Educating Children One Radio Wave at a Time

Nigeria’s conflict has displaced more than a million children, leaving them without access to education. However, an innovative radio program aims to transform this bleak scenario. Concerned by the ongoing insecurity and its impacts, the UN’s children agency (UNICEF) created a radio program to help educate displaced children in the Lake Chad region.

“Boko Haram has disrupted the lives of 1.3 million children with a radical insurgency that has burned villages, displaced people, and created a culture of fear,” said UNICEF’s Crisis Communications Specialist Patrick Rose.

Now entering its eight year, Boko Haram’s violent insurgency has intensified and spilled over in the Lake Chad region, displacing over 2 million people across four countries.

The group has particularly targeted education, destroying more than 900 schools and forcing at least 1,500 more to close.

According to Human Rights Watch, at least 611 teachers have been killed and another 19,000 forced to flee. Boko Haram has also attacked students to keep them out of school and forcibly recruited students into its ranks.

Such targeted attacks and destruction have created an education gap in crisis-affected areas, especially where displaced communities have fled to.

“Short of going through and building new schools in all of those communities when we don’t know how long this conflict is going to last, we tried to develop ways that we could reach these children and deliver some sort of educational routine that will keep them at least learning,” Rose told IPS.

Created with support from the European Union (EU) and in partnership with the governments of Cameroon and Niger, UNICEF’s radio education programs serve as an alternative platform for the 200,000 children in the two countries unable to access schools.

It includes 44 episodes of educational programming on literacy and numeracy for various ages and will be broadcast through state channels in both French and the local languages of Kanouri, Fulfulde, and Hausa.

The curriculum also includes a child protection component such as psychosocial support, guiding teachers to create a space for children to share their experiences and learn how to manage their fears.

“When you have children who have been deeply disturbed by displacement, many of whom have witnessed the murders of their own families, and you create a situation in which they are expected to spend eight hours a day in a classroom that isn’t engaging at all with the reality that they are encountering outside, you get a fundamental dissonance and ultimately low engagement,” Rose said.

As part of its Education in Emergencies initiatives, UNICEF works closely with communities to identify the risks they face as individuals and schools as a whole.

In one such workshop about fears, one girl wrote “kidnappy,” reflecting the deep distress and risk of kidnapping that young girls face.

Not only does the radio program have the potential to decrease the likelihood of kidnapping as children listen from home, but it also creates a “positive” space that addresses children’s realities.

Discussions are underway with the governments of Cameroon and Niger to make radio courses certified, allowing children to receive a certification and pass the school year.

Rose called the approach to the complex crisis “unique,” as it moves from a focus on individual countries to a multi-country response.

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By  Tharanga Yakupitiyage

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Cameroon: Interview with Monique Kwachou, a refugee 2.0

Three months after reports that Cameroonian government had blocked the internet in two English-speaking regions of the country, net services had still not been restored. How does daily life look like for those who live in South-West and North-West regions without internet? Afronline interviewed Monique Kwachou, writer and student affairs officer at the University of Buea. This is the testimony of a Cameroonian “refugee 2.0”, victim of the longest internet ban of its kind in history.

What does daily life look like for those who live in Cameroon without internet?

Daily life has dulled considerably and there’s a blanket of anxiety and apprehension over both regions. To understand the extent of the toll of the internet ban one must consider the context. Two professional unions were already on strike; the lawyers being on strike inhibited those with pending cases in court, prisoners awaiting trial, those who make their livelihood as accessories to the court (clerks and petty traders), and of course the lawyers themselves.

When teachers joined the protest in support of lawyers who were abused and to further their own complaints they equally affected a wide array of people; students, parents who now had to find childcare options, petty traders and contract suppliers who make their livelihood selling around school campuses or providing to schools, and of course the teachers themselves. With the violence perpetuated against students in hostels in Bamenda (Bambili) and Molyko, students fled and local store owners lost considerable business further heightened by the increasingly regular ‘ghost town’ days. You see, the situation was already dire, other professions were keeping things afloat, and with the freedom of expression provided by the presence of internet people weren’t as fearful.

