Education In Times Of Conflicts

Caught in the web of survival, humanity which in essence and principle is supposed to be described or seen from its peaceful and loving nature is now viewed from the angle of exceptional barbarism by man; driven by the desire to transform existing stakes into self-satisfactory expectations. In the quest to change the world humanity has become an instrument of its destruction. The wide presence of violent conflict in most parts of the world and which in turn disrupts daily lives and significantly affects children’s lives in schools and the ability to enjoy their childhoods fits the description of bullets used to kill education. In different conflict zones, such as Syria, Afghanistan, Ukraine, the Middle East, the Central African Republic (CAR), the Democratic Republic of Congo, Mali, Cameroon, and so on, children, unfortunately, have become the collateral damage of these conflicts. They are murdered, maimed, kidnapped, raped and tortured mercilessly by those they look up to for protection and hope.

Education which can be considered as the process of acquiring knowledge, values, habits, skills and beliefs or facilitating learning remains an essential aspect of human growth and development facilitating learning, or the acquisition of knowledge, skills, values, beliefs, and habits. But, despite the belief that he who controls information, controls power and that knowledge is power and education is the key to success, there is a new dawn that gives power to he who has control over “power”. In places like Afghanistan, Syria and Cameroon,  summary killings and the awful rhythm produced by the sound of the gun like the ‘ekelebe song’ and the ‘amba song’  has become the new song, sang within the context of many communities. Young people in these areas take pride in walking around with guns as they consider themselves heroes of the struggle. Their peers in a state of naivety and ignorance dream of becoming like them at very tender ages. Worst of all, they enjoy hearing the sound of the gun especially when it emanates from the Camp of the belligerent they sight with.  In such a context, the right to education which is a fundamental human right, is enshrined in a multitude of international text and a stated objective in world politics like the millennium development goals and the sustainable development goals, structured by the UN General Assembly in September 2015 adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development that include 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) based on the principle of “leaving no one behind”. The new Agenda emphasizes a holistic approach to achieving sustainable development for all.

The sad observation one can make with regards to conflict zones is that the children in these zones have been left behind. These goals have become a shadow of themselves due to the lack of the political will by some states to implement them especially in times of conflict which renders goals  like SDG 4 on quality education, SDG 10 on Reduced inequality and SDG 16 on Peace, justice and strong institutions farfetched applicable goals. This is seen where many children and youths are stuck in the conflict trap of their different states as their communities have become a theatre to many belligerents in search of material benefits and interest. The right to education which in principle is a fundamental human right, has become a golden treasure available only to a privileged few who are lucky enough to come from well to do backgrounds or living in communities in which access to education is possible.

Within the context of Cameroon and especially in the case of the Boko Haram insurgency in the Far North region and that of the Anglophone crisis in the two English speaking regions of Cameroon, children have been denied the right to education by some of the belligerents through bullets that could strike anyone at any time. Public condemnation and blame game is all we get after each demise. Many said never again after the Ngarbuh incident that took place in the Donga Mantung Division of the North West region of Cameroon on February 14, 2020 in which pregnant women and children were massacred in cold blood. As if that was not enough the atrocities continued until it finally reached its peak on Saturday October 24, 2020 with the killing of about seven students of Mother Francisca International Memorial College Fiango Kumba in the South West region of Cameroon. Their only crime and ill luck was having made the choice to go to school. This state of affairs is even more pathetic with the existence of other online bullets manifesting in the form of misinformation/disinformation, incitement to violence and hate speech which are increasingly destroying the educational background of children. Also, despite the existence of international resolutions like the resolution ‘Education for Democracy’ which is aimed at facilitating the empowerment of citizens and their participation in policy making and political life at all levels; as adopted with consensus in New York on 16 November, 2016 to inspire local, regional and national education authorities to assimilate education for democracy, alongside sustainable development education, civic education and human rights education into the educational standards of their different communities,  many still take into these unscrupulous habits presented to them on social media platforms and made fashionionable. The end result we have is hate filled youths yielding harmful weapons and obtaining satisfaction in their course while peace loving people lavish and wallow in excruciating pain and agony. Some so-called peace advocates and institutions both national and international are laden by hypocrisy, only multiply empty condemnation, indignation and hashtags void of any concrete action.

Nevertheless, we refuse to lose hope; for despite these barbaric acts and atrocities, it is often said, “as long as there is life, there is hope”. We continue hoping things will change for the better as many stakeholders such as UNESCO and UNICEF are now taking the education of children as a serious challenge that needs to be overcome. Examples of such laudable initiatives is the Teen4Peace campaign in Cameroon we as #defyhatenow-wca in collaboration with other partners are focusing on in order to ensure that students study in a school environment void of hate speech, violent extremism and misinformation. We also have back to school campaigns that were launched in the two English speaking regions of Cameroon despite the violence which seems to be yielding fruits especially in the measure towns of these regions. This is added to the saleem schools which is a community based model of schools created in the Far North Region of Cameroon to provide education to the kids affected by the Boko Haram insurgency. With these efforts, we repeat our favourite cliche “as long as there is life, there is hope”.

Article by Kinang Derick