How Schoolchildren Became Pawns in Cameroon’s Anglophone Crisis

Bellingcat, July 20, 2021

It was midday on 24 October last year when a group of men on motorcycles wielding machetes and firearms arrived outside Mother Francisca International Bilingual Academy in the Cameroonian town of Kumba. By the time they left, they had murdered seven children and wounded a dozen more. Several more children were injured as they saved themselves by jumping from the windows.

The Kumba Massacre made headlines around the world and caused revulsion in Cameroon, which is in the throes of an armed conflict between the central government and a separatist movement in its two Anglophone regions known as the North-West and South-West.

This event was not the first attack on a school in Cameroon, nor the last. In early February of this year, a private school was torched, reportedly by separatists, in the village of Kungi, near the town of Nkambe in the North-West. How could the government have failed to protect children in what was supposed to be a government stronghold, asked local media.

COVID-19 has taken children around the world out of school for months at a time. But in Cameroon’s Anglophone regions, schooling has been restricted for nearly four years. A separatist-enforced school boycott and a harsh government response have jeopardised children’s right to a safe education.

In this escalating crisis, kidnappings, extortion and killings of civilians have become widespreadAccusations have been levelled against separatist forces, but also against the government. For example, in February 2020 a group of Cameroonian soldiers and allied militias reportedly massacred over 20 civilians in the town of Ngarbuh, an incident for which the Cameroonian army eventually admitted some culpability. This is no easy country for reporting; Cameroon’s government itself is widely considered authoritarian, with a record of human rights violations.

But as graphic images of attacks on civilians continue to surface, open source techniques can piece together some of the story — telling how Cameroon’s schoolchildren, as well as their parents and teachers, have been caught in the crossfire of what is often described as one of the world’s most underreported conflicts.

Through analysing open source material from Cameroonian social media, Bellingcat has verified 11 further attacks against schools and children in the Anglophone regions starting in 2018 and continuing into the early months of this year. These videos, collected by the Cameroon Anglophone Crisis Database of Atrocities and the Berkeley Human Rights Center, reveal the ongoing scale of Cameroon’s humanitarian crisis, of which Kumba is only the best known example.

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