What the government did with the internet ban was heighten trepidation. The union strikes affected certain groups. While the ghost towns affected everyone but for particular days a week, the internet ban affects everyone, be you for ‘the struggle’ or not.

The internet ban inhibits ease of communication between family members in the diaspora and those in the country. I joked the other day that Cameroonians in the diaspora have had to re-discover the calling card after years of Whatsapp/Skype/Viber/Imo facilitating cost and ease of communication. The internet ban has equally assured that all students find it difficult to learn.

While not all students were affected by the teachers strike – those going to francophone schools within these regions, postgrad students involved only in research, and students enrolled in distance learning programs or professional courses such as ACCA, CIMA, CAT were relatively uninhibited -, all students are equally affected by lack of access to Internet to do research, attend classes online, email assignments and more.

With the majority of advertising being done online the internet ban has stifled access to information about everything from jobs to local social events. The web provided access to services our government didn’t provide- an employment search engine such as Njorku, or a sex/sexuality awareness app such as Ndolo 360 both products of Anglophone youth. Both renowned and used locally and internationally.

Yet people are being resilient, and are adapting. I now have a list on my phone of things to look up when next I make a trip to “Internet Cameroon” so I don’t forget. We no longer depend on apps for news, communication, scheduling or games. This has equally added to anxiety as it is more difficult to verify rumors. Our generation has a saying: “pics or it didn’t happen”. Well, without access to internet there’s no way to show the pics and people will believe whatever is sold to them, particularly if it rhymes with what they wish was truth.

What has been the impact on your private life and professional work?

The internet ban has inhibited my studies and work and inconvenienced me in general. Prior to this ban I wouldn’t have praised my government but I definitely wouldn’t have called my government a tyranny. In fact I have gotten into several debates chastising foreign depictions of all of Africa as such, particularly considering that if African leaders get away with the things they do it’s often with international agencies and Western countries as accomplices. Now however I have to pause and consider if the shoe fits.

Having to question that, has affected my personal conviction to work and live at home. As of now I still choose my country above any other but that question ‘is this worth it?’ remains. That in itself is disturbing. For instance, I have always desired to do my PhD by distance hoping to build my career in Cameroon while studying. I currently hold an admission offer for Lancaster University’s Education and Social Justice doctoral program and I was looking for possible scholarships/grants to cover the cost of program in January but now that internet bans are a possibility in Cameroon, I am now apprehensive of this aspiration of mine.

I ask myself: What if they ban internet again in 2018 due to elections? How would that affect my program? The government has made us consider now that the worst is possible.

Professionally, the internet ban has affected my research for academic writing and publication. I have to cross over to Douala regularly to blog, or submit pieces for websites, so I have lost some income by not taking up writing jobs I could freelance for. As a part-time instructor I question the logic behind the internet ban.

Government officials have said the ban is temporary and it will be restored when schools resume. But how do universities resume given that lecturers use the internet to make lesson plans, find relevant/up to date accompanying readings and more.  As an assistant to a full- time lecturer, I had covered a section of an undergraduate course prior to the strike and resulting internet ban, the students were given an assignment which they have to email to me for grading. How does that happen without internet access?

To me, the government sought to stifle the resistance by inhibiting their ability to communicate freely but didn’t consider the wide-ranging effects of the strategy they chose. By punishing over five million people to control a handful, they end up radicalizing more.

The resumption of schools and return of internet access is interdependent. The University of Buea is a pioneer in ICT use in the country with all students enrolled via online registration. How then does school resume when the registration of students is inhibited by the internet ban? By the time the strike began, a significant number of students had yet to register either because they were tardy or because they applied to professional program which commence a bit later in the school year.

After three months of internet shutdown, what is the impact of such a decision on the economic level in the disconnected regions? What are the professional categories more hit by this shutdown?

