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Church leader calls Cameroon school abductions terrifying, shocking

 

U.S. Presbyterians can help in at least three ways

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

The Rt. Rev. Samuel Fonki

LOUISVILLE – Two recent school abductions by armed gunmen have left the Presbyterian Church of Cameroon “greatly terrified and shocked,” the church’s moderator said this week.

According to media reports, both groups of students – one numbering 11, the other 78 – have been released. But staff members from the second group, who work at the Presbyterian Secondary School at Nkwen, Bamenda, were still being held.

The Rt. Rev. Samuel Fonki, PCC moderator, said the Church has seen a number of its personnel wounded and killed recently, “particularly in the educational sector.”

While it remains unclear who is responsible for the kidnappings, the abductions have drawn attention to the deepening political and ethnic conflict in Cameroon’s two western Anglophone regions. The tension erupted two years ago, when lawyers in the region began peaceful strikes to demand English translations of key legal documents and better treatment by French-speaking officials. A month later, teachers’ unions in the country’s English-speaking provinces joined the protests, disrupting classes and causing the closure of many schools.

In an effort to quell political protests in the region, including a series of coordinated business closures designed to turn urban centers into “ghost towns,” the government allegedly shut down internet access in the two provinces. Officials also reportedly tried to break strikes and compel schools to reopen.

That crackdown appears to have fueled separatist militancy. A year ago, secessionists symbolically proclaimed Cameroon’s Northwest and Southwest regions an independent “Ambazonia.” As a response, security forces killed at least 40 people and injured more than 100 others. The conflict escalated, with separatists launching deadly attacks on the police and military, with retaliation from security forces.

As many as 20,000 residents have fled into Nigeria. International human rights organizations estimate that 1,000 activists are being detained and as many as 100 have been killed by security forces.

The PCC, a partner in God’s mission with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), is celebrating its 61st anniversary as an autonomous church. It counts 1,500 congregations and 600 pastors. The current crisis has caused immense economic hardship on the PCC because the Church has had to meet expenses with dramatically reduced income from school fees. Schools have been burned and, in addition to the recent kidnappings, at least one teacher killed.

The PCC has been “particularly touched by recent wicked and gruesome attacks, kidnaps and murder of some teachers, their family members and the immediate families of pastors,” Fonki said. “Almost every single family within the Anglophone community has been affected. Those ordering for the shooting and killing of God’s children seem to be obsessed and are now doing it for the fun of it.”

A little history

Germany seized Cameroon as a colony in 1884. At the end of World War I, it was split into two territories, under the control of France and Great Britain. The French-administered territory regained independence in 1960. The following year, a plebiscite of the Anglophone territory led to the northern, predominately Muslim, region becoming part of Nigeria. The southern, predominately Christian, portion opted instead for union with Cameroon.

Independence sentiments have waxed and waned for about 25 years, with some separatist groups rejecting Cameroon’s “annexation” of Anglophone regions and arguing instead for the formation of the independent nation of “Ambazonia.”

Cameroon is one of the world’s most linguistically diverse nations, with a population of nearly 25 million people who speak about 250 languages. Less than 20 percent of Cameroonians speak English, but as much as 60 percent of the nation’s national resources are believed to be located in the two predominately Anglophone provinces in the west.

In support of their sisters and brothers in Christ, Presbyterians in the United States are invited to do three things:

  • Pray – Pray for the protection and safe return of those abducted, as well as for justice, peace and reconciliation in Cameroon. Pray that Cameroon’s public officials and judicial officers will deal justly, wisely and compassionately with the concerns being raised by Anglophone Cameroonians.
  • Give – The PCC has taken the bold challenge of opening a new school near the capital, Yaoundé . Classrooms and dorm rooms have been constructed, but the need remains to provide reliable electricity to the school. The PC(USA) and other partners of the PCC have been invited to join the PCC in providing the school a solar power system. Already, the PC(USA) has provided about 10 percent of the nearly $70,000 needed. To support this project, give via the Extra Commitment Opportunity to account E864103 Presbyterian Church in Cameroon. Checks can be mailed to Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), P.O. Box 643700, Pittsburgh, PA 15264-3700, with “E864103 PCC” written in the “memo” portion of the check. Credit card donations can be made online via http://pma.pcusa.org/donate/make-a-gift/gift-info/E864103/. Please also consider giving to the Office of Public Witness (E865714), which helps to bring such concerns to the attention of national leaders.
  • Act – Fonki, the PCC moderator, has asked members of the PC(USA) and ecumenical partners to “influence their governments to use their diplomatic powers to help resolve the Anglophone problem.” The U.S. Department of State has condemned the killing last month of a U.S. mission worker in Cameroon, noting “both the separatist fighters and government security forces have used violence against innocent civilians … We urge all sides to undertake an immediate and broad-based dialogue without preconditions to restore peace and resolve grievances … With the conclusion of the presidential election, the United States strongly encourages both sides involved in the conflict affecting the Northwest and Southwest Regions of Cameroon to focus on resolving differences through peaceful dialogue and to allow unhindered access to humanitarian aid workers.” Please contact Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to thank him for the State Department’s call for peaceful dialogue and unhindered access to humanitarian aid workers.  Ask him to continue to monitor the situation and support a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

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