Peace in Casamance – Next Steps (Part 1)   3 comments

I know my blogging has been slim the last few months but to be honest my time here in Casamance has been pretty strict in terms of starting and conducting my research in the field. So, let me post a short piece for my audience. Also, I’ll note that this piece is a “Part 1” because as I write my final report from my research on the Fula ethnic group of Casamance, I may come up with differing/alternative solutions to give to the Government of Senegal.

If we are to recognize and use traditional cultural norms to achieve peace in Casamance, we must look at and consider a few things:

  • To keep in mind what World Education (WE) did (see here) back in 2006 regarding using cultural norms to create peace in a small portion of Casamance (near the coast). This was done by recognizing the power of the Jola King and allowing for ‘Cultural Weekends’ to occur. By asking the King for permission to initiate peacekeeping efforts, WE recognized the King’s power (as opposed to ignoring him) which put the power/empowerment on the society’s/culture’s hands. Furthermore, WE did not find themselves fighting against the culture, but using the culture’s natural process to assist their peacebuilding project. What ensued was sustainable peace in a small portion of Casamance.
  • So, if WE has recognized and utilized the Jola’s conflict management cultural norms and practices towards peacebuilding, we can extrapolate that this said approach and norms exist within the Jola culture. However, I do not know if there has been ethnographic/anthropological research done on said topic. (I don’t know exactly myself, as my research focus is on the Fula ethnic group, and their culture differs quite drastically of the Jola ethnicity). To obtain funding for a project like this, potential donors may need proof or examples that said cultural aspects exists and research suggesting that said aspects can, in fact, be used to create peace in this context. Hence, this justifies why this type of research would be necessarily. Therefore, funding, time and energy must be put forth to research the Jola people residing within the conflict-area of Casamance regarding their conflict management cultural norms. This research would be a precursor to a peacebuilding project thereafter, of which would be directly catered to said research.
  • It is felt that this process (used by WE) can be replicated to target all the MFDC rebel groups still in existence throughout Casamance as well as the ones hiding/seeking refuge in The Gambia and Guinea-Bissau. To make the various MFDC sub-sects lay down their arms and cease their harmful actions, they must be given an alternative methods to channel their energy (or frustrations) but more so to alter their lack of income generating opportunities – which the region lacks as a whole. In addition, the MFDC must be reintegrated into their past or new communities/villages, outside of their current make-shift camps deep within the Casamance forest. To do this, a sole outsider (Northern/Western) intervention may not be sufficient or appropriate. Within the Jola culture there exists a cultural norm to achieve reconciliation, forgiveness, apologies, and sustainable integration to occur without resentment or ill-will springing up in the future. As I’ve found in my research of the Fulas, once a conflict is resolved and re-conciliated, it is “finished” and thus will not arise again; and I feel the Jola have a similar stance and cultural norm (but as suggested above, concrete research must be done to confirm this)
  • In addition to cultural re-integration of ex-MFDC combatants, as just mentioned, they will need alternative means of livelihood to support themselves so they will not resort to banditry once again. This is where the bulk of donor funds can be used toward. Alternative means of livelihood cannot be forced upon or suggested by the donor or implementing agency, but the MFDC must be asked how they will to change their way of living to progress themselves. If they are not given the choice, perhaps they will resort to banditry again, and the donor funds and implementing agency’s energy will be wasted. Putting the decision in the hands of the (then) ex-MFDC may be seen as unfair or an unpopular option, as they are the ones who are fighting. However, if sustainable peace is to be attained certain recognition of the MFDC’s power and livelihood must be seen and addressed within the project’s plan.
  • There is little ‘proof’ or examples of using traditional cultural norms in peacebuilding efforts throughout the world (or that I have come across). Therefore, to ask a donor for funds to support a project such as suggested above may be difficult – and this I fully understand. However, if a potential peacebuilding NGO wants to use cultural norms towards peacebuilding in Casamance, they can cite WE’s previous work as an example. In their proposal, the potential NGO can expand upon on WE’s work and approach, as well as utilizing the same counterparts and cultural leaders/figures in the region. This NGO, ideally, would be a a local (Senegalese) NGO (or ONG in French) as it would build capacity as well as to translate procedures or documents from English/French into Jola language is very difficult, etc. Whereas a local NGO would be better equipped and knowledgeable (cf culturally and linguistically savvy) as opposed to an outside hire.
  • Peacebuilding efforts or meetings do not need to be in Ziguinchor, Dakar, Rome or elsewhere. These sort of reconciliation meetings need to happen on the ground in rural areas – where the MFDC are located and where the real need exists. Do not make the MFDC come out from their camps to be able to meet for a discussion etc., but let the implementing agency come to them. This aspect of the project’s approach gives the MFDC the sense of power and speaking on their turf, which has yet to be done (to my knowledge).

Bottom-line: Something drastically different must occur to bring change in Casamance (not have peace accord-like meetings in Rome), and, for example, entertain the idea to meet the MFDC on their turf and use cultural norms. However, the complex part of this context is the neighboring countries:

  • For addressing the MFDC’s actions and role in Guinea-Bissau and The Gambia, these issue make the existing situation concerning the conflict as a whole very complex. However, I feel that in addition to what has just been suggested, that including both Guinea-Bissau and The Gambia within the peacebuilding process is vital while simultaneously implementing what I suggested above. If the two countries are not included, then the peacebuilding process may be futile. However, at this time I do not know how one could include said countries in the peacebuilding efforts.
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3 responses to Peace in Casamance – Next Steps (Part 1)

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  1. Okay but… three things immediately spring to mind. First, I agree totally that peace needs to be built from the ground up, but the problem has been that such efforts have, in recent years, occurred in a vacuum at a higher political level (Wade just lost interest in any serious political engagement a long time ago because it didn’t deliver what he wanted). That needs to be in place, too, and is the only level really at which, for example, neighbouring countries can be brought in.

    Second, the danger is ever-present of the approach you describe becoming the sort of gravy-train that has plagued such efforts since the 1990s. Structures and interlocutors spring up just to access funding; people say that, to achieve peace, they need more money for demobilising and livelihoods; etc. (Actually this is starting to sound like the history of your research in Casamance, too… 🙂

    On both counts – and this is the third point – the history of the conflict and efforts to achieve its resolution has been one in which this sort of activity, whatever good has come out of it (and it has), has been used as (a) a source of money by both side and (b) smoke and mirrors by the government to obscure the absence of a serious and sincere political engagement with the ‘Casamance question’.

    Well you asked for comments…

    • @Martin,
      Again and as always, thank you for your feedback. I’m only an outsider looking in, and the potential idealism of the post’s ideas can/may only be met with positivism, skepticism, or a mixture of the two. All factors must be considered, I do agree with that. And as we both agree on, this conflict is complex and has many issues to address before sustainable peace can occur. Thank you again for your insight.

      Travis Warrington
      • You’re very welcome. I do think you bringing a fresh, positive take on ways forward is helpful, really. Maybe I (along with others) have just become too sceptical after enduring years of the deeply cynical approach of Wade. Now that era is over, there is certainly space for new possibilities.

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