(formerly IRIN News) Journalism from the heart of crises

Casamance residents warn of attacks’ impact

A dried-up rice field in Senegal's Casamance region.
Mamadou Alpha Diallo/IRIN

In Senegal’s Casamance region one youth remains missing five days after armed men attacked a group of people collecting cashews, one of the region’s main cash crops.

“We found only his shoes, traces of blood and some of the produce he was gathering,” said Lucien Gomis, president of the rural community of Boutoupa Camaracounda, about 20km southeast of the main city Ziguinchor, where the 28 June attack occurred.

Casamance, site of one of Africa’s longest-standing conflicts, has for years lived a relative calm spotted with bouts of violence. The latest escalation – with violent carjackings, lootings and attacks on farmers – has residents worried about the economic fallout.

“This new rise in violence poses serious problems for those of us who have to go to the fields for our livelihood,” Amadou Diémé, a farmer who lives 15km west of the main city Ziguinchor, told IRIN.

“Today, going to tend to our crops we are overcome by the dread of these armed groups. Because of this for now we limit our work to areas near our homes. If this continues there is the risk that most of our fields will not be cultivated this year, and that would worsen our already difficult living conditions.” 

Poverty levels in Casamance are among the highest in Senegal at more than 60 percent, with nearly half of households vulnerable to food insecurity, according to a UN World Food Programme (WFP) 2007 study.

While Casamance has considerable agricultural potential, the insecurity and erratic environmental conditions threaten food security in the region, according to WFP.

Diémé said villagers are afraid to go to orchards to pick fruit as well. “At this rate we will lose the mangoes that will be ready for picking soon.”

map - Senegal (Casamance) and Guinea-Bissau

map - Senegal (Casamance) and Guinea-Bissau
Thursday, March 5, 2009
Beyond cashews and rice
map - Senegal (Casamance) and Guinea-Bissau

Photo: BBC


In reaction to the renewed violence the government in mid-June ordered a 7pm to 6:30am curfew on two main highways in Casamance.

The head of a transporters’ group in Ziguinchor, Abdou Badji, said the curfew is disruptive and a longer-term solution should be found.

“This curfew slows down considerably the region’s economic activity,” he told IRIN. “We cannot come and go as in the past. If you have a breakdown on the road, you risk spending the night there.”

He said he knows of many families, along with children, who have spent the night on the road between Dakar and Ziguinchor.

“Granted, this measure [the curfew] is to assure people’s safety, but the truth is the armed attacks continue daily,” he said, adding: “What is needed is to reinforce security on the roads so people can circulate freely at any hour.”


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