The pain is deep within the Catholic Church in Cameroon after the massacre in a Catholic school, where several children have lost their lives in an attack involving ten armed men.
“The lives of our children have been stolen, needlessly destroyed.” The emotion was tangible, on this morning of November 3, 2020, in the words of Mgr. Abraham Kome, bishop of Bafang, Cameroon. The prelate spoke at the opening mass of the plenary assembly of the Cameroon Bishops’ Conference (CENC) of which he is the president. He added that with this new drama, “the highest degree of perversion of human intelligence has been reached.”
Bishop Julio Murat, apostolic nuncio in Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea, was present at the opening of the CENC plenary assembly, in order to convey a message of condolence from the Sovereign Pontiff.
The Brutality of the Facts
On October 24, around eleven in the morning, a dozen armed men burst into the Mother Francisca International Bilingual Academy, a private Catholic educational institution located in the district of Fiango, in Kumba, a town in the southwest part of the country.
Arriving in an upstairs classroom, the murderers opened fire on the students, and continued to shoot as the terrified children fled and screamed while throwing themselves down the stairs. The official death toll shows the death of seven children, from ages nine to twelve; a dozen others were injured.
“This Saturday, I woke up early to go to the farm,” a father who lost his 11-year-old daughter told Human Rights Watch. “My daughter said ‘bye, daddy’ to me. It was the last time I saw her alive. When I was warned about the shooting, I ran to the school and saw my little girl’s body on the ground with her head blown off. I was in shock. "
Why such a horror?
Since 2017, the English-speaking regions of the country have been the target of terrorist groups who are trying to impose a boycott on education, in order to obtain a partition of Cameroon, and the creation of a new state that for the moment exists only on social networks: Ambazonia.
“Boycotting schools is a strategy of the separatists. About 700,000 young people were out of the school system because of the conflict,” Arrey Elvis Ntui, chief analyst for the International Crisis group in Cameroon, told AFP.
“The government and English-speaking civil society have put a lot of pressure on separatist groups to return their children to school, and schools that had been closed for years have started to reopen,” he said.
According to local authorities, the massacre would be a warning to parents to dissuade them from sending their children to schools that the separatists see as “collaborationist.” In mid-May, for example, a teacher at the University of Bamenda (North West) was shot dead because he refused to stop teaching, according to Human Rights Watch.
In three years, an estimated three thousand people have died in a civil war that has not be declared, and which has forced 700,000 people to flee their homes and sometimes their country.