BAMENDA, CAMERRON — September 3rd marks the first day of the school year across much of the world. But in the English-speaking regions of Cameroon, thousands of children failed to show up for class. Ongoing clashes between the military and separatists seeking independence from Cameroon's French-speaking majority has parents keeping their children away.
There are only a few vehicles and people on the main commercial street in Bamenda, a town in in Cameroon's English-speaking northwest.
Most shops and businesses are closed.
And, despite September 3rd being the first day of the school year, there are no children seen headed to class.
Benette Ngum said she only came out to see how the public responded to calls by armed separatists to keep shops closed and for children to stay at home.
"I will go and register my children but, next week. The money is there, everything is there, the children are even prepared to go to school but, I just want to see how the atmosphere will look like in the first week before I send them to school next week fully," she said.
Most schools in the northwest have been closed since 2016, when fighting broke out between Cameroon's military and armed separatists who want to create an English-speaking state.
Authorities say the separatists have torched more than a hundred schools, which they see as legitimate targets because they force the French language on locals.
Last month, the separatists said they would allow schools to reopen though without any safety guarantee.
The governor of the region, Deben Tchoffo, said the government has taken security measures to protect schools. He is urging parents to put their children back in class.
"The major task lies on the parents, teachers and the school children. That is the reason why I am asking the parents to rise against those that are trying to disrupt resumption of classes in the northwest region," he said.
But parents seem to be listening to the separatists' demand to keep their kids at home on September 3rd and wait for authorities to announce a different date as the start of the school year.
Ajume Francis said he did not send his children to school in the town of Mamfe because authorities have yet to reconstruct it after it was torched.
"The schools that have been burned down, are the students going to sit on the floor? Where would they learn? The government needs to take its responsibility," he said.
Cameroon's Minister of Secondary Education Nalova Lyonga says the government will provide basic school supplies while school buildings are under construction.
"School is a universal good as I said and every Cameroonian must go to school. It is only slaves who do not go to school and we are not slaves. So the head of state has made it possible for us to go to school and I encourage parents to send their children to school," said Lyonga.
More than 200,000 people have been displaced by the violence in Cameroon's English-speaking regions.
The United Nations says a majority of them are school-age children.