Inside Africa: Cameroonian Teachers Strike For Their Income Rights

On February 21, a group of high school teachers named “On a trop Supporté” (OTS) initiated a strike in this Central African country of 28 million people, which threatens to extend to other sectors. They are asking that President Paul Biya’s government, which is 89 years old and has had over 40 years of undivided control, pay significant salary, bonus, and allowance arrears of 181 billion CFA francs (approximately 276 million euros).

“Money in your pocket, chalk in your hand,” the strikers promise on posters in high schools or on social networks. “The word of order is respected on the whole, even if it is not 100%,” Hubert Lipem II, an OTS official, told AFP. Their strike “has caused significant disruption to the school year and major dysfunctions in our education system,” acknowledged Communication Minister René Emmanuel Sadi on 10 March, admitting “the legitimacy of most of the demands.

For months or even years, many instructors go without pay or only earn a portion of their wage. The instructor is assigned to a high school after graduation but is not paid right away. Then, until they are integrated into the civil service, which can take a long time, they receive only two-thirds of a monthly salary – or 130,000 CFA francs, less than 200 euros – until they are integrated into the civil service, which can take a long time, according to Thierry Makon, an active member of OTS.

According to Hubert Lipem II, the state must give him a “reminder” of outstanding debts after he is integrated, but “it is often required to pay a bribe, up to 30% of the amount of the reminder” to the public workers in charge of the operation. Three years ago, Ulrich Tadie was sent to a high school in Nkonsamgba. “A year later, I got my first two-thirds pay,” bemoaned the young computer science teacher. And the state has yet to pay him his back taxes. He attends school every day as a striker, but for the last week he has been dressed entirely in black, “in honor to Mr Hamidou.”

A symbol of the first days of OTS on social networks, “Mr Hamidou”, a frail sports teacher in Beka, in the north, had moved by holding up an A4 sheet of paper on which he had written: “2012-2022 WITHOUT MATRICLE – 10 YEARS WITHOUT SALARY – OTS”. Mr Hamidou died of illness on 8 March, aged 38, a few days after the Minister of Public Service announced his integration.

Paul Biya authorized the release of 2.7 billion CFA francs (EUR 4 million) on March 7th, but solely to cover the costs of marking the tests, followed by the payment of the additional income to those who only receive two-thirds of it. In the aftermath of Mr Hamidou’s death, he pledged a “progressive settlement” of everyone’s unpaid bills. These measures are unsatisfactory,” OTS said, urging the strike to continue “peacefully.”

Only two students are present in a class of 58 at the Nlonako de Nkonsamgba high school. “This strike is penalising us, we are in an exam year,” one of them, Laure, moans. Rassa, a first-grader, is the only one in her class. “We’re way behind schedule. I’m trying to make progress by copying exercises from a former student’s notebook,” She clarifies.

Teachers may be in class elsewhere in the country, although many are not teaching or have been replaced by temporary teachers. Only private “temporary instructors,” hired by Nlonako High School by urging parents to pay more, educate their children, according to one teacher who spoke on the condition of anonymity.

In a recent street protest, students in Douala, the economic capital, chanted “Pay, pay the teachers”. “I am saddened. We are paying money for our children,” said Joseph Bioche, a parent in Manengole, near Nkonsamgba. Registration fees and other costs can be very high. And more than one in four Cameroonians live below the extreme poverty line (on less than US$1.90 a day or €1.70), according to the World Bank.

According to UNESCO, the enrolment rate in Cameroon’s secondary schools was just 43% for girls and 48.9% for boys in 2016. Another campaign, “Trop c’est trop” (TCT), is gaining traction among primary school teachers, who also teach without pay on occasion, and threatens to expand to other government areas like as health and transportation.

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