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WOMEN ASSOCIATIONS GET TO THE STREETS TO DEMAND PEACE AFTER THE CASUALTIES OF THE LAST MONTH

Casamance: no peace after thirty years of war

BACARY DOMINGO MANÉ

Dakar13/01/2011

The death of ten people since last December in Casamance due to the clashes between rebels and the army has prevented again the possibility of a peaceful solution in a conflict that started almost 30 years ago and has claimed some 5,000 lives. On Thursday, women decided to get to the streets and demonstrate for peace.

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Casamance, southern Senegal, continues to add victims to a conflict that has lasted for nearly 30 years. Therefore, women of the dahiras (religious associations), of the sacred groves, of Christian organizations, of women associations and women advocacy groups demonstrated on Thursday, January 13 in the streets of Ziguinchor.

They carry a message of peace. The escalation of tension since last December with the death of eight people, plus two three days ago in Bignona department has pushed women of Casamance to sound the alarm. The demonstrators started walking in the Afinco square, passed through Gao and stopped outside the Governor's headquarters.

A night of prayer for peace has also been organized in the southern region. Their message is clear. They ask both sides to stop fighting so the region can recover the joy of living.

Casamance is a region in southern Senegal. After independence, most of the public offices of local administration went to officials from the northern and central regions (Dakar, Thies, Saint-Louis, Kaolack and Louga). People showed their frustration by denouncing the “imperialist” behavior of civil servants, who behaved in an arbitrary manner.

This was aggravated by the peculiarities of the region. Casamance is a heavily forested area with borders with Guinea Bissau and Gambia. It is the only region of Senegal that can only be reached by crossing another country, Gambia. And that feeling of not belonging to Senegal is perhaps the roots of the problem. This population is highly permeable to the propaganda of the supporters of independence.

That was how on December 26, 1982, the inhabitants of Casamance marched to the governor's headquerters in Ziguinchor, capital of the region, with the simple aim of removing the Senegalese flag to express, peacefully, the independence aspirations of the region.

The authorities, who were aware of the preparations for this peaceful demonstration due to the pamphlets that were being distributed those days, arrested some of the leaders of the movement in the previous days. The most important arrests were those of Mamadou Sane, in Bignona, and Abbot Diamacoune Senghor, who will become later secretary general of the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC).

French researcher Jean-Claude Marut, in his recently published book "The Casamance conflict: What the arms say", by Khatala (2010), confirms the peaceful nature of the demonstration on December 26, 1982. "All the evidence confirms that protesters were several hundred, a thousand at most, coming mainly from Ziguinchor. Although some brandished swords and old guns, as they do in traditional ceremonies, there is no doubt about the peaceful nature of the event. The best proof is the presence, at the head of the march, of women pouring water on the floor (peace sign), "he notes.
Having started in Mangagoulak, in the road to Oussouye, protesters went to the center of the city. After some specific incidents, the situation gets out of control in front of the headquarters of the Governor, where they hoisted a white flag instead of the Senegalese flag. The police certainly panicked and began shooting into the crowd. Both sides had casualties and several people were arrested among the protesters, in addition to those arrested in the previous days.

The next day, the MFDC is beheaded. The survivors of the event returned to their homes, others hide in the suburbs of the city. But another serious incident occurs that day. Three gendarmes who went to monitor an independence meeting in Diab are killed and their bodies mutilated. The State Security Court condemned the alleged organizers of the event of 1982 to prison terms of between two and five years.

Then, the separatists decided to go a step further and attack Ziguinchor. The organization of this operation is entrusted to former soldiers led by a former sergeant of the paratroopers of the Senegalese Army, Alioune Badji, according to Marut.

This operation, which is mostly symbolic, marks the birth of Atika, the military wing of the rebellion.

On December 18, 1983, at dawn, armed with knives and guns, separatist fighters attacked the security forces in several parts of the city. The surprise seems total. Protected with amulets, independentists advanced steadily. Clashes last until noon. In total, there were 20 deaths (including the head of the operation) and 80 injured. Many of the attackers are arrested and some manage to escape through the rice fields and hide in the forests south of Ziguinchor: the birth of the Maquis.

A Maquis lacking in resources but benefiting from the generosity of nature. In Lower Casamance, home of the rebellion, the conditions are more favorable. Vegetation is denser and the water network there is bigger than that of the rest of the region.

The Casamance crisis has caused many victims. The balance is serious. Most of the estimates points today, according to Jean-Claude Marut, to several thousands dead, no doubt about 5,000 (the NGO Oxfam said it was between 3,000 and 5,000 in 2007). But this figure could be more complete, says Marut, if one takes into account some of the 6,000 deaths caused in the events of Guinea Bissau in 1998-1999, which are partly an extension of the conflict in Casamance. We're talking about an average of 200 people killed each year during this conflict, according to Murat.

THE THREE WINGS OF THE MAQUIS

At the beginning of the alternation in the government of Senegal, which took place in 2000, the MFDC's military wings were three: the dominant wing (the Northern Front) and two active, but rival wings result of the division of the southern front: one more open to negotiation (Sagna) and a radical one (Sadio).

After 2004, the group of Salif Sadio appears as the main military obstacle to the peace process. The Maquis chief rules out any negotiation that does not take into account the independence aspirations. After clashes with the Jambars near Nyassi, Salif Sadio retires to the Kalounayes and then in Djibidione. However, after the failure of his opponents, Sadio returns to almost all his bases. Efforts to combat him have not been successful.

Thus, attempts to achieve peace have failed. The hard wing of the rebellion, represented by the warlord Salif Sadio, rejects any agreement that excludes the independence of Casamance.


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Photography: GGB

Photography: GGB


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