The state of human rights in Cameroon has severely deteriorated under the rule of President Paul Biya, who has maintained his rule through rigged elections and suppressing the opposition since 1982. The government uses violence to intimidate any anti-regime activity. The security forces are embroiled in a conflict with Anglophone separatists in the Northwest and Southwest regions of the country resulting in widespread violence, with numerous attacks on students, teachers, schools, and civil servants.
The condition of academic freedom is severely impacted by the conflict in the Anglophone regions, resulting from the colonial legacies of the British, German, and the French that has left the country divided into Anglophone and Francophone regions. Anglophones are a minority mainly located in the Northwest and Southwest regions of the country. Following the 2016-2017 Cameroonian protests, also known as the Coffin revolution, the Anglophone separatists and the Cameroon Armed Forces engaged in warfare which continues to this day, claiming over 4000 lives. Anglophone separatists often enforce boycotts of schools and attack students and teachers. More than 700,000 children have been deprived of their right to education as thousands of schools have closed due to the ongoing armed conflict, resulting in less than 30 percent school attendance in these two regions. The separatists consider schools to be legitimate targets as French is taught as a mandatory subject. The violence has also affected higher education, on July 8, 2022, armed separatists stormed the University of Buea, disrupted ongoing examinations and abducted an exam supervisor. Earlier on November 10, 2021, a bomb was detonated at the University of Buea, in the southwest region, injuring 11 students.
The civilians also face a threat from Boko Haram, the radical Islamist, paramilitary group which operates in Niger, Northern Nigeria, Chad, Mali, and northern Cameroon, whose anti-Western and Jihadist agenda has disproportionately targeted schools, teachers, and students. The security forces that respond to the extremist group have also been accused of human rights violations, the violence has resulted in the closure of over 60 schools in the Far-north region.
Other factors that result in restricted academic freedom include a centralization of the education system where all curriculum, budget, employment, education, and disciplinary policy decisions are made entirely by the Ministry of Education. Widespread corruption has led to appointments based on nepotism. The state also has a long history of arbitrary arrests and detentions, which has led educators to self-censor. In September 2021, Fridolin Nke, a philosophy professor was detained for publishing a book criticizing the government. Soon after Nke reported being tortured in custody, he was released. State security also functions on university campuses and reports on any academics who criticize the government. Additionally, in some cases Cameroonian scholars are restricted from traveling abroad by arbitrary confiscation or nullification of their passports.
Gender and sexual minorities are at increased risk in Cameroon, which compromises the security and equity in civil society and education. Same-sex conduct has been criminalized in Cameroon since 1972 but crackdowns have escalated since 2020. The criminalization of homosexuality has not only led to an informal ban on LGBTQ+ research but has also condoned violence against sexual and non-conforming minorities. In March 2022, a mob attacked a teacher on the suspicion of homosexuality in the city of Buea. In addition to arresting and subsequently releasing the attackers, the authorities also detained the teacher arbitrarily on the suspicion of homosexuality.
Gender disparity in education is prevalent in the West African region, as violence from the ongoing conflicts prevent young girls from attending school, in addition to early marriages and long distances. 80% of young girls attend schools compared to 94% of young boys. The Cameroonian government is making some progress in closing this gender gap. In April 2022, the government took an important step in ensuring the right to education for pregnant students and young mothers by allowing them to stay in school till their 26th week of pregnancy and allowing them to return after giving birth, rectifying a 1980 draconian measure against pregnant persons of immediate suspension from school. This new measure will decrease the rate of young girls dropping out of schools, of getting unsafe abortions, and concealing their pregnancies for fear of being suspended from school.
While Endangered Scholars Worldwide lauds the legal protections for young parents to continue their education, we at the ESW remain deeply concerned with ongoing armed conflicts across the country, which have disproportionately targeted students and teachers and violated their rights to education. ESW is also concerned with arbitrary arrests, detentions, and surveillance of scholars that has limited their rights of free expression and free speech. ESW further condemns the confiscation of the identity documents of scholars and researchers, which violates their freedom of movement. ESW stands by the gender and sexual minorities in the country, who have faced increasing violence, surveillance, and are a taboo subject in academia. ESW calls on the Cameroon government to seek resolutions with the separatists to ensure to the rights of education that children have been deprived of so far. ESW asks for the international community’s full attention and that all efforts be made to resolve the conflicts in the region and get the Cameroon government to honor their obligations under international humanitarian law and human rights treaties, including access to education, freedoms of speech and association.
(Last updated June 24, 2023)
Please send appeals to the following:
President of the Republic of Cameroon
Office of the President
P.O. Box 100
Republic of Cameroon
National Commission on Human Rights and Freedom
SGBC Building, 2nd floor
P.O Box 20317, Yaounde
Tel: +237 22 22 61 17
Fax: +237 22 22 60 82