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Minorities At Risk Project: Home    

Assessment for Diolas in Casamance in Senegal

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Senegal Facts
Area:    196,190 sq. km.
Capital:    Dakar
Total Population:    8,790,000 (source: unknown, est.)

Risk Assessment | Analytic Summary | References

Risk Assessment

The Diolas of the Casamance region of Senegal have several risk factors for rebellion, including current and historical rebellion, territorial concentration and moderate government repression. However, other factors mitigate the risk that rebellion will become large-scale, including efforts at negotiation and reform and transnational support for negotiations and reform. Radical wings of the Movement of Democratic Forces in Casamancais (MDFC) are likely to continue low-scale violence in the near future, as the government of Senegal remains unable and unwilling to meet their minimum demands of widespread autonomy for the Casamance region. Furthermore, due in large part to the porosity of the Senegal-Gambia and Senegal-Guinea Bissau borders, the government is unable to eradicate rebel capacity to strike.

There is also a significant risk of protest for the Diolas, although due to the rural residence of most Diolas, protests are unlikely to be sustained or large. However, the unconsolidated nature of Senegal's democracy in combination with continued marginalization of Diolas in both the political and economic sphere make low-level protests likely.


Analytic Summary

The Casamance region where most ethnic Diolas live is separated from the rest of Senegal by Gambia and the Gambia River. Separatist sentiments among the Casamance people have existed since colonial times (SEPX = 3), during which the Diolas resisted French influence. Traditionally, the people of the Casamance have remained isolated from other parts of Senegal (GROUPCON = 3). The geographical and political separation by the Gambia River and the British colony of Gambia helped them maintain their own languages (LANG = 1) and culture (CUSTOM = 1), but also hampered the region from being incorporated into the rest of Senegal. While more than 80 percent of the country's population is Muslim, Diolas and other Casamancais have retained their Christian or indigenous beliefs (BELIEF = 1). Despite their separation from the rest of Senegal, and their common language and customs, the group is not highly organized or cohesive.

In the wake of Portuguese and French colonial control, Diola and other indigenous people in the Casamance mobilized and resisted exploitation of their fertile rainforest land by the northern Senegalese government. Ecologically, the Casamance region currently occupies a favorable position in relation to other parts of Senegal. It receives 2 to 3 times more rainfall than the north of Senegal. While the northern part (north of Gambia) is a vast savannah zone that is prone to desertification, the Casamance enjoys forested and fertile land suitable for agriculture. The region produces most of the country's food (including half of the country's rice, cotton and corn) for both domestic use and for export. The modern self-determination in the Casamance began in 1982, when the Movement of Democratic Forces in Casamancais (MDFC) was formed and demanded independence.

The isolation of the Casamance region led to both political and economic marginalization. The outbreak of violence in 1982 led to political exclusion of all Diolas, not just those that associated with the MDFC. Past neglect and a lack of current policies to rectify the situation, the economic situation of the Casamance is poor, with underdeveloped infrastructure, low income and education levels and insufficient investment. During the early 1980s, in an effort to increase the productivity of the traditionally under-utilized land of Casamance, the government forcibly seized lands from the subsistence farmers and transferred it to northern Muslims (i.e., Wolofs, Serers and Toucouleurs). In addition, while the beaches in the Casamance drew in much of the country's tourist revenue, most of the region's agricultural and tourist earnings were directed to Dakar, the country's capital. When Gambia's President Alhaji Sir Dawda Kairaba Jawara was threatened by rebellion and dethronement in 1981, Senegal's President Abdou Diouf sent the Senegalese army to "save" him. Diouf's intervention led the two countries to sign the "Senegambia Confederation" agreement on 12 December 1981 (effective 1 February 1982) for the creation of a loose confederation. However, the agreement was dissolved on 30 September 1989 due to their differences in handling political affairs, Gambia's dissatisfaction with Senegal's unfair trade and price policies, and tension between the two countries' presidents. Because Diouf wanted to become president of the confederation, Jawara and Gambians chose divorce. The failure of the confederation adversely affected the Casamancais because they preferred to trade out of Banjul (Gambia's capital) rather than Dakar (Senegal's capital). The Casamancais and Gambians both shared a common experience in being dominated by the state of Senegal. More importantly, geographic proximity with Banjul made transportation easier and less expensive. Thus, the disintegration of the Senegambia confederation further worsened the economic situation of the Casamancais.

