Bamenda, North West – Paul Ghogomu, the prime minister’s director of cabinet and chairman of the special committee discussing the grievances of striking teachers has called union leaders “extremists”, threatening to further strain already acrimonious talks, in the government’s last push to appease Anglophones ahead of a major speech by President Paul Biya on Saturday.
Ghogomo said the teachers behind the strike lacked good faith, in a statement issued after talks collapsed at the Governor’s Office on Tuesday. He hinted his committee was set to carry on without the union leaders. His declarations ranged from angry to frustrating to threatening; and indicated he felt working relations between both sides had become irreparably harsh.
It was hard from the turn of things on Tuesday to see how, short of using force, the government would convince teachers to get back to work and save the school year, which has already suffered major disruptions.
Chances of agreeing were visibly slim early in Tuesday’s meeting. Teachers walked out after the committee failed to meet several conditions for their participation, including inviting other teachers from the South West region and the release of scores of young protesters arrested in Anglophone regions over the past months. Ghogoma called the demands “claims that have nothing to do with education”.
Discussions were heated. Tables were banged, participants said. At one point, union leaders sent SMSs to colleagues and journalists claiming they were being held in the room against their will and being prevented from storming out.
Ghogomu was unapologetic when is spoke at the end of the failed meeting.
“With regard to extremist trade unionists who publicly refused to be part of this working session for reasons that have nothing to do with the education of young Cameroonians, Government will take it responsibilities,” Ghogomu said in his statement, which summed up the mood of the meeting. “The government shall not allow individuals who do not show proof of good faith to take pupils, students, parents and even the civil society organizations hostage,”
Teachers have been on strike for about two months, protesting the increasing dominance of French in Anglophone schools and reforms seen to be defacing the character of the subsystem. Schools across the South West and North West regions have lost the best part of the first term.
Among a dozen demands, teachers want the country to return to the federal arrangement that existed from 1960 until 1972. They have also asked for the withdrawal of French speaking teachers from schools with English as language of instruction. After protesters clashed with security forces earlier in the month, teachers now want all those arrested during the standoffs released.
But these were not on the table during Tuesday’s meeting, attended by the ministers of basic, secondary and higher education. The government side was adamant on addressing only “genuine problems” related to the education system.
The main disagreements we understand from interviews with parties on both sides is the question of federalism and how to deal with the broader Anglophone Problem, the conviction among English speakers that the Francophone-led administration is deliberately seeking to erase their identity.
Editor’s Note: This article has been corrected to change the meeting’s venue from Ayaba Hotel to the Governor’s Office