Remarks at the University of Ngaoundéré

Remarks by Ambassador Peter Henry Barlerin “as prepared for delivery”
University of Ngaoundéré
Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Vice Rector, Heads of Faculties and Schools, Administrative and Traditional Authorities, Faculty, and Students.  I am excited to visit the University of Ngaoundéré.  I thank the Rector, Professor Uphie Chinje Melo, for the warm welcome.

Before I continue, I would like to take a moment to recognize the passing of Dr. Hamadjoda Adjoudji, former cabinet minister and chairman of the University of Ngaoundéré.  The University community has lost a great friend.  Please join me in a moment of silence in his honor.

You are all from different regions of Cameroon, and some of you are from neighboring Chad and the Central African Republic.  What you have in common is a drive to gain knowledge and skills to enhance your professional opportunities.

A university education empowers you to communicate clearly, think critically, and be a leader.  However, the benefits of your education extend beyond what you learn in a classroom.  At the University of Ngaoundere, you live as part of a community different than what you grew up in.  You have met people with different ideas and perspectives than you.  You may come to adopt their points of view, or you adhere to your own.  Whatever your choice, I ask you to remember that healthy debate and civil discourse are essential to a productive university experience, and for life in general.  We can disagree and still sit at the same table and enjoy one another’s company.

Too often groups focus on past grievances and ideological differences to fuel violence.  We can see it in the Northwest and Southwest Regions where farmers, schoolchildren, and other peace-loving civilians have become caught in the middle between government security forces and secessionists and where there is a lack of dialogue between the government and a range of voices from the two regions.  We can also see it here in the Adamoua Region, where scores of internally displaced people, Central African refugees, and local vulnerable populations struggle to rebuild their lives.  The benefits of all sides of a conflict working towards a peaceful resolution through dialogue without preconditions outweigh any justification for further conflict.

The United States has been consistent in this refrain.  To that end, we sponsor initiatives that promote reconciliation and peaceful coexistence between Cameroon’s diverse social, religious, and ethnic groups.  The Adamoua Region has benefited from many of these initiatives.  Through our grants programs, we provide vocational and entrepreneurial training to Mborroro youth.  These trainings equip this marginalized group with the skills necessary to prosper financially and avoid destructive life choices.  We have also promoted the socio-economic integration of internally displaced women in Meiganga through practical skills training.  By acquiring new skills, these women who lost everything are enabled to start small businesses and support their families.  Through our partnership with the El-Zoe Foundation, we sponsor the “Kick for Peace” program, which uses football clinics as a way to teach youth the value of teamwork and solving their differences peacefully.  This year, the Mayo-Banyo division will host one of these clinics.  In addition, our humanitarian assistance in the region supports refugees and vulnerable host populations with programs focused on health, food security, livelihoods, water, sanitation, and hygiene.

A peaceful Cameroon also makes for a stronger trade partner.  Cameroon’s median age is 18.  This is a youth bulge that portends an era of economic ingenuity and prosperity.  Trade between the U.S. and Cameroon was $280 million in 2017.  With the completion of the Ngaoundéré – N’Djamena rail line, the Adamaoua Region will become a crucial link in regional trade and transport.  While the project itself is a joint effort of the Cameroonian and Chadian governments, the recent 35 million dollar locomotive purchase from the American company “General Electric” will ensure a modern fleet of trains to serve this route.  The United States sees the value in expanding this relationship, but only in an environment of transparency and fair competition.

We also offer several exchange programs to learn from each other’s best practices.  The Young African Leaders Initiative or YALI, has selected nine finalists from Ngaoundéré for the 2018-2019 cohort.  In fact, your university has benefited from other exchanges as well.  Collette Kernyuy Nyuydze, a proud graduate of the School of Food Sciences, received a Fulbright Student scholarship.  She is currently pursuing her Masters in Biological Sciences at South Dakota State University.

I wish I could spend more time in the Adamaoua Region.  I have yet to take in the natural beauty of Benoue National Park.  However, I don’t anticipate this being my last trip to the region.  Your hospitality and warm reception have ensured my return.  I want to thank you for inviting me to your university, and I wish you success in your studies and beyond.