Conflict in Casamance Region

The conflict in the Senegal’s Casamance region is one of Africa’s longest-running insurgencies, now entering its fourth decade. In recent times, this dormant conflict has picked up and troubled the politics of Senegal. Here is a brief background:

Casamance, which lies in between Gambia to the north and Guinea-Bissau to the south, is known for its pristine white sandy beaches that were once a prime tourism destination. Orchards, palm groves, deep forests and mangroves cover the region where life is centred on the Casamance River.The region consists of Basse Casamance (Lower Casamance) (Ziguinchor Region) and Haute Casamance (Upper Casamance) (Kolda Region). Ziguinchor is its largest town of Casamance.

Casamance was subject to both French and Portuguese colonial efforts, before a border was negotiated in 1888 between the French colony of Senegal and Portuguese Guinea (now Guinea-Bissau) to the south. Portugal lost possession of Casamance, then the commercial hub of its colony. The major constraint affecting development in the Casamance region is the armed separatist struggle. Landmines have been scattered and, over the last 20 years, hundreds of villages have been abandoned and schools have closed. The Casamance tourist office says tourist numbers have fallen to around 15,000 a year, down from 50,000 a decade ago.

Casamance is one of Senegal’s most fertile zones, with potential for large-scale rice, fruit and vegetable production. However, large swathes of arable land have been abandoned due to violence or have been rendered useless due to mines and unexploded ordinance from the conflict. Traders also complain that the lack of transport links with markets in the rest of the country stifles the economy.

The rebel Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC) was founded in 1947 as an anti-colonial group. It was resurrected in 1982 by Father Augustin Diamacoune Senghor as an explicitly separatist movement. From 1982-1989, the group bolstered its numbers and began implementing a more violent attempt to gain independence for Casamance. By 1990 a fully fledged insurgency had begun. The group, divided by the Casamance river in the area of Ziguinchor, evolved into two branches, north and south, and as a result split the group, hampering both its operations and efforts to instigate talks with the group. Senegal did sign a peace deal with rebels in Casamance in Dec. 2004. However, tensions remained, including over demining, and in Jan. 2007, the first clashes since the 1990’s took place between the army and the Front Sud. The issue took an international turn in Feb. 2011 when after a string of attacks by rebels, Senegal severed diplomatic ties with Iran, accusing Tehran of supplying weapons to the separatist rebels. Drug trafficking has also sparked violence as the MFDC is known to be actively involved in the drugs trade enabling them to purchase weapons and munitions. (with some Inputs from Thomson Reuters)

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