Millions of school children failed to attend classes in English-speaking areas of Cameroon when the school term began recently.
Schools opened after the government released many of the jailed leaders of protests in Cameroon’s English-speaking areas.
The protests were called to direct attention to what some people see as the strong influence of the French language in the country.
Cameroon has two official languages: French and English. Many English-speakers believe they are discriminated against by those who speak French.
Those sounds are coming from a classroom at the Ntamulung bilingual high school in Bamenda, Cameroon. The teacher taught 20 children on the first day of school. At least 70 students were expected in the classroom.
Schools have been closed in the English-speaking northwest and southwest areas of Cameroon since November. That is when lawyers and teachers called for a strike to stop what they believe is the overuse of the French language.
After leaders of the strike were arrested, pressure groups called for their immediate and unconditional release before the new school term. Last week, 55 of the 75 protesters were released, while charges against them were dropped.
Observers said their release was an important concession to the strikers’ demands. They said it could lead to new talks on ending the crisis.
However, separatist groups are asking for President Paul Biya to release 20 other protestors, and to call back those who escaped into exile. They also want him to order the removal of 5,000 soldiers from the English-speaking areas before they will agree to restart negotiations.
Finnian Tim is a reporter. He was released from jail after seven months. He says the detainees want to see schools reopen.
“We were pleading with our brothers to stop whatever thing they were doing, because what they were doing, like ghost towns, was not helping us in any way...”
The government sent officials to the English-speaking areas in an effort to persuade parents to send their children back to school.
Fu Calistus is the Secretary of State in the Ministry of Industries, Mines and Technological Development. He visited northwestern Cameroon.
“The state cannot sit and fold its hands and see people being prevented from going to school. Such a state becomes an irresponsible state in the eyes of the world community. If you prevent someone from going to school, it cannot be accepted.”
President Biya reacted to the strike by announcing reforms. These include a new common law division at the Supreme Court and the appointment of the first English-speaker to lead the judicial bench of the court. But he has said that he will not take part in talks that threaten national unity.
I’m John Russell.