78 school children who were taken hostage in the West African country of Cameroon have been released unharmed.
The group, consisting of 42 girls and 36 boys, were taken near Bamenda, in the North-West region of the country. Bamenda is a hub for Cameroon’s English-speaking population and is often at odds with the predominantly French-speaking rest of the country.
Tensions have been heightened in recent years as some in the city and its surrounding areas support withdrawing from Cameroon and creating a republic consisting of the English-speaking regions. This so-called ‘anglophone problem’ runs back to the legacy of colonialism in the region, wherein Britain and France would jointly hold the region after seizing the territory from Germany during the First World War. During the push for independence, the two separate colonies would end up unified, with a large Francophone majority, and a small Anglophone minority. These tensions reached a peak in 2017, when the Anglophone regions declared themselves to be independent, adopting the name ‘Ambazonia’ or ‘Amba land’. While this declared state has no official legitimacy or international recognition, it has served to inflame tensions leading to a low-level Guerrilla War in the area.
It is against this backdrop that these children were kidnapped.
Samuel Fonki, a Presbyterian Church minister in the region who negotiated the release of the children stated ‘The principal and one teacher are still with the kidnappers. Let us keep praying.’ He added that no ransom had been paid but declined to share any more details about the release.
Incidents like this are not unprecedented, it is alleged that the same armed group involved in this kidnapping had taken 11 children from another school in October, and only returned them after a ransom of 2.5 million Central African Francs (£3,300) was paid.
All of this follows on from the 7 October elections that saw President Paul Biya secure a seventh term in office. Biya’s government has previously been accused of committing mass electoral fraud, and according to some sources, the government covered up a loss in the 1992 election. Biya has also faced accusations of allowing the police and armed forces to abuse human rights, especially in English speaking areas.
While the release of these children has spared much suffering, the conflict in the area continues with no ending in sight.