SENEGAL: Finding incentives for peace in Casamance

Friday, June 27, 2008
Civilians 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 Guinea-Bissau.

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

On 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.

Aminata 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.”

This is 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.

But while 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

One 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.

The government 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

Another 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.”

For 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.

MFDC heads control many of their troops from across the borders while MFDC rebels and soldiers carry out extensive trade across them in what Evans terms ‘war economies’.

The profits of war

These 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.

And 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

To 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.

Rice 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,” said Evans.

But this involves finding land tenure solutions that both civilians and rebels can put up with, according to Badiane.

Meanwhile any viable peace package must help rebels seek alternative livelihoods options according to Evans, though he concedes this is still a long way off.


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.”