Senegal: President Sall Seeks Peace in the Casamance

In February, as former Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade fought (unsuccessfully) for a third time, the conflict in Senegal’s southern Casamance region seemed to be stagnant, or even to be getting worse. Reuters reported an uptick in violence in the run-up to the presidential elections, despite Wade’s renewed efforts at peacemaking. Both Wade and his predecessor President Abdou Diouf had grappled with the conflict, which began in 1982 – and whose political roots extend back to the time of Senegal’s first President Leopold Senghor. Rebels in the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC) want the Casamance to secede from Senegal. Peace initiatives have repeatedly failed. The latest round of fighting began in 2009.

IRIN reported in February that the rebels seemed to be losing support among Casamance residents, but added that “separatists operating in the north, with a base across the border in Gambia [which lies between northern Senegal and the Casamance], are increasingly ‘radicalizing’ under their leader Salif Sadio.” IRIN said that at least five MFDC factions were present in the Casamance. Divisions inside the movement have grown since the death of its leader Augustin Diamacoune Senghor in 2007.

After coming to power this spring, new Senegalese President Macky Sall stated his intention, as Wade did when he came to power in 2000, of making peace with rebels in the Casamance. In late June, Sall stated, “We are ready to open talks with the fighters and actors involved in the peace process, religious leaders and men and women of good will…I extend a hand to Salif Sadio, Cesar Atoute Badiatte and the men of Ousmane Niantang Diatta,” the major factional leaders.

All three of these commanders have responded more or less favorably to Sall’s overture. In early July, Sadio expressed willingness to negotiate with the government under certain conditions:

Sadio said he wants Senegal’s government to agree to “sincere dialogue, to sit down with the MFDC on neutral ground, so outside of Africa” under “the mediation of the Catholic community of Sant’Egidio.”

The Sant’Egidio Community was founded in Rome in 1968 and got involved in sponsoring peace negotiations in the 1980s when it found that its humanitarian action in Mozambique would be largely useless without peace.

This week, Badiate also evinced interest in negotiations. Badiate outlined similar conditions to Sadio’s, including a desire for mediation by Sant’Egidio, but Badiate also mentioned that he wants the MFDC to resolve its own internal divisions before entering into negotiations with the Senegalese government. To Badiate, it seemed to make a difference that a new president is in power; he referred to Wade’s having “trampled” on the situation in the Casamance.

Diatta’s faction, RFI recently reported (French), also favors negotiations, although the movement demands that the government drop an arrest warrant against its secretary general.

I cannot predict the changes of success for this peace initiative, but it certainly bodes well for Sall that these rebel commanders have been willing to listen. To succeed, however, talks will probably have to address the key drivers of the conflict, including what Reuters calls a “low level ‘war economy’ which benefits combatants on both sides and centers on illegal logging, the cashew nut industry and illegal cannabis growing and smuggling.” Reuters also reports allegations of Gambian President Yaya Jammeh’s support for the MFDC, a factor that could further complicate matters. The solution, then, may require political subtlety and economic transformation.

Africa News Roundup: Senegal Protests, Nigeria Police Overhaul, Mali’s Tuareg Rebellion, and More

Yesterday in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, “police engaged in running battles with protesters…as they attempted to stamp out a planned protest against President Abdoulaye Wade’s third term bid.”

Meanwhile, IRIN writes that there is “no end in sight” to the conflict in the southern Senegalese region of Casamance.

Nigeria is reorganizing its police. Attacks by Boko Haram continue: over one hundred inmates escaped in a prison-break the group staged in Kogi State on Wednesday, though twenty-five prisoners have reportedly been recaptured. A small attack by unknown gunmen also occurred this week in Niger State.

VOA reports on human displacement in the Afgooye corridor southern Somalia, where government and African Union forces are attempting to take territory from the rebel group Al Shabab.

Reuters:

Sudanese police arrested hundreds of students in a pre-dawn raid on a major university’s dormitories on Friday, activists said, in a crackdown on a campus that has been at the centre of recent anti-government protests.

The University of Khartoum in the Sudanese capital has been closed for about two months after students staged demonstrations over rising prices, unemployment and other issues.

IRIN details the tough conditions faced by Southern Sudanese nationals who are still residing in (North) Sudan.

AP: “Mali’s army is going on the offensive against Tuareg rebels after a number of strategic retreats during the first weeks of fighting, the president of the Malian parliament said Thursday.”

Amnesty International decries the “human rights crisis” that it says has resulted from the rebellion in Mali.

Niger’s food crisis continues.

What are you reading today?

Africa News Roundup: Niger Elections, Sudan Referendum, China in Africa, and More

Niger: AFP: “An African and UN delegation has visited Niger and urged the country’s leaders to push ahead with work to return to civilian rule, with presidential elections set for January 31, a statement said Friday.”

Sudan: VOA: “Southern Sudan voters are casting ballots Saturday, the last day in the region’s week-long landmark independence referendum…Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, in Sudan to observe the voting, says the vote will likely meet international standards. Organizers say voter turnout reached the 60 percent mark needed to make the poll valid on Wednesday.”

