Senegal: Casamance, an invisible war

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By: Guadi Calvo / Source: Resumen Latinoamericano / The Dawn News / January 15, 2018

Last Saturday January 6th, in the Boffa Bayotte forest, in the Senegalese region of Casamance, the massacred bodies of 13 young people were found, 10 killed by gunfire, 2 decapitated and the last one burned. Hours later, the authorities would find other 2 bodies, raising the number of the massacre to 15 dead and 7 wounded.

Immediately, the president of the country, Macky Sall, ordered the search and detention of the responsible actors. Since the sector where the deaths happened corresponds to a buffer zone between the Senegalese army and the separatist army of the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MDFC), an area that remains in conflict since 1982, a unit of 150 men of the National Gendarmerie (GIGN-Elite) was sent to there. Last Sunday January 14th, General Cheikh Guéye, announced the detention of between 16 and 20 suspects.

The detentions happened in the village of Toubacouta, 8 kilometers south of Ziguinchor, Casamance’s capital, near the forest of Boffa Bayotte, the place of the killing. Meanwhile, the searches in the area continue.

For those who follow the complex situation that Casamance has been suffering for 35 years, the magnitude of the killing, refers immediately to the conflict between that the MDFC has with the central power of Dakar in favour of their independence. Despite the immediate pronouncement from the MDFC, against the killing and any responsibility, the accusatory glances prevail active.

The killing, according to local sources, may have been carried out by one of the former leaders of the insurgency, Salif Sadio, who is also accused of the exploitation of the rich woods of Casamance’s forests in order to fund his war, and an ally of Gambia’s former dictator Yaya Jammeh.

It is believed that the murdered youths, members of the committee of forest administration who were in charge of the plant protection in South Casamance, faced Sadio’s men in the moment in which they were cutting down a broad sector of the forest.

It is believed that members of the local police are also involved in the death of the youths. Since the victims had been illegally detained and freed only 24 hours before their deaths.

One of the survivors denounced being shot on the back by men in military uniforms, with rangers boots and who spoke the local language.

The local journalist and expert in the conflict, Ibrahima Gassama, denounced that the young men had already been detained in October, after facing lumberjacks in the same area in where they were murdered.

So, beyond the first assumptions, the responsibility of the separatists is discarded, since no military activity has happened in the region since the assumption of president Macky Sall, despite the fact that peace negotiations that haven’t reached a definitive agreement. The mentioned attack happened one day after the liberation of two fighters of the MDFC by the army, following the negotiations in December carried out between the Senegalese government and the Sant’Egidio Community of Roma, an organization linked to the Vatican which specializes in Peace negotiations.

The rebels are divided in three or four groups, since the death of the MDFC’s founder in 2007, the abbot Augustin Diamacoune Senghor.

The French government removed Casamance from the list of dangerous areas in October 2016. The French citizens chose Senegal as an important tourism spot.

A long story

In the Senegalese region of Casamance a low intensity war has been waged since December 1982, and due to its “low intensity”, it has been silenced by most media. Of course, the death toll is not really high, barely 5 thousand in 35 years, practically nothing. To this number we have to add the 1,500 victims of landmines of which there is no record of who planted them or of how many there are yet to be found by an unfortunate footstep. Also, there are still around 60,000 displaced persons, many of them refugees in Guinea-Bissau and Guinea. Between 1998 and 1999, a war between Casamance’s guerrilla and the army of Guinea-Bissau left at least 6,000 casualties.

Casamance is separated from the rest of the country by the Republic of Gambia and cornered against the borders of both Guineas, with a coast in the Atlantic which probably has rich oil and gas deposits; it also represents a 15 % of the total surface of Senegal. The impassable routes, added to the almost permanent rains, are factors that make the trip of 500 km to Dakar, the capital of the country, over 24 hours. While the epicenter of the conflict is located in the Low Casamance, 20 km from the Guinea-Bissau border.

This isolation has made the Diola ethnic group, dominant in the region, to develop an independent spirit with the founding in 1947 of the MDFC under plain French domination, lead by Abbot Augustin Diamacoune Senghor. The people from Casamance started fighting much more in pursuit of their autonomy in 1960 with the independence of Senegal.

Another identity mark of Casamance is that most of its 3 million inhabitants are Catholic, while in the rest of the country an 80 % out of a total of 15 million is Sunni Muslim.

Casamance has the sad “honor” of being one the first European colonies of the continent. Discovered in 1445 by Portuguese Diniz Dias, it was the bridgehead for the start of slave trafficking. The old Portuguese colony, passed to the hands of France in 1908, after the agreements of the Berlin Conference (1885 – 1886), where the European powers, mainly the United Kingdom, France and Germany, distributed the African continent. At least 10 thousand nations existed in Africa by the year 1800. After the retreat of the Europeans in the 60s, 52 were left. Forcing ancestral enemies, of different ethnicities, cultures, traditions, languages and Gods to live together under democratic governments, totally alien to their idiosyncrasy of clans and tribes.

In 1960, France granted Senegal and other colonies their independence, after the political, economic and military fatigue from the wars in Algeria and Indochina. For Paris, the operation was a success, they were getting rid of the obligations regarding their subjects, while they kept the economic control of the “young” nations, expanding the possibility for French companies to loot the rich natural resources of those countries, like gold, petroleum and uranium. Meanwhile, they trusted civil and tribal wars and orchestrated both bloody and corrupt dictatorships.

Casamance, is one of the many problems that the “white and civilized” tide left behind to drown the African continent in blood.

In 1982, protests in favour of independence were initiated by the Jola people, who after arriving to the provincial capital Ziguinchor from the sacred forest of Diabir, replaced the Senegalese flag from several governmental buildings with white cloths. These expressions were terribly repressed leaving behind several dozens dead, which, at the same time, generated more mobilizations in 1983 that unchained the event now known as the “red Sunday”. This Sunday involved 24 hours of even more violent repression that left, officially, 24 casualties, although the real numbers indicate than the deaths could have been over the 250. Also hundreds of people were detained during long periods without any accusations.

This confrontation was the one that allowed the MDFC to transform from a political movement to a insurgent military force, under the name of Attika, warrior in the Jola dialect, with the leadership of Sidy Badji and with a base in the borderland forests of Guinea Bissau.

Since then, the conflict has only gotten worse in terms of violence until the impasse initiated in 2012, when the war became invisible, but not less dangerous, since now is like a landmine that could blow with any wrong step.

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