Michael Fontem Essua
AmbaNews24 – Calgary
Canada UNICEF has reported that over 80 percent of schools in Ambazonia have been shut down for the past three years. At least 74 schools have been destroyed. Teachers and students have been subjected to violence and intimidation. The Norwegian Refugee Council has observed that over 780,000 children are out of school. Two Ambazonian prisoners in Kongengui maximum security detention, namely Mancho Bibixy and Ngalim Felix have called for the resumption of schools; but one hundred and fitty other Ambazonian prisoners in the same Kongengui on July 12, 2019 signed a statement distancing themselves from Bibixy and Ngalim. There seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel that schools will fully resume soon and many fear that a generation of Ambazonia youth may lost their education. What is the solution to this impasse in a state of war that now engulfs and is ravaging Ambazonia and depriving children the education they need for their development?
In 2016, teachers in Ambazonia rose against the Cameroon government. The teachers were protesting the destruction of the Anglo-Saxon education system in Ambazonia by the Cameroon government in its ever-expanding policy of assimilation to solidify its occupation and governance of Ambazonia.
The response of the Cameroon government to the peaceful protests was brutal. The Paul Biya regime unleashed its military to attack students in the University of Buea even as they shouted, “No Violence”. Cameroun gendarmes broke into student hostels, ferried hundreds into detention centers, and the whereabouts of some students remain unknown today. In Bamenda, water cannons were unleashed on students in the hostels, and the Cameroon army shot to dead University of Bamenda students such as Akum Julius with helicopter gunships
School children of all ages soon became caught in the line of fire as Ambazonians picked up arms to defend themselves in an existential struggle for survival against a brutal Cameroun regime. Parents rushed and withdrew kids from schools. Many have escaped into bushes as the Cameroon military has razed their towns and villages into ashes, burning down schools in the process. Many higher learning students have joined the war, fighting with Ambazonian forces to end ones and for all the illegal occupation of Ambazonia that has systematically denied them jobs and development opportunities irrespective of their educational attainments.
Hundreds of teachers such as Penn Terence and Wilfred Tassang have been abducted by the Cameroon government and thrown in jail for expressing their political opinion that the independence and sovereignty of Ambazonia is in line with the provisions on self-determination in the International Bill of Human Rights. This Bill empowers the people of Ambazonia with the right to determine their educational system without interference by the people of Cameroon.
War is messy! It is one thing to call for schools’ resumption; it is another thing to make that a reality and guarantee the safety and life of children of all school grades. What is the solution?
- The Responsibility to Provide Education in Ambazonia is Legally on Cameroon
In an interview on BBC that was preceded by another on SkyNews, the President of the Ambazonia Governing Council, Dr. Cho Ayaba underlined that it is Cameroon’s responsibility under international law and obligations to provide education at this time in Ambazonia, because as Dr. Ayaba put it, Cameroun is the occupying power.
Cameroon, the occupying power in Ambazonia has ratified the Geneva Convention of 1949 and its protocols of 1977, which require that the Cameroon government should provide and guarantee education for internally displaced persons and refugees. The Ambazonian people and the international community, therefore, must put pressure on Cameroon to respect this Convention and to fulfill its duties to all more than 750,000 Ambazonian kids internally displaced.
The four core components of the right to education are availability, accessibility, acceptability and adaptability. “Availability” refers to the general obligation of States to establish schools or allow the establishment of schools – and this implies even in times of war. Cameroon, therefore, has the obligation to allow the functioning of schools providing education to Ambazonian children, irrespective of whether the private sector or the Ambazonia Governing Council administers such schools.
“Accessibility” requires States to make education affordable and physically accessible. This is impossible when bullets are daily flying across streets recklessly and hindering the travel of students and education staff to and from education facilities. Therefore, the Cameroon government must ensure a safe environment for schools resumption. Unfortunately, it attempts to achieve this by position its military on Ambazonian streets, whose mere presence scares students and attracts gun battles with Ambazonian independence forces.
“Acceptability” refers to the relevance, cultural appropriateness and quality of the curricula and teaching methods. The teachers in Ambazonia determined the curricula and teaching methods that Cameroon imposed on Ambazonia unacceptable; this is the reason they rose in peaceful protest in 2016. The Cameroon government has made little or no changes to the quality of curricula and teaching methods, especially at a time Cameroon is focused more on using its military to suppress the Ambazonian resistance. For schools to resume, the Cameroon government has the responsibility to change the curricula and address all the concerns that teachers raised to make the education acceptable. This implies that Cameroon must descend from its high horse and enter into negotiations with the Ambazonia leadership, present the curricular and teaching methods it will be implementing in the classroom, and receive a pass mark of “acceptability” from the Ambazonian leadership representing the Ambazonian people.