Well, I’m not an economist so I can’t answer on economic consequences with certainty. What I can say for sure is that several businesses may not recover from the effects of the combined strike and internet ban. It is more unfortunate that the majority of businesses which suffer most from the internet ban are start-ups by young entrepreneurs. Imagine it, these young people have literally made lemonade out of the lemons their country gave them; ‘Silicon Mountain’ in Buea, a hub for tech start-ups, and Bamenda’s now renowned fashion week, the Cameroon Film Industry and the entertainment sector were all made from scratch by young people aged 19- 30. These are the businesses which have employed people, without government subventions. These same industries have put Cameroon on the world map with more and more acknowledgment given to the innovators from these regions. It is they who suffer most as our government continues with this callous strategy.

The Cameroonian national authorities justified the internet and communication cuts to protect the public order and avoid fake news on the crisis. Is that decision understandable?

Understandable? Not quite. To say it is understandable is to suggest the logic stands, whereas their logic is very fallible. Very, very fallible. Was there a proliferation of fake news throughout the strike? Yes! Advocates of the ‘the struggle’ did itself a great disservice by spreading unverified information, unfounded accusations, long tales aimed at destroying the reputations of those who did not agree with them, and disturbing threats. Yes, this happened and it needed to be stopped. However, to think an internet ban on the two regions with people decrying marginalization was the best way to solve problems makes no sense.

First and foremost, the proliferation of fake news is best addressed to the reporting of objective and factual information. People would readily dismiss ‘fake news’ if they had a source or valid journalism to verify with. However our government media has failed us countless times in various ways; failed to be objective, failed to report what happened- lying by omission, failed to report the same information in both languages.

In addition, the private news stations which attempted to provide more substantial information were threatened and in Bamenda some radio stations actually closed down. As such the government cannot blame the use (or abuse) of social media alone for ‘fake news’ and use that as an excuse to legitimate the internet shut down. In fact, I am currently working on an article outlining how governments like ours create the environment for the proliferation of fake news when national broadcasting loses its honesty.

Following the strikes, violence and protests, what is the atmosphere in Buea today?

Well, I’ve been out of home for a few weeks attending a conference. However I’ll be home soon and I can speak for the situation I left behind. People are tired. We walk around carrying two forms of tiredness warring within us; both fatigue with ‘the struggle’ and fed up with our government’s careless oppression. Students are actually visiting the university campus in hope that some negotiations are being done and classes resume; they are tired of staying at home but if you engage them in conversation you’ll note their desire for these months of sacrifice to end with something substantial. So to use a local expression: we’re struggling and smiling.

In such isolation, how are fear and violence perceived without internet connection?

As I said earlier, the internet shutdown has heightened fear and anxiety. As it inhibits communication rumors now spread via SMS and phone calls take a lot longer to be dispelled. I recall one experience, the week of the 20th of February or so, the path of the Mountain was being burned as is usual in preparation for Mount Cameroon Race of Hope. Someone seeing flames in the night must have spread information that the University of Buea had been set aflame. As rebels have spearheaded destruction of property and actually burned some schools in the name of ‘the struggle’ the rumor picked up and friends in other regions – with internet where the rumor spread like wildfire – had to call me and verify if my place of work was actually on fire.

Another experience I found out about a young journalist who once volunteered for my organization being arrested and taken to a military prison in Yaoundé on a weekend trip to Douala. I had seen him in person and we had talked briefly just a week before. The story surrounding his arrest made no sense. You see, without ease of access people are in the dark, and in the dark you are considerably more afraid even if you’re in your own home.

What do you expect from the Cameroonian authorities and the international community?

To be honest I – like many of my friends and colleagues – am apathetic. My generation has learned to expect little or nothing from our government and much less from the international community. We speak out for the necessity of it. We make hashtags, we demand our rights etc. because if you don’t speak up “they will kill you and say you enjoyed it” as Hurston is quoted for saying.  Still, we don’t wait with bated breath. I hope that some people in my government regain their consciousness to insist the internet access be reinstated but…

As to the international community, it has failed us too many times to count. Contrary to what people think my generation watches the news. We are witnessing a massacre in Syria, an immigrant crisis and the deadliest of food crisis in the horn of Africa. Even as Cameroonians – including in the diaspora – have marched in front of embassies all around, if asked they would tell you they fear the UN or any foreign power coming in to ‘solve’ this situation. We do not want to go the way of Libya. Or South Sudan.

