By Bill Jong-Ebot/Executive Director, Foundation for Rural and Economic Development in Africa
Cameroon, once peaceful and regarded as a model of stability in Africa, is now in crisis. Since a full political union in 1972 with French-speaking Cameroon which ended federalism, the English-speaking minority, estimated at 4 million and concentrated in the North-West and South-West regions, has felt marginalized, economically disenfranchised, and discriminated against.
The socio-political crisis, concentrated in the Anglophone region, began in October 2016 when lawyers and teachers demanded the right to use English in their schools and the courts. The protests escalated into armed conflict and degenerated into a civil war. On one side are separatists – groups in the Anglophone region who are demanding their own nation, and on the other side, the government, trying to maintain unity. Both sides are deadlocked. No political solution is in sight. In the meantime, the people are enduring immense suffering.
According to a recent UNICEF report (June 21, 2019) some 1.3 million people, including around 650,000 children, are now in need of humanitarian assistance in the North-West and South-West regions of Cameroon. About 530,000 of these people, half of whom are children, are internally displaced. They are fleeing armed violence, attacks on their homes and schools, abduction, sexual violence, and recruitment into armed groups. For many children, it has been three years since they last stepped foot in a classroom. Due to a ban on education by non-state armed groups and attacks, over 80 per cent of schools have been closed, affecting more than 600,000 children.
The Center for Human Rights and Democracy in Africa (CHRDA) also notes that more than 200 villages have been partly or completely destroyed, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to flee into the cities or the bushes. Women are giving birth in the bushes for fear of their lives. The conflict has left more than 1,850 dead.
The Foundation for Rural and Economic Development in Africa (FREDIA) plans to address both the immediate humanitarian needs and long-term needs in the Anglophone region. Priority needs include access to basic services such as health care, food and shelter. FREDIA will address long-term needs such as education and entrepreneurship through three training centers to be set up in the region – in Buea, Bamenda, and Mamfe. The centers will serve the most vulnerable, including youths, orphans, single teenage mothers, widows, and the elderly. The Education Wing of the center will be staffed with qualified tutors who will provide education to K-12 students to help them prepare to move up to various grade levels and also for qualifying exams like the GCE. Each Center will also be Internet-ready, equipped with laptops so that displaced people can stay connected, be exposed to educational tools, and also prepare for the job market. For the Entrepreneurship Wing of the center, we plan to identify up to 100 orphans, single teenage mothers, young widows and 300 families in the two provinces who have been displaced. We will train them in career paths, including cosmetology and salon services such as hair dressing; tailoring/sewing, food service, carpentry, beads (jewelry production), welding, restaurant ownership, small trading (shop ownership). Business owners with expertise in each field will be recruited as trainers. Training will lead to the creation of micro, small & medium enterprises (MSMEs). We will provide graduates with small start-up capital and equipment, including sewing machines, to help them start new lives in the cities or return to their villages. Each participant will submit an entrepreneurial project to the team so as to receive start-up grants.
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