Four decades of fighting between pro-independence rebels from the MFDC (Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance) and the Senegalese government has left some 60,000 displaced people and nearly 5,000 victims including hundreds of deaths.
Senegal is known for being one of western Africa’s most politically stable countries, however, this open conflict between the Senegalese military and the MFDC in the country’s southern Casamance region, which began 40 years ago, is one that is having lasting consequences on the lives of the people in the Niassia district especially Boffa Bayotte.
The rebellion is considered to have begun on 26 December 1982, when hundreds of people flooded the streets of the city of Ziguinchor, replacing the Senegalese tricolor with white flags, while the MFDC distributed pamphlets calling for the independence of the Casamance.
The Casamance conflict has an ethnic dimension, with the local majority Diola group facing off against the state and is one of many civil wars in postcolonial Africa, human rights violations have been committed by both sides even until now.
Communication between the north and the south of the country is difficult because the small state of Gambia lies between the Casamance region and the Senegalese capital of Dakar.
The January 6, 2018 assassinations
A usual cold morning of 6th January, 2018 was greeted by sorrow, severe trauma and a heartbreaking incident in Boffa Bayotte a farming community located in Basse-Casamance, east of Nyassia in the Niassia district of the Zinguinchor region and near the Senegal- Guinea-Bissau border.
The news on the cruel murder of some 14 people who have gone into the Bayotte forest to fetch woods for their livelihood, left the whole Niasia district especially Boffa Bayotte village in a total gloom.
The attack was allegedly orchestrated and executed by a group of armed muggers, believed to be members of the Senegalese separatist group, MFDC.
The killings which took place in the Bayotte forest also resulted in seven people sustaining various degrees of injuries while three lucky persons escaped the deadly attack.
Nonetheless, constant reports by the local media in Senegal pointed to the people of Boffa Bayotte as the actors of the 6th January killings, however in a interaction with the chief of the village Edouard Dasylva, he demystified the assertion and explained that the people of Boffa Bayotte were not involved in the said attack but are rather victims of wrong reportage and misinformation by a majority of the media in Senegal. He explained that at the time of the event, the person who was constantly contacted by many of the local media outlets is not a resident of the area and therefore had no knowledge on the geography of the place thus the misreporting of the event and where it took place.
The reportage according to chief Dasylva, has caused his residents to suffer stigmatization as they are tagged “murderers” in the country of Senegal.
“When you go somewhere in this country to seek for job, support or any opportunity, immediately they find out you are from Boffa Bayotte you will be denied that support due to the perception that we are bad people.” Edouard Dasylva lamented.
He added that, this stigma and mental torture have caused some natives to migrate to other countries especially Guinea-Bissau, Gambia and Cameroon while those in diaspora are reluctant to return home.
Furthermore, healthcare, education, electricity and potable water among other significant human needs are not available in the village of Boffa Bayotte causing a total deprivation of human wellbeing in the area.
Pregnant women’s only resort are to give birth at home with the support of a traditional birth assistant (local midwife) or carried to Tobakuda or Ziguinchor in case of any complication while those seeking good drinking water will have to travel more than one kilometer away from home to get water.
A local Journalist, Ibrahima Gasama disclosed that the people of Casamance feel rejected and cheated thus the cause of the unending attacks in the region.
“The inhabitants of this area feel that the south has been abandoned by the successive governments living them in hostile poverty and hardship resulting in many citizens moving to the north, or embark on the adventure of emigration.” He explained.
He disclosed this during a field trip to Southern Senegal organized by the Minority Rights Group International with funding from the European Union for West African journalists and minority rights activists from Ghana, Senegal, and Sierra Leone.
Nevertheless, all is not lost and amends could be made if cognizant efforts are made by journalists within and outside Senegal to persistently report on the guiltlessness of the people of Boffa Bayotte and giving them a positive voice at all times. This will go a long way to write-off the negative perception about the people of Boffa Bayotte.
By: Prince Kwame Tamakloe/Ziguinchor, Senegal