Fresh violence in Casamance

A 36-year-old woman recently lost her leg when she stepped on a mine in Casamance, southern Senegal, where a surge in violence has underscored how one of Africa’s longest-standing conflicts continues to be a hardship for the region’s 1.4 million people.

The woman was helping her grandfather collect wood in the department of Nyassia, she told IRIN from the hospital in Casamance's main city Ziguinchor.

The threat of landmines is just one effect of the 27-year Casamance conflict, which – absent a definitive peace – periodically flares up.

Since 1 May at least 20 violent carjackings and lootings by armed groups have taken place in the department of Bignona, according to Abdoulaye Diallo, technical adviser for GTZ-Procas, a Germany-funded development organization in Casamance. The assailants in many cases are thought to be combatants with the separatist Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC), people in the region say.

“This wave of violence threatens the stability and development of the region,” Diallo told IRIN. “If the violence continues this would have serious consequences for the food security, health and education of these populations.”

He added: “These incidents breed fear and put the population in a state of utter uncertainty. Psychologically it is completely untenable.”

The latest surge of violence comes just as the planting season begins, residents told IRIN. “This will be a serious detriment to agricultural production if the violence continues,” said Nouha Cissé, deputy coordinator of Alliance for Peace in Casamance.

Casamance, which lies between Gambia and Guinea-Bissau, has been gripped by conflict since 1982 when MFDC launched its separatist fight. While the conflict has consisted mostly of low-level fighting it has caused considerable suffering in the population, including 3,000 to 6,000 civilian deaths, 697 mine victims and some 60,000 people displaced, according to the UN and NGO Handicap International, which is working with the government on demining in the region.


A 2005-06 study led in part by the UN Development Programme showed that 93 localities were found to be contaminated by mines and/or unexploded ordnance, with some 90,000 people directly affected, according to the government. Demining experts say scores of localities were inaccessible at the time of the assessment and new studies are necessary.

Observers said if the latest violence persists – particularly if there are major clashes between MFDC and the army – people could flee their home villages.

“This violence only reminds us that the Casamance conflict is very much still with us,” Cissé told IRIN.

“We have seen a period of calm, yes, but this is a population that lives in quasi-permanent insecurity.”

He added that instability in the area is doubly dangerous because of the proximity to Guinea-Bissau, a hub for narco-traffickers. 

Casamance is currently relatively isolated with commercial air service from the capital Dakar cut off and ferry travel limited. Martin Evans, lecturer in international development at University of Chester and an expert on Casamance, said the deteriorating security situation is likely to hit livelihoods hard.

“With currently no air link and one of the ferries down for repairs, plus these violent robberies on both the trans-Gambian highway and the Bignona-Diouloulou road, the options for travel between northern Senegal and Casamance, and within Bignona department particularly, are limited,” he said.

“This damages the regional economy by limiting the freedom of movement of people, of agricultural produce out of Casamance, and of processed foods and manufactured goods into Casamance. All of this harms producers, traders and the tourist trade.”