Saturday, July 26, 2008

The Center for Democracy and Development (CCD) & West African Civil Society Forum (WACSOF) organize a two day regional consultative meeting on conflicts in the Senegambia zone of West Africa in Banjul The Gambia from the 24 -25 July 2008 at the Kairaba Beach Hotel. In this second part report it takes the reader through discussions, and presentations of participants. So read on to understand what transpired at Kairaba Beach Hotel, Banjul the Gambia.

The meeting ended calling on governments in the Senegambia zone to be tolerant and allow the warring factions at a round table conference, with their security guaranteed. The religious leaders were also urged to preach peace in their sermons. The civil societies were as well call upon to be accountable to the people

PEACE & CONFLICT IN SENEGAMBIA CURRENT CHALENGES: Ebrima SALL:  made a presentation on the Political Economy of the Senegambia countries. He indicated that there are also structural problems apart from the economical ones. The links between economy and politics is not an easy thing, for him its one which is complex.  One can put it like this, conflict is part of life and politics is managing conflicts. Sall is of the view that if one did not see the linkage between politics and the economy, then the whole thing becomes complex.

He said when one looks at what happen at the Senegambia region, one will see the fragmentations very clearly, but never the less we have a lot in common. He opinion that the fragmentation is done in a very profound way, in the region we have some visible differences. This is manifested when we come to religion and culture; all are the same as well as the people. All the countries are running a republican system. Sall said if integrations did not work here then we need to ask questions, since we have a lot of commonalities. The economies are almost all tax based. He said that most of the people in the sub region are poor people.

The fact of the matter is we do not have interstate conflicts but internal ones. The boundaries were imposed on us, which we regret we only learn to live with them. What we have in the Senegambia region is what we have elsewhere. He said before the structural Adjustments, trade was more liberal than in Senegal. Under Structural Adjustment, the IMF did encourage re export trade. Sall feels that in the transport sector, is an absolute scandal when one cannot jump in a car and drive to Senegal. This he said is a negation of idea of the free movement of people and goods.

The OMVG has none of its major objectives met. Like the building of a bridge across the rivers, I think they should have a look at the objectives once more. The number one issue we should deal with is the state. Number two is we should fine a way of transcending the borders to over come the fragmentations. Better attempts should be done by looking at a wider level and not on one to one basis like the Senegambia confederations. So long as we do not look at integration at our own levels, it is not possible at a West African level.

On Border and Insurgence dynamics, Halifa Sallahpresenting a paperbelieves if you want to find the sources of conflict one has to find out the contradictory aspects… we have seen the issue of Gambia, Senegal and Guinean Bissau. During colonialism Portugal colonized lower cassamance and in 1889, Portuguese allow lower cassamance to go to Senegal. He said if one wants to deal with the conflict one has to take in to consideration the religious aspects, because before any military action the militants consult their spiritual leaders.

The late leader of the casamance said casamance was never governed as Senegal but West African nation like any other nation. It was in 1962 when certain people convince Casamance to go with Senegal.   War he said is a continuation of politics, since war is a continuation then there has to be a political stability. Administration of the people should not be left with the governments alone the people should take part. Freedom of expression is power so there cannot be any integration without harmonization of policies.

Aminata Diaw talking about   ethics’ and cultural dimensions saidintegration can only be meaningful when it is put in its proper context of culture. She said we should be counter balance with citizenship. These conflicts in our regions can only be resolved in a sub-regional way. We cannot talk about peace if we do not construct viable democracies in our various countries.

Dr. Siga Jagne first took the floor. She indicated that one cannot talk about the casamance conflict without touching the Gambia. The whole conflict has an economic problem. She mentions the closure of the Gambia/Senegal border which did has an enormous economic hardship on the Gambia. Jagne, s presentation was on the Casamance conflict and the spillover effect on the Gambia.

She indicated that every conflict on the continent has refugees here in the Gambia. This is a small countries that has very little economic base and eventually such inflow of refugees affects us a lot. She underline the conflict prevention precussions which she thinks help us still maintained the peace we have; otherwise the Gambia can also simply go into flames of conflicts. She said the spillover effect is not only from Casamance but as said earlier from all over the continent.

Siga said though Gambia is a peaceful country but with the world food crisis it is taking a lot of toll on our economy. The refugee population is such that many are now engaged in prostitution; just take a walk around the Senegambia hotel areas you would have seen some of these things am saying.  She indicated that the civil society has to take the bull by the horn to deal with conflict issues.

Seynabou Male Cisse, talked on the Women in War and Peace Processes. She indicated that women play a very important role in feeding families and also plays a vital role during conflict. They were the Red Cross people during the casamance conflicts. Women at village level they do participate in socieo-cultural level as well. The women are also compelling by conflicts to vacate their farms and other small income generating activities as a result that increases their impoverishment.

The women of casamance did participate in the conflict resolution by organizing them into marching passes and other activities. They were organized into learning groups to understand issues like protocols. It is our firm belief that the women should be educated so that they can easily take control.

