Local witnesses have said the ongoing separatist movement was responsible for the deaths of at least eight pupils, but that is yet to be officially confirmed. Authorities have vowed to “hunt and kill” the perpetrators.

Gunmen stormed the Mother Francisca Memorial College in Kumba in Southwestern Cameroon on Saturday, killing at least eight schoolchildren and wounding eight more.

One parent who was just outside the school at the time of the attack said the gunmen arrived on motorbikes and in civilian clothes in the middle of the day before shooting the children indiscriminately.

It wasn’t clear if the attack was linked to the ongoing struggle between the army and groups attempting to form a breakaway state called Ambazonia in the English-speaking west. But a local witness in the area said Ambazonian fighters were responsible for the bloodshed.

“Ambazonian fighters arrived [at] the school …started shooting into the classes. They say the students are traitors for attending classes when they have called for an effective school boycott in the Northwest and Southwest Regions … we ran into the house for safety. It was so terrifying,” he said on condition of anonymity.

Military will hunt and kill them all’

Chamberlin Ntou’ou Ndong, Prefect of the Meme department where the Kumba school is located, said authorities were looking for the perpetrators.

“I will not only condemn the cowardly action but I want to tell the criminals that they can run as far as their legs can take them but the military will hunt and kill them all,” he said, adding that those responsible for the students’ safety would be arrested.

Saturday’s shooting at college was the first major attack on schools since the beginning of the academic year in Cameroon.

It was not immediately clear if the Anglophone separatist movement was behind the violence.

‘Shock and consternation’

“It is a day that started like any other, but for some families and the Cameroon Anglophone community at large, it quickly turned into a nightmare,” writes DW’s Mimi Mefo Takambou. 

“The sense of shock and consternation has been palpable as another school has come under attack in the restive Southwest Region of Cameroon. The incident has received widespread condemnation from Cameroonians of all walks of life who have taken to social media to express their shock.”

Violent unrest

The region has been engulfed by ongoing unrest since 2017 between Anglophone separatists and government security forces in two Western districts. The conflict has taken more than 3,000 lives and displaced hundreds of thousands.

Anglophone secessionists have imposed curfews and closed schools in protest against President Paul Biya’s French-speaking government, though some local separatist leaders and activists have been against school shutdowns.

In early September, the army launched an operation against separatists in the English-speaking Northwest Region, which has complained of decades of discrimination from the Francophone majority. The Southwest Region has also claimed similar discrimination.