,200 community learning centers were equally closed down in the regions . All official examinations were postponed several times. An undocumented number of teachers has equally been impacted by the closure of schools.
With the deepening of the crisis, the government has also made some concessions that give a semblance of top-down institutional responses, including the Major National Dialogue conveyed by the President of the Republic from September 30 to October 4, 2019 . The government has equally equipped many schools with security officers which tend to scuttle a serene learning atmosphere for learners. Despite these attempts, the people especially in the rural areas have not heeded to measures taken by the government.
With regards to curbing the COVID 19 pandemic, the government is taking the following measures to mitigate the spread in the educational milieu such as: the frequent washing of hands, utilization of the hand sanitizers at all times; wearing of face masks, social distancing; among others. The government further took another drastic precaution by closing down the educational establishments across the country. While children were sent back home an adaptive learning strategy was lackadaisically and haphazardly put in place; including the e-learning method – something so new to Cameroonians.
During this period, the Cameroon government has faced an uphill task in handing the crises in the NW/SW regions to their resolution. In order to assist the government in the resolution of these crises, the following recommendations have been proposed:
In conflict situations:
- Consider an inclusive negotiated settlement of the conflict;
- Be open to re-negotiation of the corporate existence of Cameroon ;
- Institute Peace education in schools at all levels;
- Put in place conflict early warning mechanisms;
- Be proactive in problem-solving;
- Not using repression to contain protest; and
- Adopt alternative conflict resolution methods in crisis periods.
In health situations in educational environments:
- Set aside emergency funds to address impromptu crises;
- The teacher-student ratio should be maintained a maximum of 50 to give room for social distancing;
- Adopt adaptive learning options; and
- Reinforce strict sanitary measures in educational environments.