Building a student movement in Cameroon

Claske Dijkema, 14 December 2012


Modus Operandi Course on Social Cohesion and Conflict Management at IGA.

Charlotte Monteil from the Institute for Alpine Geography’s masters program on International Development Studies, interviewed Herrick Mouafo about his involvement with the student protests in Cameroun, its methods of nonviolent struggle and the process of building a social movement.

What were the origins of the student movement in Cameroon?

The movement, organized around the student union Association pour la Défense des Droits

des Etudiants du Cameroun (Addec), was born in 2004 to give voice to the students and to improve their studying and living conditions (e.g. lecture hall too small). According to Herrick Mouafo this movement was a way to politicize the university in terms of enhancing debate between students, increase their freedom of thought and to encourage them to take action regarding the various problems they faced. Their organization and methods of actions were a way to prevent the internalization of fear and to bypass the current violent repression used by the State.

What were the methods used to induce change ?

Each time students brought up difficulties the faced, their claims were stopped by the violent State repression through its police and armed forces. Given the fact that the latter are stronger than students, the ADDEC has decided to use non-violent methods, such as a hunger strike, to surprise the State and to force it to negotiate. Herrick Mouafo explains it was thus necessary to first organize before taking action. The aim was to be more legitimate, more credible by having a structured, coherent discourse as well as being representative of the common interests and claims. Then the union identified all the actors who demonstrated an interest in their activities such as Western diplomatic actors and organizations, opposition parties and the media. The strategy was to familiarize them with the students’ discourse and reflect on ways how to make their voices heard. These organizations were better placed to influence the State. It was also a way to introduce debate into society and to show the ruling party that this movement existed of a multitude of actors from various sectors and thus strategic for the State.

Another strategy was not to organize the conflict around a leader but to manage it in a horizontal way, by the concerned population as a whole. It strengthened the movement in face of State

repression as this strategy prevented the government to break the movement by putting in jail its leaders.

In what way can the student movement potentially contribute to the well-being of the citizens in Cameroon ?

Herrick Mouafo argues that this movement both has direct and indirect effects on the well-being of citizens in Cameroon. For the students, if it succeeds, it makes heard their claims and can contribute to resolve some of their problems regarding their living and studying conditions. Indirectly it is the way to struggle against an authoritarian and repressive State. It has thus some positive impacts for the whole society. It helps the latter to express freely its needs and claims. The students movement appears as a step to increase the freedom of the society.

Can you describe the process of building the movement ?

The student movement and the creation of the ADDEC comes directly from the students initiatives.

Then only it is diffused to other stakeholders. The movement has to enhance the debate between all

students, to be totally collective. It has begun by a group of students more determined than the other to struggle for their claims, to politicize the university.

Did the mobilization contribute to social cohesion and if so, in what way?

It built links between the student community and partners from civil society. Creating a wider social alliance constituted actually one of the movement’s objectives according to Herrick Mouafo as it corresponds to the first step of any struggle. The movement had to transform individual grievances and feeling of anger in a collective one, to highlight their common interests and to organize a legitimate and coherent discourse. It is thus necessary to struggle against the internal conflicts and disagreements and unify their forces. Without that, it is not possible to legitimate the movement and to balance the power with the ruling party.

Did it affect power relationships between actors in society?

Herrick Mouafo argues that one of the direct objective of this movement was to balance power relationships between the students and the ruling party in order to make students’ voices heard, to be equal or even more powerful than the government in order to reach their objectives. For that, the students and their partners had to bypass the government’s repression and to use struggle strategies that are more powerful than the government’s strategies. The conflict was actually already present between the government and the students because the first did not respond to the students interests. However the power of the State and the internalization of the fear avoided every direct confrontation. The organization of individual’s feelings of anger and the management of struggle strategies allowed the students to open a direct confrontation with the government. Indeed they know that they can win the conflict.