– visited May 2016 –
Senegal is cut in two by The Gambia. This results from the colonial folly that granted the British control of the Gambia river for 200 miles (320 km) inland and ten miles (16 km) on both sides of the river. The area south of The Gambia is called Casamance and is considering itself as distinct from the rest of Senegal. People living there belong to another ethnic group and are mostly Christian contrary to the Muslim majority in the rest of the country. The existence of The Gambia also hindered exchange between the two parts of the country.
In 1982 the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC) demanded independence for the region. That demand was refused and increasing military suppression of protest led to the eventual outbreak of an armed rebellion. The bloodiest years during the 1992–2001 period resulted in over a thousand battle related deaths. Since the early 2000s the conflict has been very low key and after the election of a new Senegalese government in 2012, that promised an advanced decentralization policy, things have further improved, leading to a truce in 2014. International travel advisories still warn against travelling to the Casamance but on the ground I am reassured that everything is safe.
I take a “sept-place” from the Gambian border to Ziguinchor. On the first 50 kilometres, ingredients for roadblocks are visible besides the road every kilometre or two. Few of them are active and even fewer manned. We have to go through useless baggage checks where with much effort (we have to take everything out of the car) they know next to nothing of what is in our bags. Ziguinchor, the dominant city of the Casamance, is a tranquil provincial town. For some reason all the roads in the centre are being remade at the same time.
I take a tour by pirogue to the delta of the Casamance river. Beautiful birdlife, we visit a village and the house of a late artist who decorated his home with massive and colourful adobe reliefs. We have lunch in Affiniam, another village. Had I known that the tree next door was full of megabats, I would have shortened the meal.