An April 30th ceasefire agreement between the Mouvement des Forces Démocratiques de Casamance and Senegal’s government may secure the peace necessary to alleviate poverty in the country’s southern Casamance region.
According to U.N. estimates, thirty-two years of armed rebellion in Casamance have resulted in more than 5,000 deaths, in addition to tens of thousands displaced citizens. During this time, the MFDC, which has an estimated 1,200 to 2,000 members, split into factions that varied in their degree of militancy. In the past, the militant MFDC hard-liners have confounded peace talks, including the Peace Pact of 2004.
However, President Macky Sall’s willingness to negotiate with the entirety of the MFDC has made the public optimistic that the most recent ceasefire will lead to an enduring peace.
According to the Atlantic Council, rebel leader Salif Salio agreed to the ceasefire and peace talks on two conditions. First, the government had to agree to drop charges against rebel leaders. Second, the government had to promise to “promote the economic development and political integration of the Casamance region.”
Senegal has an overall poverty rate of 48 percent, but 60 percent of families are poor in the Casamance region. The conflict has obstructed economic growth in the south, where the fertility of the fields evinces a high potential for agricultural development.
“Today, going to tend to our crops, we are overcome by the dread of these armed groups,” one farmer said in 2009. He warned, “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.”
President Sall, whose policies have been criticized for failing to lower the country’s nearly 10 percent unemployment rate, hopes peace in Casamance will help Senegal’s entire economy by increasing growth in an underperforming constituent region.
In addition to his bid for peace, Sall has assisted the region with his Casamance Development Pole Project, launched last March. This set of initiatives aims to improve food security in the region, particularly for women who must support a family. For example, the World Bank recently reported its financing of a CDPP project, meant to empower women in Casamance through oyster farming.
If the primary sector of Casamance’s economy is allowed to flourish under an aegis of peace, real gains can be made toward reducing poverty in the world’s 33rd poorest country.
– Ryan Yanke