In other Sudan news, yesterday Misseriya Arab pastoralists and Ngok Dinka farmers in Abyei signed a peace deal. But “the agreement does not address the greater question of what will happen to Abyei, which was due to hold its own referendum on its future.”

Somalia: Bloomberg: “Somalia’s agriculture is collapsing as the war-torn East African nation faces a drought that might cause the deaths of as many as 2.5 million people, Prime Minister Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed said.”

Senegal: Afrique en Ligne: “Rebels in Senegal’s southern Casamance province…Thursday attacked a camp of the Senegalese army in Magnora, about 80 kilometres in the north of Ziguinchor.”

Nigeria: BBC: “Nigeria’s former anti-corruption chief Nuhu Ribadu has been chosen as the opposition Action Congress candidate for April’s presidential polls.”

China in Africa: AFP: Chinese Vice Premier Hui Liangyu is in Senegal at “the end of a five-country African tour beginning on January 7 which also took him to Mauritius, Zambia, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Cameroon.”

What news are you hearing today from Africa?

Saturday Links: Guinea, Mauritania, Casamance and More

French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner wants Guinea’s (former?) military ruler, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, to remain in Morocco and not return home. Meanwhile, back in Guinea itself,

[The] military government is trying to avoid international prosecution of security forces responsible for killing opposition demonstrators by vowing to purge the army of soldiers guilty of human rights abuses.

With the United Nations calling for International Criminal Court action against Guinea’s ruling military council, the country’s acting leader says he is addressing the issue internally.

General Sekouba Konate says the killing of opposition demonstrators September 28 has tarnished the uniform of Guinea’s army, sowing hatred and suspicion within  its ranks.

Konate says the vast majority of defense and security forces have remained faithful to their oath to protect people and property.  But he told soldiers that some among them are undermining their prestige. For many Guineans, Konate says, the army today is a problem.

So he says the military must pull out of its ranks those who soil the uniform, who betray their oaths, and who disgrace the army in national and international opinion.

The Obama administration recently cut off trade benefits for Niger, Madagascar, and Guinea, but extended new benefits to Mauritania. That has Reuters asking whether the decisions “give a lesson in how would-be coup makers should best behave if they want to get away with it.”

IRIN looks at education in the Casamance region of Senegal.

Sudan has passed a law on the 2011 referendum over the objections of Southern Sudanese MPs, who oppose “a clause that would allow southerners living outside South Sudan to cast absentee ballots.” The US State Department criticized the referendum law, saying it does not conform to the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

Casamance Fighting

In late summer, fighting between government forces and separatists in the Casamance region of Senegal flared up again. The Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC, French acroynym) has demanded independence for decades, and began to use violence against the government around 1982. Conflict has occurred intermittently over the last seventeen years. This latest round, according to one observer, is the worst fighting since 2002, and certainly the most serious violence since ceasefire agreements in 2004-2005.

Ziguinchor, Casamance, Senegal

Ziguinchor, Casamance, Senegal

Clashes in Ziguinchor, the region’s capital, claimed two lives in late August. A rebel attack on a military outpost in early September killed a government soldier, provoking a retaliatory airstrike on MFDC positions the following day. The fighting has displaced hundreds.

The solution many observers and stakeholders call for – a new round of negotiations and dialogue between rebels and the government – may also point to one cause of the resurgence in violence. In the Senegalese newsaper Walf Fadjri, Mamadou Diallo writes (French) that many observers think a growing frustration among rebels regarding the implementation of provisions of the last ceasefire agreement is to blame for the rebels’ decision to take up arms again. Diallo also suggests, though, that the persons fighting now are a “dissident faction” of the MFDC.

Whatever the cause of the fighting, calls for a renewed negotiations process have come from many sides. Several weeks ago, “a group of public officials in Casamance…called for reopening talks,” and IRIN quotes a number of analysts and residents urging a return to negotiations as well. Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade has expressed a desire to meet with representatives of the MFDC again. Hopefully a new round of dialogue could end the violence.

Sunday Links: Casamance Fighting, Niger’s Talibe Problem, Ugandan Comics

Senegal’s Casamance region reels from the “heaviest fighting in years”.

IRIN reports on conditions for Quranic students in Niger.

And stepping out of my usual geographic purview, here are two other items that caught my eye this week: a new comic book about war in northern Uganda, and a New York Times report entitled “Islamic Radicalism Slows Moroccan Reforms“:

Under pressure from Islamic radicalism, King Mohammed VI has slowed the pace of change. Power remains concentrated in the monarchy; democracy seems more demonstrative than real. While insisting that the king is committed to deeper reforms, senior officials speak instead of keeping a proper balance between freedom and social cohesion. Many discuss the threat of extremism in neighboring Algeria.

Since a major bombing of downtown hotels and shopping areas by Islamic radicals in 2003, and a thwarted attempt at another bombing campaign in 2007, there has been a major and continuing crackdown on those suspected of being extremists here.

Regarding this piece on Morocco, the reporting may be accurate but the writers seem to be giving a lot of explanatory power to radical Islam in accounting for Moroccan politics, and also seem to be leaving out some history. Many of the problems described in the article, such as human rights abuses, began long before the current wave of conservative Islamic politics.

What are you reading this week on Africa?