The region is represented by both a militant and more conventional organization. The Movement of Democratic Forces in Casamancais (MDFC) has become more conventional since the militant offshoot of the organization "Attika" developed in 1992. This militant wing has ignored the terms of various cease-fires, which have been negotiated by the MDFC in the past few years. It has started many raids from Guinea-Bissau, and there are some reports that the Guinea-Bissau government has supplied the region with weapons. Sporadic Violence continued from 2001 to 2005, resulting in the deaths of some civilians and soldiers (REB01-02 = 4; REB03-05= 1). Violence escalated in 2006 (REB06 = 4).

Certain factions of the Casamance peoples are demanding full independence, while others are seeking political autonomy with wide-spread powers. While the MFDC had been a secessionist movement since 1982, in 2003 they dropped their demands for independence and instead made new demands for what they called "emancipation," which would give them increased autonomy over their own region. However, radical elements still demand independence (POLGR06 = 4). This stems from the feeling of many that the northern-based government has too much control over the Casamance region. Very few Casamancais want eventual unification with Gambia. The peoples of the region are also demanding more access to public funds (to improve infrastructure and the educational system) and economic opportunities that extending beyond farming (ECGR06 = 2). In order to improve their economy, the Casamancais need a major harbor, a bridge, or close links with Gambia to trade out of the city of Banjul. In recent years, in part to help sustain cease-fires, international actors such as the World Food Program and other UN agencies as well as France and other states have consistently given development aid to the region (STAMATSUP04-06 = 1).

The current phase of separatist movement in Casamance began in 1982, when the Diola-led MFDC conducted a peaceful march to demand secession from the Senegalese state (PROT80X = 3). The government stifled their protest by arresting its leaders. Since then, the government has employed force in responding to the Casamancais' (mostly Diolas) defense of regional interests, and hundreds have been killed and thousands displaced in clashes between the rebels and the government. During the 1990s, fighting was at times intense in the Casamance region, despite a cease-fire agreed to in 1993. Several hundred deaths were reported in 1995 alone. The region had calmed by the end of 1995 when the rebel leader called for another cease-fire. Negotiations between the government and rebels began in early 1996. At that time a lasting peace seemed just over the horizon, but the ensuing rapid internal splintering of the MFDC led to a resumption of fighting. Since 1999 there have been restrictions on the reporting of events both in Casamance and in Guinea-Bissau. Limited protest has been reported in recent years (PROT04 = 1; PROT05 = 3). As noted earlier, large scale, militant, guerilla activity began in 1992 (REB92 = 4). Violence de-escalated from 2003 through 2005 before increasing again in 2006 (REB03-05 = 1; REB06 = 4). Recent years have also seen the emergence of intense conflict between different factions of the MFDC, with multiple armed clashes occurring between the Sadio and Dieme factions in 2006 (FACTSEV106 = 4).



African Research Group. 8/1999. “The Casamance Conflict 1982-1999.” Foreign and Commonwealth Office.,0.pdf, accessed 4/16/2007.

Hartmana, Lori. 1993. "Indigenous Rebellion in the Casamance." Fourth World Bulletin. 3:1.

IRIN. UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Various reports. 2004-2006.

Lexis/Nexis. Various news reports. 1990-2006.

Linares, Olga F. 1992. Power, Prayer and Production: The Jola of Casamance, Senegal. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Woocher, Lawrence S. 2000. “The ‘Casamance Question’: An Examination of the Legitimacy of Self-Determination in Southern Senegal.” International Journal on Minority and Group Rights. 7:314-380.


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Information current as of December 31, 2006