So without the government and the international community what’s left? Citizens. I expect them to stand up soon, all of us, not just Anglophones. I expect that we will collectively get fed up and change things that we can no longer accept.

By Joshua Massarenti (Afronline.org)

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Life in No-Internet Cameroon

The English-speaking regions of Cameroon have been facing a government-ordered Internet shutdown since 17 January. This shutdown was imposed in the wake of ongoing strikes, violence and protests against the continued marginalisation of English-speakers. Monique Kwachou describes life in No-Internet Cameroon.

It used to be difficult to explain that there were two Cameroons. At conferences, international round tables where Africans and Afro-inquisitive Westerners would swap stories, as well as questions and assumptions about each other’s countries, you would often have to debunk the myth that you were fluent in French by virtue of being Cameroonian and being called Monique. It would take too long to explain the invisible divide of that Picot Line. This problem, which has since either been ignored or normalised, would be too broad to broach. So you limit your comments on your country to corruption, the president’s everlasting reign, conveniently patriarchal cultural ‘values’ – issues all Africans understand and face, unfortunately, irrespective of their country of origin.

But recently your government has made it easier to explain that there are two Cameroons. They somehow found that dividing line that no one would acknowledge existed and now it is clear: There is Internet Cameroon and No-Internet Cameroon, that is, La Republic du Cameroun, which gained independence from French rule on 1 January 1960, and former British Southern Cameroons, which gained independence by merging with ‘long lost brothers’ on 1 October 1961.

Now when your colleagues from other countries ask you about Cameroon, it is easier to explain the problem that has long been ignored and subdued. Easier, not easy. The issues of who and what you identify as remains as complex as ever. Now your colleagues ask you, how are you coping? What is it like living under an Internet ban? You attempt to help them envisage it. Imagine this, you say:

So, what is it like?

It is 7pm. Just two hours earlier news had broken of the government banning the associations at the forefront of the longest and largest strikes in recent national history. Now you are reading reports online, stating that some of the leaders of the strike (and one of the now banned associations) have been arrested. Upon reading this you feel alarmed. You attempt calling those you know to check on their well-being.

Your call doesn’t go through. You try reaching out to mutual friends and family online to discuss your fears and ascertain their safety, but your messages keep loading. You can’t see the tick next to your WhatsApp messages, the one that would confirm that they had been delivered. You assume it is the network; that the lines are probably crammed as the news of arrests sends everyone scurrying to call their loved ones.

Things will surely escalate. And they do. You see cars held up on the road just outside your window – bikers have taken to blocking the roads with burning tires and abandoned cars to show their displeasure. You hear shots being fired into the air, the police descending with tear gas. People try to park their cars on the pavements to hide in the safety of neighboring buildings like the one you live in. Others use the opportunity to loot and steal – you see them running with gas bottles stolen from the local gas station. You have dismantled your phone and reassembled it twice, removing and replacing your SIM card, restarting it, feeling confident that the network will return so you can check in with your loved ones or follow updates on the situation.

An hour later you receive a call from a friend who is stuck a mile from your place due to the road blocks. Could he come spend the night? he asks. The roads are blocked and the police are arresting whoever they can. When he arrives at your place, he tells you of the fear on fellow passengers’ faces when they saw tires burning on the road and bikers with bottles – ‘kerosene bombs’ – only for the gendarmes to follow with batons and tear gas. He tells of running for his life and feeling ashamed for not stopping to help a female passenger who fell into the gutter as they both tried to escape. He says all this while reassembling his phone.

You both still think it is a network problem. Hours later, you can’t sleep. You receive an SMS from a friend in Douala: Has your Internet been cut off too? she asks. It dawns on you that this may actually be it; the government may actually have cut off Internet access. You two laugh. Crazy people! you remark. How long can this last? Douala, the economic capital, needs Internet access or else businesses will crash. Heck, everyone needs Internet access.

