By Boris Esono (Buea-Cameroon)
Some women-led civil society organizations and Non-governmental organizations have called for an end to the present sufferings caused by the ongoing crisis in the North West and South West Regions especially the kidnapping of students and teachers. The statement was made during a Women Coalition for Peace and Development press conference on Saturday November 25 at the Pan African Institute of Development West Africa, PAID-WA.
During the past weeks students, teachers, schools and Universities in Cameroon continue to endure significant violence. On Monday 5th November, 78 students were kidnapped as PSS Nkwen, in Bamenda, North West Region but later released. The school also suffered another separate attack in which 11 students were kidnapped and later released.
The abduction of children during conflict is one of the six grave violations identified and condemned by the UN Security Council. “No grievance or national history justifies the kidnapping, harming and torture of children”, Emilia Miki, Founder/CEO of Denis Miki Foundation and Efeti Ventures said. She also reiterated that Cameroon is the 81st Country to endorse the Safe School Declaration-a declaration which governments pledge to not use schools for military purposes and to protect them during military operations. “….Cameroon’s endorsement of the Safe Schools Declaration signals the government’s commitment to better safeguard learning and mitigates the devastating damaged caused by attacks.”
Some teachers had had properties stolen while others have been verbally abused and according to Emilia Miki, these issues are underreported by the media and given inadequate attention by politicians and activists. She said: “When they (teachers) are killed and kidnapped all they get is shares on social media with comments “RIP”, “God help us” and others. When a journalist is locked up it becomes front page news in every media outlet….. That is solidarity which of course is encouraged. But we shouldn’t as if teachers’ lives don’t matter. Teachers trade unions themselves have gone numb perhaps out of fear for their own lives”.
The members of the coalition have urged both parties of the conflict (separatists, government forces and all those benefiting) to do their utmost to see that places of education are places of safety and also called on the development of initiatives to promote and protect the right to education and continuation in times of conflict.
“The continuation of education can provide life-saving health information as well as advice on specific risk and safety measures in societies facing armed conflict”, said Dopgima Stella, Founder of Center for Youth and Family Empowerment (CEYOFE).
Feka Parchibell Nadum, Founder of Hope for Vulnerables and Orphans and a teacher made a plea to the International communities-especially the UNO, AU, USA, France and UK to unanimously condemn violence against civilians and make clear that no political objective justify tempering with the right to education and abducting of sleeping school children from their beds.
Teachers and school administrators have suffered the most in this crisis. Several teachers have been murdered, maimed and kidnapped in the past weeks as education comes under increasing attack in the English speaking regions of Cameroon. Over 30 schools have been the targets of violence.
“Sophie Mandengue Maloba, a teacher and 42 year-old mother of three died when three armed men riding a motorcycle attacked a school and fired gunshots in Muyuka. An unnamed teacher was killed in similar circumstances three days earlier in Kumba. In the past weeks, armed men have increased their campaigns of violence against school targets notably attacking teachers and school administrators” she added
To Baiye Frida, Founder of Blessing Associates for Women and Children (BAWAC) said “these kidnappings may only be a tip of the iceberg and without swift international action, the crisis will likely worsen”.
They concluded by stating that “people should start talking and denouncing this barbarism meted on teachers or we wait for the next teacher to be a victim who maybe you or me. The violence against teachers has become a national crisis and need to be addressed urgently. We as a people must stand up for our teachers”.
According to Human Rights Watch, the Anglophone crisis has seen several calamities, loss of property and lives. Over the past two years, a political standoff between Cameroon’s Francophone dominated government and the country’s Anglophone minority-some of whom are seeking independence have become a full-fledged human rights crisis. Hundreds are thought to have been killed, over a thousand homes burnt, and dozens of schools attacked. An estimated 250,000 people have had to flee their homes for safety.