Education in southern Cameroon is under fire. In 2020, a teacher in Kumba city was killed. Before this attack, schools had been closed for four years. Non-state Armed Groups had been threatening violence against educational institutions. Within weeks of schools reopening, over 20 teachers were kidnapped. 6 teachers and seven children were also killed in prolific attacks. Today, children tremble at the thought of returning to school. Teachers too are afraid. Over 800,000 Cameroonian children remain out of school. While nine hundred thousand people have been displaced by conflict and violence in the country.
Many IDPs scuffled across the border to Nigeria. “Internal displacement led to odd jobs, prostitution, recruitment of child soldiers, psychological trauma, rape, and separated families. The humanitarian crisis is enormous” said Fabrice Lena. Troubled by the worsening situation in their homeland, Lena and Aboubakary Siddiki made their way to Yola in Northeast Nigeria, in search of a solution to the education crisis.
“I have been a college principal, part-time lecturer in private institutes in the economic capital of Cameroon Douala and the capital Yaoundé. I have met with so many young people who are not comfortable with the curricula that are used in home universities, and in the course of exploring the universities around Africa especially as I'm a pan-African, I have been searching for something better.”Said Lena.
Little did he know that his quest for better education will take him only a stone’s throw away from home.
Fabrice Lena with Cameroonian Internally Displaced Children
Walking from Nigeria to Cameroon
In the dry season, Tourwa village in Garoua, Cameroon is a short walk away from the tobacco fields of Muninga village in Adamawa, Nigeria. The parched waterways allow local motor-bikers achaba to make a profit, ferrying people through porous borders and dirt patches from Nigeria to Cameroon.
Fulfulde, the mother tongue is spoken in parts of northern Cameroon and Nigeria. However, the colonial languages, French and English are official languages in both countries. This hampers the free flow of communication, a legacy of the divisive mapping of colonial interest in Africa. Northern Cameroon is a former French colony while southern Cameroon was English controlled territory. At independence, both regions were merged to form modern-day Cameroon. The subsequent political leadership of the country changed state dynamics.
“The Anglo Saxon system of education and the English common law was trampled upon. Anglophone people were marginalized. The capital city had been moved from Beau to Yaoundé. The heritage of Southern Cameroon was lost in the union between French-speaking Northern Cameroon and English-speaking Southern regions. Language was a big problem. When anglophones graduate from university in Bamenda and Beau seeking jobs in Douala, Yaounde they were insulted. They were told to go to Bamenda to look for jobs. ‘Alle a Bamenda’ this was francophone provocative language. So many of us get frustrated and travel abroad”. Said Lena. His human rights and political activism have earned him several visits to the state security service and some jail time.
Civil Protest Takes a Deadly Turn
In 2016, a society of lawyer and teacher trade unions protested the assignment of francophone judges to anglophone courts. They also raised alarm about the English common law being replaced by the French civil law system in southern Cameroon. Gendarmerie soldiers were deployed to quell protesters. This heightened hostilities with the government declaring war against separatists.
Fabrice Lena and Aboubakary Siddiki
Even though Northern Cameroon is less affected by separatist conflict, Aboubakary Siddiki a Francophone political party leader ( Movement Patriotique Du Salut Camerounais ) believes that the shared culture with Yola is a huge advantage for higher education. He has family who have been living in Yola for over 50 years but only found out by chance about a development university that promises to prepare Africa’s leaders for the future.
“We were searching information about universities on the internet when we discovered the American University of Nigeria , we decided to come and see. And we were surprised that everything is available on the campus. Because if you want to send your children abroad to school, the first thing that will bother you is lodging. We didn't know that we can lodge inside this university, and there is very good security. We have seen how serious things are. We are in a time of diseases now, COVID-19. From the entrance of this university, you see people have not abandoned the security measures. Professionalism is the daily thinking, the daily preoccupation of the leaders of this university. All these, you that are inside the university may not understand but to us, it is very important.” Said Siddiki.
