Four decades of fighting between separatist rebels of the MFDC (Movement of Democratic Forces for Casamance) and the Senegalese government resulted in 60,000 displacements and nearly 5,000 casualties – including hundreds of deaths due to landmines.

Charles Ndeki lost a leg after a landmine detonated in an area of ​​Casamance that had been deemed “safe”.

“I had just returned to the village after spending a few years abroad because of the war,” Niediki said. “At the time, the authorities told us the area was safe. But they were wrong. The MFDC and the army have left mines everywhere.”

Casamance is located in a part of Senegal that is geographically almost completely separated from the rest of the country by the Gambia. About 1.5 million people in Casamance live in an environment of “neither war nor peace”.

Charles Ndeki wears his prosthesis at his home in the village of Boutouté.  He is one of hundreds of victims of landmines that are scattered across large areas of Casamance
Charles Ndeki is one of the hundreds of landmine victims scattered across CasamanceImage: Marco Simoncelli

deep in the woods

Despite several attempts at peace talks, the conflict continues. After the death of its leader, Augustin Diamakoune Senghor, in 2007, the MFDC split into factions, whose members are now hiding in dense forests. These days, they seem more committed to the lucrative timber-smuggling business than to achieving freedom.

Amidou Jiba, who presented himself as the current spokesman for the MFDF, explained that since the start of the conflict in 1982, Senegalese presidents have employed various strategies in an attempt to resolve the conflict, “the hard hand of military operations”. Through corruption, promises of development were made, but no one ever achieved their goal.”

And if Jiba and the seasoned rebels are convinced that most of the Casamance are on their side, it is simply a matter of taking a motorcycle taxi and visiting other villages to see how strong the will to advance is among the Casamance people.

A young fisherman travels down the Casamance River riding his pirogue in Ziguinchor, southern Senegal
A young fisherman travels down the Casamance River riding his pirogue in Ziguinchor, southern SenegalImage: Marco Simoncelli

rapping for peace

The call for peace has not only come from politicians. Music artists like Bye Mike also want an end to the conflict.

“When I was young, like other lyricists, I too wrote songs to promote peace. Now the movement has changed its theme. There is no talk of conflict anymore. The situation has evolved because the environment is different”, The first rapper to perform in the Manjak language, explained by Mike.

“We need to think about the future and we have to give a bigger role to culture in our movement. We need to be able to promote change in society,” Mike concluded.

financing the conflict

The conflict is largely financed by an illegal economy that benefits local communities. To end the fighting, activists say they need to change the mindset of those who profit from smuggling timber from rosewood trees.

The MFDC has always used nearby borders to seek asylum, but especially with smuggling to finance itself. The rebels are directly involved in the production of Indian hemp and the illegal smuggling of precious rosewood into The Gambia.

In 2012, the West African rosewood tree was declared nearly extinct in The Gambia. But the country remains one of the largest exporters of the species to China.

The majority of rosewood shipped through The Gambia comes from Casamance – which is closer to The Gambia than major Senegalese ports such as Dakar.

Fosar Dabo, a 36-year-old physics teacher and environmental activist, is well aware of illegal loggers in the forested areas near the Gambian border.

“The trees are cut at night or in broad daylight by showing fake permits. The wood is then transported across the Gambian border, from where it is exported to China,” he said.

Amidou Jiba, a former MFDC fighter, poses in front of the group's seal with the inscription 'Free Casamance'
Amidou Jiba in front of the group’s seal with the inscription ‘Free Casamance’ outside the headquarters of former MFDC fighters in ZiguinchorImage: Marco Simoncelli

Together with other volunteers, Dabo founded Green Seedhio, an organization that condemns illegal timber smuggling.

Senegal has lost more than 1 million trees since 2010 to the $10 billion (€9.36 billion) timber smuggling business. While The Gambia – with an area of ​​only 11,300 square kilometers – has exported an estimated 1.6 million rosewood trees since 2012, according to the Environmental Investigation Agency.

“Every month we see dozens of trees destroyed. This puts our land at risk of deforestation and desertification,” Fauser explained. “As Casamancy we cannot afford to lose this priceless wealth.”

Fauser argued that his generation understood this type of challenge better than previous ones. According to him people born during conflict want to move away from the past.

“I was born in Senegal and my children will be born and raised in Senegal. I want them to find better Casamance than me.”

A rosewood tree that was recently cut by illegal 'coopers' in the Jinani forest area
Senegal has lost more than 1 million trees since 2010 to the $10 billion rosewood trafficking business Image: Marco Simoncelli

Edited by: Keith Walker

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