“Adaptability” points to the need for schools to adapt to the needs of each child. In times of war, under the Convention on the Rights of the Child, “adaptability” implies that adaptive programs that address the context of the school environment such as conflict resolution and survival mechanisms under insecurity situations should be taught to the students.
2. Provide a Conducive Environment for Kids to Return to School
The most pressing short- and medium-term measure that must be taken to enable kids return to school is the creation of a conducive environment for schooling. Cameroon should withdraw its soldiers and gendarmes from the streets and neighborhoods of Ambazonia and send them back to the barracks in Kutaba to create a conducive environment for children to go to school. Cameroon endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration championed by Norway and Argentina in 2015, and it has the obligation to fulfil its responsibilities under that Declaration. The Ambazonian people and the international community should hold Cameroon on the fire to live up to its commitment in this Declaration.
In a war in which the Cameroon military has killed four months old babies in Muyuka, there can be no guarantee that school kids will not be caught in the line of fire on their way to or from schools. American Missionary, Charles Wesco, was shot by the Cameroon military in Bamenda, caught in the line of fire. Fr. Alexander Sop was killed by Cameroon soldiers in Muyuka, caught in the line of fire on the street.
Tens of thousands of children in Ambazonia are transported to school by bikes. The Cameroon military believes that most Ambazonian forces move about on bikes. Consequently, bikes have become a target for burning, and their riders and passengers have become targets for killing by Cameroon soldiers as anyone on them is suspected to be an Ambazonia liberation fighter.
The Cameroun military also suspects student apartments as living camps of Ambazonia independence fighters. Cameroon soldiers have on multiple occasions attacked and killed students in their living quarters in Bambui and Bambili, assuming they were armed Ambazonia independence fighters. The Biya regime military suspects and targets for assault anywhere Ambazonian youths gather. In Ambazonia, many other students walk to and from schools in groups. Such groupings are potential death “zones”, making schooling difficult if not impossible.
Thus, students are caught between the right to life and the right to education that they seek to achieve in schools. Corpses do not learn in a classroom and have no future on earth. A commonsense choice is to live to go to school another day than take the risk and end up dead on the streets.
3. Ambazonia Liberation Movements Should Open Schools in Areas they Control
The strategy to make the homeland ungovernable for Cameroon cannot become making the homeland ungovernable for Ambazonians themselves. Considering that the Ambazonian people seek to become a country among the community of nations, they must rise to the occasion of winning respect from the international community. They cannot, even during the liberation struggle itself, be totally dependent on the international community to work on providing education to Ambazonian children. A people who want sovereignty must be adults in their reasoning and actions, not kids with a dependent mentality that make them a liability to the international community. Ambazonians must develop the spirit of self-reliance at this moment, establishing their own community schools without reliance on Cameroon and the international community.
There is no guarantee that Ambazonia will be sovereign and the war of independence will end in the next five years. It will be irresponsible for anyone to think that school children must stay at home for another five years, or till when Ambazonia becomes sovereign.
The process of nation formation and integration of all Ambazonian people into that new nation involves the challenge of providing education to youth in times of war to have an educated generation that will provide a labor force in future. Ambazonia created schooling avenues are opportunities for continuous education on Ambazonian nationalism. Building a future Ambazonia that is sensitive to local needs and realities must begin with education in times of war that relates to the reasons for which we fight, safety tips to children and adults to deal with the war scenarios, adaptation skills, knowledge in weapons manipulation for self-defense, elementary analysis of our local society, and literacy. There can be no successful revolution and no liberation struggle without indoctrination for continuous political mobilization, and the Ambazonian leadership must rise to the responsibility of providing basic education and training for at least twenty hours a week in areas under Ambazonian control. The first policy in the social objectives of the National Program of the Eritrean People Liberation Front (EPLF) during Eritrea’s liberation struggle was to “Provide adequate health and education services for all.” As the Eritreans asked their citizens to boycott schools under Ethiopian control, they in turn provided schools for Eritrean children during the over thirty years war of attrition that ended up with the independence and sovereignty of Eritrea. One of such schools is the Winna Technical School that the EPLF operated from 1986 to the independence of Eritrea.
The EPLF organized literacy classes, seminars, courses and special training sessions for the most active. In his celebrated piece on “Popular Participation in Liberation and Revolution” in Eritrea, Richard Leonard writes: “Also very basic, is access to knowledge. Every primary school takes in girls as well as boys. The secondary school run by the EPLF is also attended by girls. Special literacy classes are conducted for adult peasant women beyond age.” Organs of people’s power and people’s militia were responsible for providing this schooling.
