Cassamance Conflict Pose Existential Threat to Senegambia Peace , Security and Democracy.
This write up is a respond to Mr Saidina Jarjou’s article titled ” Cassamance untold story”. In Mr Jarjou’s article he has supported and advocated for the Jola tribal-dominated rebellion which has been going on for the past three decades. This is evidence when Mr Jarjou stated that ” Mr Sirlif Sarjo , a rebel leader was a reasonable man who drew my attention the day he released about eleven Senegalese soldiers during the brutal invasion “. Mr Jarjou’s statement was a clear indication that he has seen cassamance conflict as a genuine political struggle for independence against the state of Senegal. Before going any further to discuss such support for conflict which has brought untold human rights violations and economic destruction in Senegambia region, we need to take a better look at why we still have this conflict in the subregion in the first place.
I would like to remind Mr Jarjou that We must first look at sociocultural dynamics of the conflict as well as its justifications if we want to have better understanding of it and find everlasting solutions. This ongoing low level conflict between the Jola tribal-dominated separatist forces and Senegal government predated independence as Jola people are historically hostile to any form of authority and lacked centralized political leadership which should have advocated for the welfare and rights of its people during pre-independence period.This was evidenced by egalitarian society of Jola people which lacked hierarchical castes system that was common among many tribes in west Africa at the time .
As a result , historical evidence have indicated that Jola people are the most difficult people to govern. The leadership of current warring factions have used such reluctance attitudes of acceptance of authority or refusal to comply with the idea of secession to attack their own people resulting to internal displacement of many Jola citizens in Cassamance and as refugees in the neighboring countries particularly in The Gambia where former Dictator Jammeh sympathized, relied on and supported Cassamance rebellion for entrenchment of his brutal regime in The Gambia. Individual Jola people are independent hard working people who value family and sense of community.
That sense of independence has historically being linked to their hostile attitudes towards authority. The above explanations are the sociocultural dynamics of the conflict. The main reason of the conflict is to gain independence for Cassamance as a Sovereign State which should provide economic prosperity and political rights for its citizens since majority of Jola people in the region felt that they are marginalized and discriminated by Senegalese government. The Jola people of Cassamance also felt that their natural resources are not adequately utilized to serve their collective needs and aspirations in the region . The economic and political justifications are important concerns which should have been addressed in better ways without using violence means to advocate for sovereign independence country .
The question is ; why did Jola people failed to gain their so called independence political struggle in the past three decades?
The answers to this simple question are listed below:
1. The struggle of independence was tribalized despite the fact that there are many other tribes in Cassamance who are equally affected by economic and political justifications used for the conflict. This has made it very difficult to gain independence from Senegal because other tribes refused to be part of the struggle as they are marginalized and excluded since the inception of the struggle.
2. The struggle for independence has now been diverted into criminal enterprise or greed by warring factions . This is evidence by rebel forces engage in illegal drug dealing, kidnapping , arm trafficking and illegal timber business dealings to make money for their personal needs.
3. The main victims of this conflict are the Jolas themselves since the rebels forces attacked their own people who refused to take part in the rebellion. Hence we have gross human rights violations inflicted on the people of cassamance by the rebel forces and Senegal government military intervention in the region.
4. Jola People lack of political leadership in Cassamance to engage Senegal government at the national level. There is also lack of grassroots political leadership of Jola people in Cassamance’s politics and governance. This is due to egalitarian nature of Jola society. Hence at local government levels , Jolas are not adequately represented due to the nature of their community.
5. Cassamance conflict posed existential threat to not only Senegalese democracy, peace and security but it has also significantly posed serious threat to The Gambia’s peace ,security and democracy . This is simply based on geopolitical nature of the conflict and how the conflict was utilized by the former Dictator Jammeh for sustainability of his regime in The Gambia. The threat was recognized by indigenous Senegambian citizens both in The Gambia and Northern Senegal , hence their refusal to support and recognize the Jola dominated rebellion for independence.
What is the way forward ?
The current Ecomig military intervention under the leadership of Senegalese military in The Gambia has a unique opportunity not only to ensure that The Gambia security services are reformed but they must also ensure that all separatist forces who infiltrated our military are weeded out of the Armed Forces and other security services of The Gambia before their departure from the country . This military intervention also give Senegal government an opportunity to have better intelligence and security control over Cassamance region. The new government in The Gambia must work in collaboration with Senegal government to ensure that there is a political solution to the conflict. This can be done Politically by encouraging Jola citizens particularly to participate in political leadership in Cassamance. This will empower Jolas in Cassamance to take charge of their own destiny rather than engage in futile violence efforts characterized by destruction of lives and properties. The Senegalese government should also give more incentive to businesses and other economic development programs to Cassamance citizens. Finally the rebel forces should be given full amnesty to lay down their weapons but those who refuses such offer must be taken out militarily. I want to remind Mr Jarjou that we are in the era of globalization and regional integration which provides opportunities for growth of democracy and economic development. Secession and tribal-dominated conflict are not the best course of actions for regional integration, peace ,security and democracy. It is time for Jola people of cassamance to lay down their weapons and join the rest of Senegambian citizens for the sake of peace and security of the subregion.