“We believe that the government of the Republic of Cameroon is militarising the zone because they want to force the children to go to school,” Ayuk Tabe told RFI in a telephone interview.
So-called ‘Ghost town’ protests have brought Cameroon’s Anglophone regions to a standstill since the beginning of the year, resulting in numerous school closures. One grievance is a perceived lack of English language provision at schools for Anglophone children and some see it as an effort by the Francophone government to repress the English-speaking minority.
“When they realise that they cannot take the children to school they will imprison their fathers, they will arrest their parents and lock them up,” says Ayuk Tabe. The stay-at-home protest continued in Bamenda on Monday. On Tuesday, local government officials responded by closing the market.
“If respecting the ghost-town [movement] is anything to go by, I can tell you they will not send their children to school,” says the SCACUF leader, referring to the officially designated start of the school term on 4 September.
The government has deployed an additional 400 gendarmes to the Anglophone regions, according to an official note dated 22 August and signed by Secretary of State Jean-Baptiste Bokam who is responsible for the Gendarmerie.
The operation is intended to safeguard the start of the school term from the “persistent threat of activists”, the note says. The additional gendarmes will join 959 already deployed as part of a 128-day operation ordered by the head of state.
“I don’t know any child in this world who’ll go to school because he or she has been dragged by a policeman or army officer,” says Ayuk Tabe, who is considered by some as the de facto president of the Anglophone regions.
Several Anglophone leaders have been jailed and charged with terrorism since the start of the protests. They played a role organising the demonstrations and have denied the charges against them.
Furthermore, the government switched off the internet in the Anglophone regions for three months in response to the crisis. Online access was switched back on in April.
“Let them deploy all the soldiers that they have in Cameroon – schools will not start,” says lawyer Eyambe Elias Ebai, Deputy Secretary General, Cameroon Anglophone Civil Society Consortium. “For instance, 10 students for one soldier – is it going to be enough,” questions Elias Ebai, whose Consortium group helped start the ghost town demonstrations.
Cameroon was divided up into French and British administrative zones as laid out in the 1919 London Declaration. The British zone represented some 20 per cent of the country before Cameroon became a country, comprising both the British and French zones, gaining independence in 1961.