Ethiopia maintained a 100,000-man strong army of occupation in Eritrea, at times increasing it to 120,000 for major operatives such as the Red Star Campaign in 1982. Ethiopia used air raids, Napalm and cluster bombs against Eritrean civilians in villages. More than 300,000 Eritreans mostly from the Barka and Gash Provinces in the 1960s and 1970s fled into neighboring Sudan’s Kassala Province just as Ambazonians have fled into Calabar and other cities in Nigeria as refugees. Amidst these conditions, Eritrean militias dug and built health centers underground and used some of the rooms in the centers as schools. Ambazonian leaders and independence fighters on the ground must think outside of the box, create tunnels for safe transport, etc to provide education during the years of the Ambazonia liberation struggle that lie ahead.
Before General Ivo of the Ambazonian Defense Forces (ADF) was killed, the Ambazonia Governing Council working with the ADF was providing such schooling in multiple areas. This self-reliant education concept needs to expand. So called county councils need to desist from attempting to create and control militias from the diaspora and focus on at least one thing: establishing and sponsoring Ambazonia community schools.
- Asking Ambazonia Leaders to Call for Normalcy is a Waste of Time
Asking Ambazonian leaders to call for school resumption under Cameroon is a waste of time. This is not because true Ambazonian nationalist leaders will never do so because a liberation struggle in principle seeks to overthrow and abolish systems created by the enemy and not to accommodate them. Rather, it is fundamentally because the Ambazonia liberation struggle has assumed a life of its own. In other words, it has an auto-pilot element which does not depend on what a leader may do. The resistance is rooted in millions of people, and whenever they sense anything that comes across as succumbing to Cameroon, they resist it. Chris Anu has learnt a bitter lesson from this attempting to call for an end to ghost towns.
There are claims that some leaders send fighters under their control to attack school children. While there is no concrete evidence to prove this claim, Ambazonian forces have been on videos questioning why they must give up their lives fighting for a collective freedom while others that could join them in battle to hasten the steps to final victory have stayed away. These questions are legitimate and no leader can talk them out of it without compromising on the very reason for which they fight.
4. Address the Root Cause of the Ambazonia War of Independence
Complains against the annexation of Ambazonia did not start in 2016. Call for redress of grievances against the Cameroon regime did not start three years ago; John Ngu Foncha and Bernard Fonlon began complaining to Ahmadou Ahidjo immediately after the annexation of Ambazonia (erstwhile Southern Cameroons) in 1961. The current state of conflict and war has aggravated the situation with tens of thousands of families bearing more grievances against Cameroon and “blacklegs” from the loss of loved ones, friends, their homes and livelihood. Attempting to create normalcy without addressing the root cause of this war is an attempt to postpone a fight that must be fought and will be fought by the current or future generations with terrible impact on schools and far many more deaths.
In 2017, the Biya regime released from jail Agboh Balla, Dr. Fontem Neba and a few others it believed were at the helm of the 2016 uprising. The Cameroon government was convinced that this release will appease the Ambazonian people, teachers and students will give up, life will return to normal, and the Ambazonia self-determination cause will end. Unfortunately for the government, the situation rather escalated as the Cameroon military intensified its mission of quelling the liberation struggle by force. In other words, the presidential degree releasing the detainees was neither matched by a withdrawal of the Cameroon troop from the streets of Ambazonia that is necessary to create normalcy and a conducive environment for school resumption and education, nor a commitment to addressing the root causes of the Ambazonia War of Independence.
- International Recognition of the Sovereignty of Ambazonia
The sustainable and permanent solution to the crisis of schooling in the ongoing Ambazonia Conflict is the international recognition of Ambazonia as a sovereign state. The Ambazonian people know that Cameroon does not like them and does not care about their welfare; any show of concern by Cameroon to the Ambazonian people is held suspect. Cameroon’s interest in Ambazonia is in the natural resources in Ambazonia’s territory, not the good of the Ambazonian people.
Cameroon has lost legitimacy in Ambazonia. For more than three years, the government has failed to eradicate completely Monday ghost towns, which is a symbol of collective resistance of the Ambazonian people against Cameroon’s rule. With loss of legitimacy, Cameroon is unable to guarantee public safety, respect for human rights, education in general and schooling in particular. It will take a government of Ambazonia in the territory to establish normalcy, receive respect from the Ambazonian people for the police, and ensure full schools resumption in line with the principles of availability, accessibility, acceptability, and adaptability in education. To achieve this, the international community must hasten, work with the Ambazonia leadership to establish an Ambazonia Transitional Authority on the ground as the President of the Ambazonia Governing Council, Dr. Cho Ayaba has called for, and work through this Authority to ensure effective resumption of schools that should remain a permanent reality in a sovereign Ambazonia.