Professor Barry said the discussion on the casamance issue are not opened particularly within Senegal, it is a taboo to talk about it. The Senegalese government did divided Casamance into sections like Kolda region, Tamba region and so on that is not the issues. He said it is the question of decentralization the center of the power never wanted to leave.   

He believes the fundamental issue is we have talk. Cape Verde is an example in term of governance. Cape Verde is the only state where you can find two former head of states who meet driving and the head of state could be easily met. So the whole issue is one of good governance.

In his intervention, Cisse talked about the rebellion bonus, he said those who know of the great lake war will know what am talking about, and there is a need of a political solution to this crisis. He pointed that there is a recycling of war lords within the region. Recently he we have seen the recycle soldiers rushing to Abidjan. Secondly, concerning the criminal economy, there is the illegal production of cannabis. The people concern are saying that because there is no alternative means of income so the production has to continue. Cisse indicated that more and more land will be use in the cultivation of cannabis so far as there is no alternative. He cited the case of Gambia whose forest laws are rigorous so they end up coming into Casamance for wood and coal.

Concerning a solution to the casamance crisis the government of Senegal has at one time asked Gambia and Bissau to take off hands from the negotiations. One cannot find solutions to the casamance crisis without the participation of the two countries.

The issue of the civil activity at the level at casamance, they are doing well in the Casamance. In February 1998, the civil society organized a very important meeting in casamance. He said the people of casamance are tied of this crisis and government of Senegal is not taking the issue seriously.

CONFLICT PREVENTION, Penda Mbow in an intervention on preventing conflicts, said we have to implore our traditional set up that are already in existence, like certain family names that joke and easily settle conflicts. We have to maximize that existing set up. Generally speaking this goes beyond jokes; this in a frame work of conflict prevention can be very useful.

On early warning and early response mechanism in the Senegambia countries Mousaa Dabal said in Guinea Bissau the army is a problem. They are involved in politics and every other thing, And as long as the army is not reform nothing will be right in that country. He said the council of the wise is a protocol of the ECOWAS who can serve as mediators at some conflicts areas. They are at the disposal of the civil society in conflict prevention areas.

Dauda Garuba (CDD) he talk on CCD/WACSOF intervention. Ecowas did say they have spent over 75% of its budget on peace building. If that money could have been spend on development, we will have more impact, which is if the early warning is heeded to by stake holders.  

Amadou Taal, interim chair of the Gambia Civil Society Forum, said when ECOWAS was being conceived at the time conflict resolution was not a priority. He said we cannot leave without conflicts but what we need to do is to learn to manage conflicts. He noted that ECOWAS has not being working closely with the civil society, which should be in place. He cited the signing of EPAs. Poverty he said can spark off conflicts, a clear case is the food crisis which has witness demonstrations in the region.

In another contribution one said the issue of youths being frustrated in their home countries due several factors, one of those is the lack of gainful employments, and they then venture into leaving their homes by dangerous routes. It is the opinion of the speaker that if youths are force to abandon such routes and they are frustrated at home could lead to uprising against their states. So that is an early warning it has to be taken seriously to avoid conflicts.

Civil Society Engagement in Peace processes and Post Conflict reconstruction in Senegambia was another area that certain civil society shared experiences with the conference. Mohamed Mbodji of RADDHO said it is only better that one understands the issues is one is to effectively participating in conflict resolutions. He noted that one has to differentiate the types of conflicts, like the one in Liberia was different from that of Casamance.

Despite the decentralizations in Casamance, like the division of casamance into upper and lower casamance, the conflict is there. They try direct discussions with the people in certain areas but it was a very difficult exercise, because there were name callings which almost lead to fighting. When it comes to the economy especially in terms of wood, one discover that the rebels connived with certain government authorities.

Abdou Boye of Youth Ambassador of Peace, our activities is within and outside of the Gambia. 880 contact hours is the standard contact suppose ton be between the teachers and students. After a survey we realize that in the Gambia none of the school meet that standard. The YAP work in cross border activities, we went o casamance and had some contacts with the people there, and this goes back to 2004. In our summer camp activities we camp young ones from the sub-region and we discuss issues of peace and conflict resolutions. In the last camp which was in 2005, we were able to make presentations to both government and key stake holders

Musa Sanneh of WANEP, for us we are active in the area of election observations off course with other civil partners. We participate in small arm business because this arm trafficking has some effect on peace and conflict.  WANEP was mainly goes into sensitizing the people and in some cases arm destruction are done in presence of many. In turn communities are given some projects as a form of compensation. He argued that arms can be a very contributive in triggering conflicts.

Nget thinks that if issues connecting to the casamance conflict cannot be discussed in Senegal, a state that has a big stake when it comes to conflict resolution then there is a problem.

What the civil society is doing in Guinea Bissau, is one of sensitization, this was in an intervention by a participant from Guinea Bissau He argued that the civil society should be accountable to the people as well.

The issue is to look at the political demand and then from there we see where to go. Unless that is done we are no where close to solving the conflict issue of casamance, that was an intervention from Halifa Sallah.

Author: Madi Ceesay
Source: Conference