Conflict in Cameroon: The schools caught in crossfire

In 2017, Pastor Boniface Tamangoua chose not to send his eight-year-old son, Victory Camibon, to school. It was too dangerous, he thought. The family lived in Kumba, in southwest Cameroon, and that year fighting broke out between the government and rebels demanding independence for English-speaking Cameroon.

The next year, Tamangoua decided to send Victory to a school in Littoral, the French-speaking province where the economic hub, Douala, is located. His son would be far away, but at least he would be getting an education — and he would be safe. In 2019, there was a lull in the fighting. Tamangoua brought his son home, where he completed primary school.

This year, Victory — now 11 — started at a new school: the Mother Francisca International Bilingual Academy in Kumba. On October 24, at least nine armed men arrived at the school’s campus. They broke into a classroom and opened fire on the students. Children screamed and ran for their lives. By the time the gunmen were finished, seven children were dead and 13 were injured.

Victory Camibon did not come home that day. 

“It was our neighbour’s son who attends the same school with my son who came rolling on the floor and crying that Victory is dead,” Tamangoua told Mail & Guardian. “I was helping my wife wash clothes because she is recovering from surgery. When she heard about her son’s death, she collapsed.” 


No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, with both the separatists and the government blaming each other. “This massacre is a grim reminder of the horrific toll that the crisis in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions has had on children and their education,” said Ida Sawyer, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch. 

President Paul Biya reacted to the incident two days later, in a tweet. “I have also instructed that appropriate measures be taken diligently to ensure that the perpetrators of these despicable acts are apprehended by our defence and security forces and brought to justice,” he said.  

Children have been targeted repeatedly during the conflict. In February this year, 14 children were among the 22 people killed in a massacre in the village of Ngarbuh, allegedly carried out by state security forces. Separatists have called for English-speaking parents not to send their children to school, as a protest against the institutional inequalities that they believe are baked into the national curriculum. 

Over the past three years, dozens of schools have been damaged in attacks. Last year, the United Nations children’s agency Unicef said that 80% of schools in the affected areas are shut, and more than half a million children have no access to education.

Victory Camibon did not come home that day. “It was our neighbour’s son who attends the same school with my son who came rolling on the floor and crying that Victory is dead,” Tamangoua told Mail & Guardian. “I was helping my wife wash clothes because she is recovering from surgery. When she heard about her son’s death, she collapsed.” 

No group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, with both the separatists and the government blaming each other. “This massacre is a grim reminder of the horrific toll that the crisis in Cameroon’s English-speaking regions has had on children and their education,” said Ida Sawyer, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch. 

President Paul Biya reacted to the incident two days later, in a tweet. “I have also instructed that appropriate measures be taken diligently to ensure that the perpetrators of these despicable acts are apprehended by our defence and security forces and brought to justice,” he said.

Children have been targeted repeatedly during the conflict. In February this year, 14 children were among the 22 people killed in a massacre in the village of Ngarbuh, allegedly carried out by state security forces. Separatists have called for English-speaking parents not to send their children to school, as a protest against the institutional inequalities that they believe are baked into the national curriculum. 

Over the past three years, dozens of schools have been damaged in attacks. Last year, the United Nations children’s agency Unicef said that 80% of schools in the affected areas are shut, and more than half a million children have no access to education.

Although some separatist leaders have now called for students to resume their education, the attacks have continued. In this week alone, 11 teachers were taken hostage by an armed group in Kumbo, a town in the Anglophone northwest region, and have yet to be released; students in a school in Limbe in the southwest were stripped naked by gunmen who threatened to burn them alive if they ever came to school again.

As the news of the Limbe attack spread, students began to flee school premises and teachers shut down campuses. In Kumba, parents are once again having to assess whether it is safe enough to send their children to school at all. Interior Minister Paul Atanga Nji has visited Kumba, promising to provide a military guard for the school. But few parents are convinced. 

Grace, who asked to be identified only by her first name, is a mother of two children. She has decided to withdraw them from the school in Kumba. “I thought school was returning to [Kumba] for good since more than three years now. But I’m not convinced. I will only send my children to Douala again,” she said.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Daniel Ekonde
Daniel Ekonde is a journalist/sports journalist who writes on African sports, human interest and culture. He lives in Cameroon.

Related stories

See people as individual humans, not as a race

We need to ingrain values of equality in education, businesses, society broadly and religious groups to see people

A template for 21st century education

Project-based learning, where learners find solutions in groups, builds sustainable livelihoods

More provinces involved in matric exam paper leak

The first investigation into the maths paper two leak is expected to be concluded by the end of November.

Teaching cannot live on technology alone

The assumption of digital fluency for staff and students threatens a socially just education system

Convoluted minds must also be heard

Mental illness carries a stigma, but with the publication of her book, Dr Ngcobo sheds light on living with bipolar disorder in an attempt to end judgment and educate people

The Trump era is over. But the fight for democracy is just getting started

A respected and robust United States — with all of our flaws, mistakes and missteps — can be good for the defence of democracy, not least in Africa
Advertising

Subscribers only

Covid-19 surges in the Eastern Cape

With people queuing for services, no water, lax enforcement of mask rules and plenty of partying, the virus is flourishing once again, and a quarter of the growth is in the Eastern Cape

Ace prepares ANC branches for battle

ANC secretary general Ace Magashule is ignoring party policy on corruption-charged officials and taking his battle to branch level, where his ‘slate capture’ strategy is expected to leave Ramaphosa on the ropes

More top stories

‘We struggle for water, but power stations and coal mines...

A proposed pipeline will bring water polluted with Gauteng’s sewage to the Waterberg in Limpopo to boost the coal industry during the climate crisis

Journey through anxious Joburg

A new book has collected writing about the condition of living, yes, with a high crime rate, but also other, more pervasive existential urban stresses particular to the Global South

Football legend Maradona dies

The Argentinian icon died at his home on Wednesday, two weeks after having surgery on a blood clot in his brain

Covid vaccines: Hope balanced with caution

As Covid vaccines near the manufacturing stage, a look at two polio vaccines provides valuable historical insights
Advertising

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…