You two discuss the government’s lack of foresight until you fall asleep. The next morning you learn that the other regions had their Internet restored overnight. Just the two Anglophone regions where protests had occurred, just the people who had complained about marginalisation, had been cut off. As if to further confirm their claims…

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By Monique Kwachou

Credit picture: Federico Scoppa/Getty Images.

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The unfinished business between Cameroon and France

La Guerre du Cameroun reveals the façade of a sovereign Cameroonian state behind which France negotiated, with the Cameroonian leaders of its choice, its post-independence strategic and economic hold on the Cameroonian government against a backdrop of counterrevolutionary and psychological warfare.

In January this year, Cameroonian President Paul Biya (in office since 1982), cut off the southwest and northwest regions of the country’s access to the internet to punish anglophone Cameroonians for protesting their linguistic, political and economic marginalization.

The UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, David Kaye, called the move a violation of the right to freedom of expression. The executive committee of the International Union of Anthropological and Ethnological Sciences issued a statement about the situation in Cameroon and to support the UN Special Rapporteurs’ calls on the government to “investigate the deployment of violence against protestors and to exercise greater restraint in policing.”

For those familiar with Cameroonian decolonization, the internet suppression reminded of an earlier time: symptomatic of a violent method of administration forged during Cameroon’s transition to “independence,” by France and “moderate” local elites.

A new book that tells that story of decolonization and its legacy for present-day Cameroon is La Guerre du Cameroun: L’Invention de la Françafrique. It is written by French journalists Thomas Deltombe and Manuel Domergue, along with Jacob Tatsitsa, a doctoral student in history at the University of Ottawa.

Achille Mbembe wrote the foreward. La Guerre du Cameroun reveals the façade of a sovereign Cameroonian state behind which France negotiated, with the Cameroonian leaders of its choice, its post-independence strategic and economic hold on the Cameroonian government against a backdrop of counterrevolutionary and psychological warfare. Between 60,000 and 120,000 civilians out of a population of just over three million were killed between the mid-1950s to the mid-1960s. At least 440,000 Cameroonians were resettled in “regroupment” villages, forever changing the rural landscape of affected zones.

The French administered French Cameroon for the United Nations. It implemented policies of isolation akin to those Biya has put in place for Anglophone Cameroon today. French administrators prevented members and sympathizers of the most popular pro-independence party, the Union of the Populations of Cameroon (UPC), from communicating with the rest of the world: Administrators intercepted mail and telegraph services, and established a cordon sanitaire around the UN Visiting Missions of 1955 and 1958 to keep them away from nationalist demonstrators.

In violation of the UN trusteeship agreement requiring France to prepare the territory for self-government, the French administration banned the UPC and its affiliated women’s party, youth party and confederated trade unions. With all avenues to political action closed off, the UPC leadership resorted to violence, implanting maquis (guerrillas) severely lacking in arms and resources throughout the southern regions of the territories.

While the world looked the other way, the French unleashed an asymmetrical counterinsurgency, uprooting the maquis and brutally punishing the civilian populations in their vicinity. Interrogation, detention without trial, torture, and extrajudicial killings became features of daily life under a Franco-Cameroonian hybrid state even before the UN Trusteeship was lifted with independence on the January 1, 1960.

The violence increased after independence. French “technical assistants” Paul Audat and Jacques Rousseau authored Cameroon’s constitution in the months that followed. Its key feature was Article 20 which allowed the national assembly to grant full presidential powers to new President Ahmadou Ahidjo — whom the French recruited to the ranks of the postal service in 1947 and enabled to become Prime Minister in February 1958. After independence and freed from UN inquiries, France remained in command of the Cameroonian national army and police until 1965 making the war more lethal. It was after independence that the French army operationalized its forced resettlement policies, recruited tens of thousands of civilians to auxiliary militia forces, unleashed a campaign of aerial bombardment, and systematized torture as a mode of interrogation.

