Teachers Hold First Day of Nail-Biting Talks with Government

By Ntumfoyn Boh Herbert (Yindo Toh)

Washington, 12 January 2017 – The colonial Government of “La Republique du Cameroun” on Thursday rolled out a combination of “divide and rule” and “bite and blow” tactics as it tried to secure the lifting of a strike by teachers on the first day of nerve-wracking talks in Bamenda, capital of the North West Region of the Cameroons.

One of the leaders of the teachers’ unions, Wilfred Tassang, told supporters late Thursday why he believed the government was now so keen on reaching a deal on problems it has hitherto pretended do not exist.

“Our people have shown they are determined to have solutions”, Mr. Tassang said in a video clip posted on social media, explaining why he believes they are winning. “If the government is giving us everything we asked, it is because we have been able to show that we are united. If you people did not support us in this strike, we would not get one thing out of it”.

He once more justified the strike. “We did this for a very important reason: for our children. It is for the kids we have today and those we will have tomorrow that we have called this strike”.

The video showed supporters encouraging Mr. Tassang as he emerged from the day-long meetings with government officials unaware his supporters were around. “You guys have really embarrassed me,” he told his supporters with one shouting back “we have chosen to stand by you, sir”. Later in the video clip, another supporter shouted: “Have confidence in us”.

According to Tassang, the government delegation did not want to rise Thursday night until it had sealed a deal. “I had to cut the meeting short because we got to a point and they were hurrying and just passing over things and we said, no. Suspend the meeting”.

He explained that the teachers won’t allow the government to play them against the lawyers, who are also on strike. “The lawyers’ ad-hoc committee was created today and they will start meeting on Monday”.

Seemingly embarrassed by the limelight into which the strikes have trust him, Tassang said: “We told the government that even if they solved all the education problems today we will not be able to suspend the strike because we cannot suspend it until all other issues are addressed”.

The video was one of numerous audio, video and text message postings on social media during a day when tensions appeared to reach boiling point on the Internet with both supporters and detractors expressing frustrations at not being sufficiently informed about the deliberations.

It did not help that a leading precondition posed – the immediate and unconditional release of all those detained – appeared to have been waived. It, justifiably, became the Number One Concern for chatrooms all day Thursday, with most participants playing coach to the unionists.

“This academic year should just be cancelled. Until the demands are me,” argued Jude Ndumu.

“Hello Mr. Tassang: Remember this: They fooled us the first time. Shame on them. They fool us a second time, shame, shame on us” echoed another online debater identified as Ckajua.

“Our boys are still in jail for no freaking reason,” lamented Bridget Teke on the SCNC WhatsApp.

Teachers and Lawyers Keen to Prove they are no Spring Chicken.

At a late night press briefing, a spokesperson for the teachers told the press: “We cannot suspend the strike without the release of the boys. We cannot suspend the strike without the legal issues being sorted out. And we cannot suspend the strike until a timeframe has been agreed for discussions on the form of the state”.

The release of all detainees remains a top priority for all. A fervent supporter of the strikes by lawyers and teachers, and not one to be intimidated by anyone or held out of any meetings in her town, Lady Ngum showed up for the meeting, too. It fell to her to say prayers, earning applause for notably calling for the release and safe return to their families of all detainees.

At the late night press briefing, the teachers said they were aware of more detainees being transferred to the Kodengui Prison in Yaounde, but said they were unaware of the detention of 18 other youth, arrested 18 months ago from Wum, capital of Menchum Division.

According to the teachers, all non education-related matters including agreeing a timeframe for discussions on the form of the state will be reviewed by the lawyers’ ad-hoc committee. On Thursday, though, teachers evoked non-education issues, according to them, to explain why Southern Cameroonians are so vexed. These include the non payment to local councils in the South West Region of forest and oil royalties.

With half the points on the agenda addressed, the meeting adjourned for Friday with the leaders of the teachers sounded very optimistic.

Could Optimism not be Justified?

“Every proposal has been accepted by the Government and every blame accepted,” Mr. Tassang had said in an audio clip posted earlier on social media. He, however, noted that he could be sure if such show of will in resolving the problems raised was a trick or not by the government. Apparently, so well disposed to the talks is the Yaounde regime that its delegation to the talks on Thursday reportedly told teachers that all those who have been wronged are free to seek redress before the courts.

He made no secret of the fact that the form of the state may find Yaounde less enthusiastic. “I think that the issue that is on the line is the issue of federation. and we are thinking that, maybe… eh, that is not what everybody wants, but for me, I think that if federation comes, independence does not come from that government. I think we should think well before talking or blaming”.

The debate between what form of the state could best attend to the concerns raised by the English-speaking minority remains the elephant in the room; passionately defended by supporters of both federation and outright independence.

The home-based Consortium supports the former, while the Diaspora-based MoRISC is set up for the lone goal of restoring independence. The latest MoRISC rally on Wednesday before the French Embassy in Washington, DC, served the French that the two English-speaking regions will inaugurate a congress and government come Sunday, the 1st of October 2017.

In an article, the Chicago-based journalist, blogger and member of MoRISC, Innocent Chia, reiterated warnings to the Consortium that Yaounde now – as in 1961 – is getting the best advice from legal, military, economic, financial and psychological minds, some of them sent from France to rescue the Biya regime. Mr. Chia recalled that even street smart Foncha in 1961 got outfoxed by Ahidjo, executing his plan to the T. Warning against a remake of 1961, Mr. Chia offered a clue for “not repeating the 55-year-old ordeal – Restoration of our independence!!!”

On Thursday, the charismatic MP for Bui South, Honorable Joseph Wirba, convened a rally at Squares, in downtown Kumbo. This is the deputy whose defiant speech in parliament and his citation of Thomas Jefferson on the duty to resist systematic injustice has become the theme song of the struggle. Sadly, no pictures, videos or accounts of the rally were posted to social media sites yet even late into Thursday night, raising fears it may have been banned/disrupted.

The mere announcement of the rally had sent waves of panic through the colonial administrators of Division. Its apparent broadcast on Jakiri FM, the community radio of the MP’s home town, triggered the temporary shut down of the radio station on Thursday. Media monitoring late on Thursday revealed that there was still no signal coming from Jakiri FM. Attempts by MoRISC to reach the radio’s manager were unsuccessful.