Sant’Egidio mediating in Senegal’s Casamance conflict

ISS

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Paulin Maurice Toupane, Intern, Conflict Prevention and Risk Analysis Division, ISS Pretoria

The resolution of the crisis in the Casamance, Senegal, that has been on hold since the ceasefire of 2005, has taken a new turn. Salif Sadio, leader of the northern faction of the armed branch of the Movement des forces démocratiques de la Casamance (Movement of the Democratic Forces of Casamance, MFDC), had appealed for dialogue on 1 June 2012. In an answer to that appeal, President Macky Sall, in a statement at the decentralised Council of Ministers meeting held in Ziguinchor on 27 June, pledged to begin talks with Sadio and the other warlords of the MFDC.

Indeed, since Macky Sall became president, there have been new developments both within the MFDC factions and in the attitude of the Senegalese government towards the insurgency, which wants the independence or autonomy of Casamance. ‘I have read the press release issued by Salif Sadio,’ said President Sall, ‘and I believe we are in a position to begin an open and frank dialogue with him and the northern front fighters.’

In his reaction to the President’s overtures, Sadio, in a statement reported by Radio France Internationale on 4 July 2012, said he would like to ‘invite him to hold talks outside Africa under the auspices of the Community of Sant’Egidio’. Then a press release issued by the Community of Sant’Egidio on 17 October announced that delegations of the Senegalese government and the northern faction of the MFDC ‘mandated by Salif Sadio’ had met in Rome on 13 and 14 October 2012.

Even though the restoration of peace may still seem remote, this meeting raised hopes for a resolution of a crisis that has existed since 1982. The main concern is whether this initiative, which is one of many, will succeed in creating the conditions for a lasting peace.

It is worth mentioning some of the developments that have taken place recently. As far as the MFDC is concerned, this is actually the first time that Sadio, one of the most radical and best-armed rebel leaders, has said that he is willing to hold talks. It is also the first time that all the MFDC warlords are willing to negotiate. (The armed branch of the MFDC is divided into a northern front led by Sadio’s faction and a southern front made up of two factions, that of César Atoute Badiate and that of Ousmane Gnantang Diatta.)

Finally, the different factions are trying to draw closer to each other so that they can speak with one voice. In the south, according to media sources, Badiate and Diatta are once again talking to each other. In the north, Sadio, who considers himself the sole representative of the MFDC, still has to be persuaded to open talks with the other factions. Several peace agreements were signed in the past between Senegal and the MFDC, but none has so far been supported by all the armed factions.

The government has also changed tactics. In 2000, former President Abdoulaye Wade promised to ‘resolve the Casamance issue in 100 days’. Twelve years later, Casamance is still in a ‘neither-peace-nor-war’ situation. President Sall, who claims that ‘the restoration of peace in the southern region is still close to his heart’, has made his first official visit to the Gambia’s President Yaya Jammeh. The Gambia, which many believe supports and provides a rear base for Sadio’s northern faction, has a major role to play in the resolution of this crisis.

Thus, by drawing closer to Banjul, Senegal is trying to obtain the support of President Jammeh, who stated on 15 April 2012 that he would do his best to help in having peace restored in Casamance. The two countries also signed an agreement to build a bridge to make Casamance more accessible.

Further, Senegal seems to have set a priority on the peaceful settlement of the conflict. The government, which considers the Casamance crisis an internal matter, has always refused to internationalise the conflict. However, it has to clearly define a crisis resolution road map and a socioeconomic development policy for the region; in short, anything that could facilitate the settlement of the crisis.

The mediation by Sant’Egidio, which states that it is ‘fully prepared to do everything to bring about the dialogue that will help to end the situation in Casamance’, is a source of hope for many reasons. As a Christian organisation founded in 1968 by Andréa Ricardi, the community engages in the peaceful resolution of conflicts, among other things. Its methods and status have enabled it to engage in successful mediation efforts in Mozambique, Guatemala, Kosovo and Liberia, among others. Its contribution, therefore, is welcome at a time of deadlocked negotiations amid a crisis of confidence, not only between the government and the MFDC, but also between these two actors and the neighbouring countries.

Perceived as being neutral and enjoying the confidence of the military factions, Sant’Egidio should start by bringing the military factions and political wings of the MFDC together before the negotiations begin. Indeed, negotiating with one or two rebel leaders is not the same as negotiating with the MFDC. In fact, Badiate said in early October: ‘I am not against the choice of Sant’Egidio to broker our talks with Senegal. However, it is necessary first to organise a meeting between the different factions of the movement, bring everybody together so that we can talk the same language, choose our representatives on a consensual basis and establish a platform. Otherwise, holding a meeting in Rome for instance will serve no purpose. If the mediator insists, we will still go for a change of air.’

The MFDC had broken up after the death of its charismatic leader Father Augustin Diamacoune Senghor. It is now composed of several warlords and political leaders, with the armed wing sometimes acting independently from the political wing. Further, the reaction of the MFDC’s Cercle des Intellectuels et Universitaires, a faction of the political wing which in a press release issued on 23 October 2012 rejected the mediation by Sant’Egidio and claimed that Sadio ‘is not the leader of the MFDC’, reveals the complexity of the Casamance issue in which so many actors are involved.

Despite these challenges, the context is still favourable to dialogue and the conditions seem to be there for the resolution of this thirty-year-old crisis. However, three things should be taken into account in the current efforts: firstly, the MFDC should develop a common platform for expressing its claims and join the efforts towards a peaceful resolution of the conflict. Secondly, the Senegalese government should clearly define a crisis resolution road map and a socioeconomic development plan for the region, in consultation with the stakeholders in Casamance. Finally, Sant’Egidio should take into account the complexity of the issue and bring together the political and military wings of the MFDC before opening negotiations with the government of Senegal.

 ISS

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