Observers of southern Senegal’s 27-year separatist struggle usually describe it as a ‘situation’ rather than a war, and many – including the Senegalese government – strain to take it seriously. Despite being West Africa’s longest-running conflict, the havoc wreaked by the Mouvement des Forces Démocratiques de Casamance (MFDC), which seeks independence from the rest of Senegal, has so far been relatively low-key. But with a resurgence in fighting between rebels and government forces in late 2009, in addition to the turmoil in Guinea and Guinea-Bissau, it is unlikely that ‘the situation’ is going to go away any time soon. If things in Guinea worsen, Casamance too has the potential to develop into a very real problem.
Casamance, rich in agricultural and human resources but largely ignored by the state, is cut off from the rest of the country by the narrow tongue of Gambia. The struggle is not over ethnic or religious issues, as has often been depicted, but is more about socioeconomic and political demands: the people of Casamance want to be included in the political process, not pushed into a corner while the region’s resources ?support the rest of the country.??
An upsurge in violence has got the country nervous, even though the MFDC does not have popular support throughout all of the region and has a divided leadership. In October 2009, MFDC rebels killed six members of the Senegalese army with rocket-propelled grenades, and more people were killed in attacks on civilian transport. The sparks have served as a reminder to the government that the MFDC still wants to be heard.
With conflict flaring elsewhere in the region, the game has been raised. MFDC rebels are now using heavy weaponry rather than small arms. The conflict in Guinea means that weapons are finding their way across uncontrolled borders. The March 2009 death of Guinea-Bissau Army Chief of Staff Batista Tagme Na Waie, who controlled the MFDC’s southern front, raises questions over the role of Guinea-Bissau in future negotiations. In addition, Gambia’s President Yahya Jammeh feels his role is not being taken seriously by Senegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade.
If the Casamance stalemate is to come to any kind of peaceful resolution, the Senegalese government has to bring its neighbours back to the negotiating table. Wade has some work to do and he does not appear willing to do it. As one pessimistic analyst told The Africa Report, since ‘the situation’ has been going on for nearly 30 years, it could easily carry on for another 50.
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