Potential Hot Spots: Senegal Getting Sucked Under

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March 10, 2007: Senegal is one of the few African states that have had a continuous history of electoral transition, and social stability. But now that is threatened by a long simmering rebellion. The latest elections are dominated by disputes over to how to handle the rebels down south. The rebels call themselves the MDFC (Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamançe), and insist they represent a few percent of the population, living in the southern part of the country. The MDFC has been at it since 1982.

Casamançe is the narrow area between the Gambia river and the southern border of Senegal. There's a problem down there. In a quirk of colonialization, the region along the Gambia river was controlled by the British, while the rest of the region (modern Senegal) was run by the French. Thus Gambia became a separate country, when the colonies became independent 50-60 years ago. The people of " Casamançe" were cut off from the rest of Senegal by Gambia, as well as tribal affiliations and economic activity. Compared to the rest of Senegal, Casamançe was poor. Now, more prosperous Wolof tribesmen were coming south to establish businesses, and compete with the Casamançe natives. In the 1990s, groups of MDFC got guns and began shooting at government officials, and Wolof "invaders."

The end of the Cold War in 1991 brought a flood of cheap (surplus) AK-47s, and the MDFC was now heavily armed, and breaking into factions. Some of the MDFC got involved in political violence in neighboring Guinea-Bissau. This backfired when one of the Guinea-Bissau leaders MDFC opposed, came to power. That, the factionalism and more peacekeeping efforts by the Senegal government, created a peace deal. That is now coming apart, and more men are taking to the bush with their AK-47s. The majority of the people in Casamançe are not interested in the MDFC, or the violence. But guys with guns cannot be ignored. This is the same violence that has ruined so much of the rest of west Africa. Cheap AK-47s and amoral, unemployed young men. Growing violence in neighboring Guinea, and Guinea-Bissau, threatens to spread into Senegal because of the spark set off by the MDFC.

 

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