Friday, June 27, 2008
are growing increasingly desperate to return to their villages in
Casamance, but with violent incidents continuing and the peace process
“still at a stalemate” according to peace negotiators, some see little
reason for hope.
“The peace process has not progressed in a
long time – indeed I’d say now it’s going backwards rather than
forwards,” said Landing Diedhiou, president of local non-governmental
organisation APRAN-SDP which has long served as an intermediary between
the Senegalese government and rebels with the Movement of Democratic
Forces of Casamance (MFDC).
The southern region of Casamance
has been in a low-level conflict situation for 25 years, making it
Africa’s longest-running civilian war and leaving upwards of 60,000
people displaced, with up to 10,000 of these refugees in The Gambia and
Rebels with the MFDC initially were fighting
for an independent Casamance, though their demands have since shifted.
A government-MFDC peace accord has not held, and while violence abated
towards the end of 2007 there was a rise in violent attacks, lootings, killings and injuries from landmines in 2008.
Just last week a young man was killed by presumed MFDC rebels near Tendième, 33km north of Ziguinchor.
People fed up
10 June displaced families marched on the streets of Ziguinchor, the
capital, alongside community, religious leaders and local officials to
demand that the government do more to reinvigorate the peace process so
they could return to their homes.
“They [donors and the
government] promised to implement programmes to help us to return to a
normal life but so far nothing has been done,” said Abdoulaye Sane, a
former refugee who is now displaced in Fanda, 12km from Ziguinchor.
Badji Syafd a local NGO representative read out a statement in front of
the local government building. “Our families once survived on
agriculture but now we have become dependent on others… and our social
fabric and our families are falling apart.”
corroborated by recent research conducted by Martin Evans, geographer
at the University of Leicester, which revealed that the ability of
families to continue hosting their displaced relatives after so many
years is beginning to wear down, and tensions are rising as a result.
The tensions are exacerbated by the depressed economic situation and
sharply rising food prices across the region.
civilians are hungrier than ever for peace, and there is mounting
evidence even among MFDC rebels that they are tiring of the fight
according to Evans, nevertheless the peace talks are flagging and
prospects for peace in the near future look slim.
Pitch negotiations higher
reason the situation has not improved remains the deep factionalisation
within the different branches of the MFDC and between its military and
political wings, which hampers the government’s ability to negotiate
with them, according to Diedhiou.
“The problem in the first
place was the government negotiated with some rebel leaders and not
others, so the process was seen as biased – now it needs to do more to
bring these factions together,” he told IRIN.
One hardliner in
particular, Salif Sadio, who heads an MFDC faction in southern
Casamance, has shied away from negotiating with the government because
he believes it tries to pit one wing against another, according to
Famara Goudiaby, a member of Sadio’s faction.
needs to be more inclusive and to pitch its negotiations at a higher
level according to Diedhiou. “While President Wade has made serious
efforts to address the conflict, higher-level negotiations are needed
on the part of the Senegalese government and the MFDC and to achieve
this we need more credible negotiators on both sides.”
Regional problem, regional solution
sticking point is that the government has wanted to keep Casamance
quiet, addressing Casamance as an internal not a regional problem,
according to Demba Keita, an adviser at APRAN-SDP.
“Guinea-Bissau and Gambia cannot be circumvented in the peace process… a tri-government solution is the only solution.”
MFDC spokesperson Famar Goudiaby, finding a regional solution with the
help of international mediators is the only way forward. “The Casamance
conflict has overflowed Senegal’s borders and it is imperative to
involve foreign countries in settling it… to solve the problem
internally will never be a solution,” he said.
control many of their troops from across the borders while MFDC rebels
and soldiers carry out extensive trade across them in what Evans terms
The profits of war
war economies benefit combatants on both sides, says Evans, with
Senegalese soldiers and rebels trading timber, cannabis and cashews
across borders. Many of the cashew forests on the Guinea-Bissau border
for instance lie in rebel territory with Senegalese soldiers stationed
nearby. While the profits are modest, in an impoverished region, they
are better than nothing.
Many analysts ascribe the 2008 rise
in violence to the perception among rebels that Senegalese soldiers are
encroaching on this valuable territory.
Competition over this
fertile land is instrumental in driving conflict making “land reform
one of the key pillars of peace in Casamance,” an international donor
representative told IRIN. But thus far, they have seen “no viable land
reform solutions on the table.” Instead land ownership issues are
becoming increasingly politicised as village boundaries are redrawn to
accommodate mined areas, and up to 242 remain abandoned due to suspected mines.
local actors, including civil society and officials in the central
Senegalese government, stand to profit from a prolonged peace process
by continuing to accrue aid that supports it. “Since 2000 there’s been
a lot of multilateral and bilateral money coming in to support the
peace process, return of the displaced and reconstruction… it can be a
bit of a gravy train for everyone,” said Evans.
Economic advantages of peace
shake up the flagging peace process, the government and donors need to
make a stronger case outlining the economic advantages of peace said
one international donor.
Casamance is Senegal’s most fertile
region and could contribute significantly to the country’s agricultural
production. This is even more pertinent given President Wade’s goal to
make Senegal a net producer rather than importer, of grain over the next decade, according to Evans.
production in the region has increased despite ongoing conflict,
according to Marie Augustine Badiane at Kabon Kator a local
peacebuilding NGO, with more and more land carved out for rice farming.
“With comprehensive peace, investment in appropriate infrastructure and
changes in farming practice, this production could increase far more,”
But this involves finding land tenure solutions that both civilians and rebels can put up with, according to Badiane.
any viable peace package must help rebels seek alternative livelihoods
options according to Evans, though he concedes this is still a long way
There have been some
gains in recent years on the regional front according to Evans, who
says since 2000 the Guinea-Bissau government has fallen into closer
alignment with Senegal on the Casamance issue. There “arms flows to
rebels have significantly reduced, they have flushed hard-liner rebels
out of their territory, and there is now good security cooperation
across the border,” he told IRIN.
And negotiators have an
opportunity to cash in on the appetite for peace among Casamancais to
energise peace talks, by involving them directly in negotiations,
according to Diatta. “The government meets with warlords in the bush,
but it forgets that the Casamance people must also have a voice at the
table,” Diatta told IRIN.
Meanwhile incentives for peace
should be made clearer to the peace brokers themselves, according to
one international donor representative. “President Wade sees himself as
a global statesman and a global peacemaker – so when it comes to
Casamance we need to ask him what his legacy will be.”
Source: IRIN NEWS