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By Meredith Terretta

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Life in No-Internet Cameroon

The English-speaking regions of Cameroon have been facing a government-ordered Internet shutdown since 17 January. This shutdown was imposed in the wake of ongoing strikes, violence and protests against the continued marginalisation of English-speakers. Monique Kwachou describes life in No-Internet Cameroon.

It used to be difficult to explain that there were two Cameroons. At conferences, international round tables where Africans and Afro-inquisitive Westerners would swap stories, as well as questions and assumptions about each other’s countries, you would often have to debunk the myth that you were fluent in French by virtue of being Cameroonian and being called Monique.

It would take too long to explain the invisible divide of that Picot Line. This problem, which has since either been ignored or normalised, would be too broad to broach. So you limit your comments on your country to corruption, the president’s everlasting reign, conveniently patriarchal cultural ‘values’ – issues all Africans understand and face, unfortunately, irrespective of their country of origin.

But recently your government has made it easier to explain that there are two Cameroons. They somehow found that dividing line that no one would acknowledge existed and now it is clear: There is Internet Cameroon and No-Internet Cameroon, that is, La Republic du Cameroun, which gained independence from French rule on 1 January 1960, and former British Southern Cameroons, which gained independence by merging with ‘long lost brothers’ on 1 October 1961.

Now when your colleagues from other countries ask you about Cameroon, it is easier to explain the problem that has long been ignored and subdued. Easier, not easy. The issues of who and what you identify as remains as complex as ever. Now your colleagues ask you, how are you coping? What is it like living under an Internet ban? You attempt to help them envisage it. Imagine this, you say:

So, what is it like?

It is 7pm. Just two hours earlier news had broken of the government banning the associations at the forefront of the longest and largest strikes in recent national history. Now you are reading reports online, stating that some of the leaders of the strike (and one of the now banned associations) have been arrested.

Upon reading this you feel alarmed. You attempt calling those you know to check on their well-being. Your call doesn’t go through. You try reaching out to mutual friends and family online to discuss your fears and ascertain their safety, but your messages keep loading.

You can’t see the tick next to your WhatsApp messages, the one that would confirm that they had been delivered. You assume it is the network; that the lines are probably crammed as the news of arrests sends everyone scurrying to call their loved ones. Things will surely escalate. And they do. You see cars held up on the road just outside your window – bikers have taken to blocking the roads with burning tires and abandoned cars to show their displeasure. You hear shots being fired into the air, the police descending with tear gas.

People try to park their cars on the pavements to hide in the safety of neighboring buildings like the one you live in. Others use the opportunity to loot and steal – you see them running with gas bottles stolen from the local gas station. You have dismantled your phone and reassembled it twice, removing and replacing your SIM card, restarting it, feeling confident that the network will return so you can check in with your loved ones or follow updates on the situation.

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By Monique Kwachou (source: This is Africa)

Credit picture: Afp/Getty Iamges.

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Afcon 2017: Unfavoured, unliked, unbelievable Cameroon seal fifth title in fine fashion

Heading into the tournament, Cameroon weren’t even underdogs: they weren’t given a hope in hell. But the squad that was considered the weakest ever Indomitable Lions side to go to an Africa Cup of Nations overcame all the odds under the tutelage of a coach who didn’t even make the original five-man shortlist for the job.

It was the final that nobody would have predicted and the champions nobody saw coming. Cameroon claimed a 2-1 win over Egypt on Sunday night to claim their fifth Africa Cup of Nations after a tournament which has been defined by them defying expectation.

In a rather frenetic match, an inexperienced Indomitable Lions side pipped veterans Egypt as they scripted the final chapter in what has been a tremendous journey. Egypt were unbeaten in Afcon for 13 years and had not conceded two goals in any match since November 2014. Until now.

