Casamance and U.S Citizens   Leave a comment

Below is a reply from the U.S. Embassy in Dakar regarding the Casamance region:

The U.S. Embassy recommends that U.S. citizens avoid non-essential travel to the Casamance region west of the city of Kolda, except direct air travel to the Cap Skirring resort area or to the city of Ziguinchor. If travel is deemed essential, the U.S. Embassy recommends that U.S. citizens carefully monitor the security situation before traveling. If travel by road is essential, the U.S. Embassy recommends that it be done during daylight hours only and, if possible, in convoy.

Violent clashes in the region between government forces and alleged members of the Movement of the Democratic Forces of the Casamance (MFDC) increased considerably during 2010. At least eight soldiers and one civilian were killed by alleged MFDC rebels between January and September 2010. For instance, in January 2010 a man was shot and killed by alleged members of MFDC in the village of Bindaba while walking to his rice field, and in May alleged members of MFDC shot and killed an unarmed Senegalese soldier in plain clothes near Emaye.

There are also reports of splintering within the MFDC’s southern and northern wings. The leaders of these splinter groups are considered hardliners who are more likely to engage in armed violence, attacking both government and civilian targets. Moreover, members of MFDC are believed to have become more active in banditry. There were several reports in 2010 of heavily armed gunmen, allegedly MFDC members, stopping cars and robbing the passengers of their valuables. In June 2009, three persons were killed in a car hijacking allegedly perpetrated by rebels of the MFDC near the village of Kawane in northern Casamance.

Landmine explosions continue to plague inhabitants of the Casamance. There have been no civilian casualties reported due to landmine explosions between January and September 2010, although two soldiers were wounded in landmine accidents. The recent escalation of violence in the region may prompt resumption of mining activities, especially on less well-travelled roads. Since 1990, more than 1,000 people have been killed by land mines in the Casamance. The U.S. Embassy strongly recommends that U.S. citizens remain on well-traveled routes at all times.

However, with that said, people are still living and working in Casamance (which includes three of Senegal’s national regions – Ziguinchor, Kolda and Sédhiou).  Therefore, some parts are safer than others and it cannot all be terrible. I know for a fact from my contacts in that area and my research that USAID pumps a tremendous amount of money into the region and many U.S. citizens work, live, and vacation within Casamance. But U.S. Peace Corps volunteers are not allowed to be stationed in Casamance nor travel within its territory (oops, I guilty as charged when I served with them, ha).

The purpose of this post is to ask this: If an area is called/deemed ‘dangerous’ from a specific government or reputable group, does this deter people from traveling there or give them more incentive to do the opposite? I assume many developmental and conflict resolution professionals would rather not and/or refuse to work within a conflict zone, even one as tame and low-leveled as the one in Casamance. But shouldn’t we go where people don’t want to go; shouldn’t we go where the need for assistance is greater than other areas? Some, like me, actually seek out areas that no one wishes to be stationed because of its dangers. Does this make me crazy? Most likely, yes. But having my own government tell me that I cannot travel within a certain area gives me a huge green-light to find a way to do just the opposite.

Who is with me?

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Posted June 10, 2011 by Travis Warrington in Conflict

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