Some time back, I reported on the role that mine action can play in peacebuilding processes with specific reference to Senegal and the conflict in the Casamance (Landmines in Africa). I also covered the May 2013 kidnapping of a dozen deminers in Senegal (Landmines in Africa) and their subsequent release two and a half months later, noting there was “No word about the future of demining in the region” (Landmines in Africa). Now, because of a number of recent events, is a very good time to discuss the future of demining in Senegal.
At the outset, it is important to state that demining is typically an activity that occurs after the cessation of hostilities. Some mine action, especially mine risk education, will occur in the midst of active conflict, but for most of Africa, landmine clearance is taking place in areas where a peace treaty or at least a ceasefire is in place. Afghanistan does provide an example of a country, very much in conflict, where landmine clearance is ongoing and tremendous strides have been made to reduce the threat of landmines to the population. However, the Mine Ban Treaty, to which Senegal is a party, does not allow for delays in implementation due to conflict; parties to the Treaty are expected to meet their obligations as quickly as possible. Another important point that should be mentioned here is, relative to other African countries, the amount of land contaminated by landmines in Senegal is very small, a few square kilometers at most.
Background: The conflict, the peace process and the landmine problem
The conflict in Senegal is a low-intensity, separatist conflict. The Casamance region, the southern portion of the country, bordering on Guinea-Bissau and separated from capitol, Dakar, and the majority of the country by The Gambia, was once a Portuguese colony that the French acquired prior to Senegal’s independence. That separate history is the basis for the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance’s (MFDC) claim for independence from the rest of Senegal. Historically, the Casamance has been the breadbasket of Senegal and more recently continues to receive significant tourism from Europe at the Club Med at Cap Skirring just north of the Guinea-Bissau border. The conflict started in 1982 after agitations by members of Casamance’s religious community, labor unrest in the wake of structural adjustment reforms imposed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and, according to some sources, questionable refereeing decisions in a football match between teams from Ziguinchor, the provincial capitol of Casamance, and Dakar. Members of the MFDC also point to a rumored promise from Senegal’s first president, Leopold Senghor, to grant independence to Casamance twenty years after Senegal achieved its own independence (Africa Portal; Wikipedia).
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