Cameroon Separatists Torch Girls-Only School Dorm for Preparing for National Youth Day Activities

Voice of America, February 28, 2022

Mamfe, Cameroon
Mamfe, Cameroon

The Roman Catholic Church in Cameroon says armed men Friday torched a renowned girls’ school dormitory in Mamfe, an English-speaking southwestern town. English-speaking separatists have claimed responsibility, saying that they punished the school for preparing to take part in National Youth Day activities organized by the central government in Yaoundé on February 11. Parents are withdrawing their children from the school.

These are the voices of armed men ordering students to open the doors of their school dormitories. In the video, widely circulated on social media platforms like Facebook and WhatsApp, the students cry for help while the armed men torch beds, dressers and furniture in the dormitory.

Cameroon’s military says the video is that of separatists burning dormitories and administrative blocks of Queen of the Rosary College Okoyong. Queen of the Rosary college Okoyong is a girls-only Roman Catholic Church institution in Mamfe, an English-speaking southwestern town.

The Catholic Church in Mamfe reports that in the early hours of Friday February 11, armed men stormed the institution, setting dormitories and the administrative block of the school on fire. The church says none of the 142 girls in the school died, but that many received minor injuries.

Enow Valery is a human rights lawyer who has a child in the school. He says the attack on Queen of the Rosary college has spurred many parents to insist on withdrawing their children from the school. He spoke via a messaging app from Kumba, a commercial town near Mamfe.

“There is so much insecurity. It is high time the Cameroon government put an end to the uncomfortable situation we find ourselves in,” said Enow. “Children will be afraid to go back to that school, teachers afraid to teach and parents afraid to send their children to that school.”

The school has temporarily relocated remaining students to surrounding buildings and is pleading with parents to allow their children to continue to pursue their education in the institution. School officials have also asked the government to ensure the security of the school and its students

Cameroon’s government is assuring parents of their children’s safety. The military says it has deployed troops to arrest separatists that the military says torched the school.

Capo Daniel is defense chief of staff for the Ambazonia Defense Forces, said to be Cameroon’s largest separatist group. Capo says video footage of the attack shared on social media platforms like WhatsApp and Facebook appear to show people identifying themselves as fighters torching the school.

“Despite the fact that the school was accused of preparing its students to participate in Cameroon’s 11th February celebration, nothing justifies the burning down of private institutions such as this [Queen of the Rosary College Okoyons],” said Capo. “Our ban remains against Cameroon government institutions not religious or mission schools.”

Cameroon annually commemorates Youth Week that ends with its National Youth Day on February 11.

Cameroonian government officials said this year, activities were focused for the first time on the country’s anglophone separatist conflict. The government said the teaching of English and French would bridge the gap between English speakers and the French-speaking majority.

Cameroon is beset with two violent conflicts that directly affect education. The Boko Haram insurgency on its northern border with Nigeria has killed over 30,000 people, torched several hundred schools and displaced 2 million people within the past 10 years according to the United Nations.

The United Nations says the separatist crisis has forced more than 500,000 people including several hundred schoolchildren to flee their homes since the crisis degenerated into an armed conflict in late 2017. More than 3,500 people have been killed according to the U.N.

A December 2021 Human Rights Watch report says Cameroon separatists attack schools, train children as fighters and have deprived at least 700,000 children from having education since 2017.

Human Rights Watch also says government troops organized abusive counterinsurgencies that affected education. Thousands of children have fled the English-speaking regions to safer French-speaking towns for education.