A review of the role of higher education reforms in the Anglophone Conflict

higher education in cameroon 1

Introduction

According to the 2011 Global Monitoring Report, violent conflict is one of the greatest development challenges of the international community in the twenty-first century (I). Drawing on experience from Cameroon, this paper argues that education policies can sometimes contribute to conflict, especially when it increases social tensions or creates political and cultural division. The paper identifies inappropriate higher education policies that have contributed to the armed conflict in the Anglophone region and proffer solutions that can help make education a force for peace, social cohesion and human dignity.

Context

Cameroon has a dual educational system, which includes both Anglo-Saxon and French schooling. Attempts to harmonise the two education systems, which have existed for over a half-century as part of the British and French colonial heritage, are among the factors that have contributed to the Anglophone conflict. Initially a German colony (1884-1916) and later a British and French League of Nations Mandated territory (1922-1939) as well as United Nations Trust territory (1946-1961), Cameroon passed through various stages of joint administration, partition and reunification (II, III, IV, V). The country’s checkered history continues to have a significant impact on its capacity to formulate national policies that represent the two inherited colonial cultures, institutions, structures, languages and customs. For instance, harmonisation of the country’s bi-cultural educational system drew criticism from the Anglophone minority in the Northwest and Southwest Regions, who saw the government’s actions as part of a systematic attempt to eliminate the Anglophone subsystem of education over time. A teachers’ strike that began in 2016 escalated into an armed conflict in 2017 that is still ongoing to this day.

The reforms

Our education policy in general, and higher education policy in particular, have tended to favour one system over the other due to its bi-cultural French/English history. This may be seen in education system rules established at the state level, which, via law or regulation: – specifies the sort of education; – determines syllabuses and textbooks; – establishes the requirements for the establishment, opening, funding, and operation of private schools; – regulates private schools; – arranges official examinations and the school calendar throughout the national territory. Despite the fact that this is normally done in the spirit of nation-building, certain reforms have frequently affected our national character. Examples include, but are not limited to:

  • Article 29 of Decree No2012/433 of 1st October 2012 organising the ministry of higher education giving the minister of higher education the right to harmonise the university curricula.
  • In the period 2006-2011, Cameroon rolled out and implemented an education sector policy, based on guidelines of the Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (PRSP) particularly its education sector strategy inspired by the Methodological Guide for Strategic Planning in Cameroon.
  • The Law of Orientation of Education in Cameroon (1998). Law Number 98/004 of 14th April 1998: To Lay down Guidelines on Education in Cameroon.
  • Law n°2001/005 of 16 april 2001 on the orientation of higher education in Cameroon
  • 1993 university reforms touching on issues of management and/or governance
  • Decrees No 67/DF/566 of 24 December 1987 and No 69/DF/8 of 8 January 1969 defining the status of University teachers, the diverse qualifications of applicants to teaching positions.

Impacts

The Anglophone Problem became a ticking time bomb as a result of improper reforms that have given the government the authority to propose and carry out policy changes, according to the International Crisis Group’s Report No. 250 from August 2, 2017 (VI).

Over the years, such policies have sparked protests among Anglophone students and teachers. According to Piet Konings, changes have resulted in the formation of conflicting groups of student unions (VII). On the one hand, there is the Southern Cameroons Youth League (SCYL), which chose violence in response to Paul Biya’s reluctance to engage in substantive dialogue with Anglophone movements. On the other hand, the President Biya’s Youths (PRESBY) opposed to the Anglophone struggle.

Billy Agwanda and Uğur Yasin Asal emphasise socio-cultural victimisation as part of Anglophone dissatisfaction over ongoing changes that lead to prejudice and discrimination in admission procedures at higher education institutions (VIII). For example, if they had the Anglo-Saxon model in elementary and secondary school, they would have a language disadvantage in a higher education that employs the French language and model. Many students from Anglophone areas have been obliged to travel overseas in search of education that is congruent with their prior training, while the majority of others have failed to complete their studies in higher education.

The most recent implications are:

  • A strike was organised on November 21, 2016 to protest the shortage of Anglophone teachers, the selection of teachers who did not have a solid command of English, and the inability to respect the Anglo-Saxon identity of schools and colleges.
  • A peaceful march by students at Buea University on November 28, 2016 to demand that the president’s achievement bonus be paid to students, to condemn the banning of the University of Buea Student Union (UBSU) in 2012, and to protest the introduction of a penalty for late payment of education fees and the additional fee charged for accessing examination results. The vice chancellor of the university responded by summoning the police to the campus. They suppressed the students harshly and detained several of them in their homes. Female students were allegedly raped, beaten, stripped and rolled in the dirt.

In agreement with Piet Konings, one may argue that government reforms over the years have further alienated Anglophone students and teachers, who feel even more marginalised than their Francophone counterparts due to Anglophones’ purportedly second-class status in the seemingly post-colonial Francophone-dominated state (IX).

Recommendations

This paper provides policy recommendations to the government of Cameroon, Ministry of Higher Education, Legislature, and other educational stakeholders. The author is of the opinion that further harmonisation of higher education in Cameroon be modified to cohabitate the two sub-systems in an effort to bring to an end the current violent conflict in the Anglophone region.

  • Higher education reforms should be designed to nurture citizens to inculcate moral values, intellectual aptitude, political and civic awareness.
  • Given that universities are one of the social venues where people can plan and support reforms for fostering peace and sustainability, peacebuilding programmes should be implemented in Cameroon’s higher education curricula.
  • Cameroon should establish a higher education system that enables a common framework for comparing curriculum and diplomas in order to promote academic mobility for teachers and students across the two subsystems.
  • Implement reforms that aim to uphold rather than eliminate the two subsystem’s values, which can help in promoting nation- and peacebuilding
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Former Intern at the Nkafu Policy Institute

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Tazoacha Francis is the Director of Peace & Security at the Nkafu Policy Institute. His areas of expertise ranges from Peace-building, Conflict Resolution, Governance and Democracy.

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