Lena shares the same sentiments as his compatriot. “ Everything is digital. Immediately I entered the campus, I tried to put on my wifi and I saw that it is free and it is available everywhere on campus, so I said "Wow! This is a university of a high standard, it is what is required for Africa. It is a privilege for a student to be here. It is a privilege for a lecturer to lecture here; it is a privilege for a professor to be a part of this team, and it's a privilege for me to have known this university and to be recorded in the archives of this university in 2021. Said Lena.
Victims of War
Back home, Cameroonians like 53-year-old Lab Technologist, Jean Marie, are feeling the heat of the conflict. He has had a taste of life in both countries.
“I have lived in Nigeria for over 20 years and now back in Cameroon my home country. I lost a loved one in this crisis, my 24-year-old cousin who was a soldier.”
Marie studied Microbiology & Plant Pathology at a university in Cameroon. He is worried about the future of Cameroonian children in the country’s northwest and southwest regions.
“The vast majority of school children from those regions have to move to other regions if they must further their education, you can find 10 people living in a single room. That is for those who can afford it. Those who cannot afford have no other choice. Some will join the fighters, some will become armed robbers.” Said Marie.
This is why Siddiki and Lena cannot give up on their cause.
“We want to do what is called exportation of technology with the permission of the administration of the American University of Nigeria by seeking some experts to see how we could discuss bilateral cooperations between the university and some private universities in Cameroon. Take for example, Saint Louis Institute of Technology Cameroon has similar goals, projects, and objectives as the American University of Nigeria. I will discuss with the proprietor, to see how we could do a cross-collaboration and improve on the techniques of teaching students, maintain the standard of the American University of Nigeria, Yola, and see how we can improve on the educational sector in Cameroon, in Nigeria, and Africa.” Lena said.
In his criticism of the Cameroonian Government, Fabrice Lena spares no words. He is the Founder of the Afrikan People’s Foundation and Secretary-General of the Popular Action Party in Cameroon. He believes that educating the country’s future leaders is the only hope for the future of Cameroon and Africa.
“We learned about AUN and we realized that it has been delivering very powerful young Africans in Nigeria and neighboring countries. They have been very productive. So in that line, we thought it wise to visit the university, and as promoters of education in Cameroon, we thought it wise to come and visit the campus, discuss with the administration, see how we could have a collaboration of sending students here; and also to discuss some diplomatic issues between the university and the conflict in Cameroon because some of the staff of the university were found in the conflict in Cameroon, to see how we could build peace because it is very important that when your neighbor is touched, you will also be uncomfortable.” Said Lena.
Light at the End of the Tunnel
“ In the course of exploring universities around Africa especially as I'm a pan-African, to see if we have something better, I realized that the American University of Nigeria, Yola has that curriculum that is best for the emancipation of Africa because it develops people who create jobs, people who think, people who are very important in the digital world.” Said Lena.
The digital world Lena speaks of is constantly changing. The era of artificial intelligence, the internet of things and cryptocurrency cannot wait for Africa to traipse along on its own leisurely pace. The scholarly community in AUN is well aware of the urgency. That is why they are ever forward thinking in their commitment to technology, entrepreneurship and development.
From a tip point in Lake Chad, a crooked line demarcates ancestrally linked people through border towns. From Gamboru in Nigeria’s North-East through Yola, Gashaka down to the Obudu plateau and Ikang in Cross River State Nigeria. Cameroon, a central African country lies on one side and Nigeria on the other. From similar precolonial cultures to a divisive post-colonial influence, the imperialist mapping of African states is threatening the very existence of these entities.
Yet there is hope for a people scattered across divisive ethnic lines prone to conflict. Education is that hope. That is why Fabrice Lena and Aboubakary Siddiki are committed to bringing quality education to their people no matter the cost.
Reported by Amina Yuguda