On paper, Egypt and Cameroon could not be more different. In goal, Egypt’s 44-year old Essam El-Hadary started playing football before Cameroon’s 21-year-old Fabrice Ondoa was even born. Egypt had won seven titles, their most recent victory coming in 2010. Cameroon have won four, their last victory coming in 2002. The Indomitable Lions had leaked goals in the group stages while the Pharaohs had not conceded until the semis. Egypt had not lost a final of the competition since 1962. Cameroon lost to Egypt the last time the two met in such a clash.

In the end, the stats meant little and it was Cameroon’s persistent annoyance that saw Egypt run out of steam in a fraught second half.

While Leicester City became a once-in-lifetime fairy tale in the English Premier League, the Africa Cup of Nations seems to deliver remarkable stories year after year. This is the tournament where magic happens and nothing has been more magical than Cameroon’s journey to the final.

Nobody would have given the Indomitable Lions a chance of making it through their group at the start of the tournament. Yet they did and they beat favourites Senegal and Ghana on their way there.

Despite a solid record heading into the tournament (they’d lost just once in 2016), Cameroon weren’t even considered underdogs, they were no-hopers. The squad they had cobbled together for the continental showpiece was beset with high-profile withdrawals and they had a coach who had never been in charge of a national side before.

Coach Hugo Broos, who took over in the middle of the qualifying campaign for this tournament, had a fairly impressive CV from his time coaching in Belgium, but at the time of applying for the job, he had been out of work for a year. But Broos wasn’t handpicked for the gig – in fact, he wasn’t even on the original five-man shortlist. Instead, he saw the job advertised online and somehow managed to convince the folks at the top that he was the right man for the job.

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By Antoinette Mueller

Credit picture: Gabriel Bouys/Getty Images

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Refugees from Boko Haram Languish in Cameroon

Minawao Camp (Cameroon) – Tears spring to Aichatou Njoya’s eyes as she recalls the day Islamic militants from Boko Haram arrived on her doorstep in Nigeria. “It was on May 24, 2013. My husband was sleeping in his room while I was on the other side of the house with our six children. The youngest was only one month old,” she mutters, pausing to collect herself.

Njoya told IPS when the armed insurgents broke into the house, they grabbed her husband and dragged him into her room. “They brought him in front of us and put a machete to his neck and asked him if he was going to convert from Christianity to Islam. They asked thrice, and thrice he refused. Then they slew him right in front of me and our children,” she said, still holding back tears.

The widowed refugee said an argument ensued among the assailants as to whether to spare her life or not. They finally agreed to let her live. The next day she escaped with her children to the hills and trekked for several days until they reached the border with Cameroon, where the UNHCR had vehicles to transport refugees to the camp. The camp had just been set up, she says.

Njoya, now 36, has been living in the Minawao refugee camp in Cameroon’s Far North region for more than three and a half years now, with scant hope of returning anytime soon.

IPS spoke with Njoya and others during the Dec. 15 visit of Filippo Grandi, High Commissioner for the United Nations Refugee agency UNHCR, to the camp. Grandi called for the financial empowerment of Nigerian refugees to help them cope with insufficient humanitarian aid.

The camp hosts about 60,000 Nigerians who have fled their homes since 2011 because of attacks carried out by the Islamist terror group, Boko Haram.

Grandi spoke with refugees, representatives of national and international NGOs, and officials of the Cameroonian government who gathered to welcome him. Cameroon is the third country he is visiting as part of his tour of countries of the Lake Chad Basin affected by the Boko Haram insurgency.

Grandi said his visit was intended to encourage donors to provide more aid to affected countries and governments to work together to reinstate peace in the region and facilitate the return of refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) their homes.

“We have made efforts to improve aid, but aid is still insufficient. I have listened to complaints of these refugee women who say they do not have any income generation activities and I think the UNHCR and its partners should begin working in that direction. Help them help themselves,” he said.

He had just listened to representatives of the refugees and refugee women discussing the difficulties they face on a daily basis, including food and water shortages, scarcity of wood, insufficient medicines, and insufficient classroom and medical staff in health units in the camp.

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By Mbom Sixtus

Picture credit: Joshua Massarenti

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