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Back to School Debate: “Lawyers went back to work, why are we holding on to schools?”
Category :- Editorial Author :- Awung Mbecha 
Posted on August 18, 2019, 2:16 pm




The title for this editorial comes from a WhatsApp Group chat in one of the numerous forums where I belong. Generally, there appears to be a consensus that children in English-speaking Cameroon need to go back to school. However, the point of contention is: under what conditions?

The user whose question inspired this editorial argued that “Lawyers went back to work without their demands being met.” To him, the future of the right of the children to education is being exploited by opponents of back-to-school as a bargaining chip. But if I may pose the question here again, “Lawyers went back to work, why are we holding on to schools?” Follow-up questions would be “But why did the lawyers go back to work even as the cornerstone of their demands – federalism – was not granted? Were they intimidated by the regime, just weary of striking, or hungry?

Initially, the Minister of Justice, Laurent Esso, had played down the concerns of the lawyers, saying with scoffing derision that the lawyers would go back to court when they became hungry. One cannot tell if the lawyers’ decision to resume work was driven by dwindling incomes, the increasing crackdown on activism by the state security apparatus, or some other practical reasons. However, at that time, the general opinion among English-speaking Cameroonians validated Laurent Esso’s point. Yet, remember that the Consortium had been banned and hundreds of people, including the strike leaders, arrested and arraigned before the military tribunal in Yaounde.

What about the teachers? Did schools not reopen because the teachers were not hungry and weary? The majority of the teachers are employed by the government and have continued to receive their pay even without working. Laurent Esso’s logic cannot hold for them then. However, private sector teachers have not been that lucky. Many of them have been displaced to French-speaking regions where the lucky ones have picked up teaching jobs while the majority now lives in penury, same as other IDPs. So why has Laurent Esso’s logic not worked for this group of teachers?

soliders confronting lawyers

However, it may be a bit simplistic to think schools have not reopened because the majority of the teachers are from the public sector where their monthly salary is guaranteed. Before schools finally closed down for good in the majority of places in the Southern Cameroons, both public and private sector teachers tried several times to keep the schools going despite threats from separatist groups. The seat of Wisdom College Fontem was one of the last rural schools to close down after it became just too dangerous to keep the students in school. One reason why the courts are functioning is the fact that the separatists, after initial condemnations of the lawyers for calling off the strike, decided to ignore them. Many other domains of life in the Southern Cameroons are still functioning, even if minimally.

Thus, it is clear that the separatists have been able to keep the schools closed because there are fundamental differences between schools and courts. Unlike the courts, schools have a certain visibility that courts lack. And this visibility makes it easier to use the schools to attract international attention to the wider problems faced by English-speaking Cameroonians. Very early on and throughout the impasse, the international community has often responded with outrage every time a school is attacked, or students taken hostage. Thus, it would appear that opponents of school resumption are hoping that the situation would force the international community to intervene and force Cameroon to negotiate. Thus, the WhatsApp user quoted above might be correct that children are being used as a bargaining chip. The fervor with which the Cameroon government is struggling to get schools to resume in September shows that they are aware of the game plan of the separatists, even as the government has done very little than sweep the root causes of the problem under the carpet. An evasive action that only bolsters the arguments and resolve of the separatists.

On the other hand, the Anglophone educational system represents something far more fundamental than what the courts symbolize. Education represents one of the foundational differences between the Anglophone and Francophone systems. It is the forge in which the statesmen of tomorrow are fashioned. In short, education is the interface through which the child of today emerges as the father of tomorrow. Fashion him badly and you have an awkward leader tomorrow. In this regard, the Ambazonian Interim Government has argued that the quality of education in the English-speaking system is designed to produce truncated adults, still shackled by the half-baked curriculum that formed their minds. They see the educational curriculum as colonized and can produce nothing but colonized minds.

Thus, they have argued that schools can wait until the day Ambazonia gains independence and is in a position to implement a syllabus that would holistically train their children and prepare them for success in the future. Something in the line of what Martin Luther King argued when he stated that “the function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education.”

 Almost every revolutionary or freedom fighter has a word or two on the value of a good education. Every revolutionary or freedom fighter knows just how manipulative the curriculum of the government in place can be. Apartheid-era South Africa is an example. The minority white government at the time deliberately put in place a curriculum that would produce generations of subservient blacks. Nelson Mandela certainly had this in mind when he stated that “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” Yes, change the world for good or for bad, depending on the quality of the education.

But Why Sacrifice the Future of a Generation on the Altar of an Ideal?

No matter all the arguments given to by those who oppose the resumption of schools, none can ever be bigger than the right of every child for an education, however rudimentary and colonized it can be. Do you enjoy the flow of my language? Do you enjoy the oratory of a Christ Anu, a Cho Ayaba, a Mark Barata, an Eric Tataw? We are all products of that colonial syllabus we are opposing today. We are able to write and talk beautifully today because we went to school and learned how to read and write. Yet, don’t get me wrong. We know we could be better if the colonial curriculum had not been designed with the intention to colonize our minds. And it is within the shortcomings of our truncated minds that we are empowered, inspired, and motivated to seek a better education for the generations coming after us. But we cannot ask for a generation to go illiterate so that the generation after them would get what was denied to us.

Yet, the Onus is on the Government

Even as, at the risk of being labeled “a blackleg” by Ambazonian activists for advocating a pro-school resumption stance, I find myself in a defeatist position given the lack of proper commitment on the part of the Cameroon government to prove that it is genuinely interested in breaking the impasse. I have argued elsewhere that the Cameroon government is playing ostrich in the drive to reopen schools. They have stuck their heads in the sands of the right of the children for education. Yet, the rest of their body is exposed to the blaze of the heat of their unwillingness to create the right climate for schools to function. What messages do government officials send to the helpless population when they go to crisis-hit areas in bulletproof gear to ask them to send their children to school? What has the government don to rehabilitate the homes in those villages where soldiers had visited them with carnage and arson? In two weeks, children and teachers are expected in their campuses and the government thinks that ignoring separatist threats would make them go disappear? Let’s wait and see.



Tagged Keywords: war, impasse, school, cameroon, ambazonia, education
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