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Assessment for Diolas in Casamance in Senegal

Publisher Minorities at Risk Project
Publication Date 31 December 2003
Cite as Minorities at Risk Project, Assessment for Diolas in Casamance in Senegal, 31 December 2003, available at: [accessed 20 January 2018]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
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 and other groups in Casamançe continue to be repressed and excluded from the political process, and there appears to be no efforts by the Senegalese government to improve the situation. Being isolated from the rest of the country, the militant activity of the Casamançais is likely to continue. As mentioned, it is difficult to assess if non-militant protests are still occurring because of government restrictions on reporting of events in the region. However, due to the neglect and repression faced by the group, it is reasonable to assume that those not engaged in militant activity will need to find an outlet for their displeasure with their situation. Thus, future organized protests are likely to occur in some form.

In addition, the rift between the Casamançais and their government is further widened by ethnic, linguistic, and religious differences. Diolas are one of the few ethnic groups that do not speak Wolof, the nation's main language, or French, the language of Senegal's government. This further alienates the group because it becomes difficult to find employment if the Diolas are not literate in either of the two aforementioned languages. Diolas, unlike the Muslim majority in Senegal, are labeled as animists or Christians. Diolas claim that exploitation of their land and the neglect they suffer in terms of infrastructure, education, and economic opportunities amount to nothing less than a new kind of colonialism.

In the past few years, various cease-fires have been agreed to by both the rebels and the Senegal government, but none of them have lasted more than a few weeks. The government now seems determined to eradicate the Casamançe rebels. Likewise, radical factions of the MFDC (Attika) now seem set on independence for southern Senegal. In the pursuit of their goals both the government and the Casamançe rebels have committed and are still committing a number of atrocities. While the Casamançe militants are threatened by severe government repression, their activity in Guinea-Bissau threatens regional stability. Rebel presence in Guinea-Bissau could push Senegal into an inter-state war with the neighboring state. A fissure between the militant organizations and the conventional organizations that are negotiating the cease-fires also has the potential to develop. If the general population grows tired of the repression and violence, the movement may face internal conflict in addition to their continued problems with the Senegal government.

Analytic Summary

The Casamance region is separated from the rest of Senegal by Gambia and the Gambia River (REGIONAL = 1). Separatist sentiments among the Casamance people have existed since colonial times (SEPX = 3), during which the Diolas resisted French influence (TRADITN = 1). 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 language (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 Casamançais 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 (COHESX9 = 3).

In the wake of Portuguese and French colonial control, Diola and other indigenous people in the Casamançe 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. As a result, the group does not face any demographic or ecological disadvantages (DEMSTR00 = 0). While there is very little information on these peoples, it does not appear that they are discriminated against culturally. However, due to the political uncertainty, and violence in the region, as well as in neighboring Ghana, there has been migration away from the Casamance. There are also reports that the migration continued in 2001 with Diolas seeking refuge in Gambia (DMEMPO01-03 = 2). The Casamance peoples are excluded from the political process by the Senegal government (POLDIS03 = 4) because of their long struggle over independence.

Due to past neglect and a lack of current policies to rectify the situation, there is insufficient infrastructure, educational facilities, and economic development (ECDIS03 = 2). 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 Casamançais because they preferred to trade out of Banjul (Gambia's capital) rather than Dakar (Senegal's capital). The Casamançais 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 Casamançais.

Because of the conflict between the region and the state, there have been numerous reports of repressive activity against the group. Since 1999, group members have been arrested and tortured; there has been a prolonged military campaign against separatist forces; Diolas have disappeared and some have been executed; and areas considered to be bases for militant groups have been destroyed by the army. The Casamançais also rely on non-governmental organizations to report the repression that they are facing. It appears that the Diolas are in conflict only with the government of Senegal, as there are no reports of communal conflict (INTERCON00-03 = 0), which is partly explained by their separation from the rest of Senegal.

The region is represented by both a militant and more conventional organization. The Movement of Democratic Forces in Casamançais (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 2001-2003 resulting in the deaths of some civilians and soldiers (REB01-02= 4 ; REB03= 1).

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. This stems from the feeling of many that the northern-based government has too much control over the Casamance region. Very few Casamançais 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. In order to improve their economy, the Casamançais need a major harbor, a bridge, or close links with Gambia to trade out of the city of Banjul.

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 Casamançais' (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 Casamançe 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. Hence, while there have been no reports of recent protest activity (PROT03 = 0), this does not necessarily mean that protests have not occurred. As noted earlier, large scale, militant, guerilla activity began in 1992 (REB92 = 4) and has continued through the present day with the assistance of Guinea-Bissau, but lessened in 2003 (REB02 = 4; REB03= 1).


Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) The World Factbook 1992 and 2004, Washington, D.C.

Degenhardt, Henry W. ed. (1988) Revolutionary and Dissident Movements, A Keesing's Reference Publication, (Brunt Mill, Harlow, Essex: Longman) pp.318-319.

Hartmana, Lori (1993) "Indigenous Rebellion in the Casamançe," Fourth World Bulletin, December, Vol.3, No.1.

Lexus/Nexus-Reuters News Service, BBC reports, etc.

"La Casamance, région touristique en proie à une rebellion indépendantiste." Agence France Presse. 26 Mar. 2002.

"Rébellion en Casamance Afflux de réfugiés en Gambie, annonce le HCR." SDA- Service de base française. 06 Jun. 2001.

Brevillac, Brigitte. "conflit sans fin en Casamance." Le Monde. 28 Mar. 2002.

"Senegal: Country Reports on Human Rights Practices." (2001-2003). United States State Department.

"Sénégal: treize civils tués en Casamance." SDA- Service de base française. 16 Feb. 2001.

"Attaque en Casamance: 5 morts, 4 blessés don un Français." Agence France Presse. 26 Mar. 2002.

"Quatre morts en Casamance." Libération. 08 Jan. 2003.

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