In its weekend edition on December 31st, 1982, Le Soleil, the Senegalese state-owned daily newspaper, published two reflections on how to manage what was called “the events of Ziguinchor” and the consequences that would follow. Five days prior, on December 26, 1982, one year after the accession of Prime Minister Abdou Diouf to the Presidency of the Republic of Senegal, a large demonstration against the policies of the government took place in Casamance, based on the mobilization of people in Ziguinchor, the regional capital of the “Casamance Naturelle.”
The demonstrators denounced land grabbing and the failure of the government to recognize Casamance’s history and unique place in Senegal’s national narrative. They protested against the isolation of a region that suffers from the centralization of power, noting the widespread feeling of marginalization by northern political-administrative neo-colonization. The situation was also partly informed by the failure of several projects sited in Casamance, further fueling demands for the autonomy of the region. In this regard, what initially started as a peaceful rally to express regional grievances ended with protesters bringing down the Senegalese national flag and replacing it with a white flag. The protest was met with a deadly response in the form of armed intervention by Senegal’s state security forces. The new socialist regime, in its search for answers to this crisis of the Senegalese nation-state, did not seem to have an alternative response to the demands of those seeking self-determination for Casamance.
The debate that followed in the newspaper revealed a divergence within the ruling party between “barons and young wolves,”1Assane Seck, Sénégal. Emergence d’une démocratie moderne (1945-2005): Un itinéraire politique (Paris: Karthala, 2005).—the advocates of a solution that would address the region’s grievances and those who wanted the state to forcefully apply the rule of law. Underneath this lack of agreement was a change of course in the state’s policy with the putative heir to the country’s first President, Leopold Senghor, in the person of President Abdou Diouf, whose succession suffered from a lack of internal legitimacy.
Forty years later (1982 – 2022), questioning December 26 provides an opportunity to critically examine the problems raised by the Casamance crisis/conflict and its historical context, based on the monitoring of an “Impasse of ‘Neither Peace nor War’ in Casamance.”2LASPAD (LASPAD SSRC-APN Report), Rapport Final. Sortir de l’impasse du “Ni paix Ni Guerre” en Casamance. Voix/voies citoyen.nes sénégalais.es, gambien.nes et bissau-guinéen.nes (Saint-Louis: UGB-LASPAD, 2020.) The analysis of the premise for the culture of peace will address historical specificity, as well as intergenerational testimonies in relation to the issues of truth, justice, and peace, which leads us to analyze the state’s approach in 1982.
The Political Context of the “Events of Ziguinchor”
The fragile nature of President Diouf’s regime was evident in his handling of the Ziguinchor events. To assert himself on the eve of a crucial election that could confirm him as the leader of the ruling Socialist Party of Senegal (PS) with a new political orientation, in an economic situation characterized by dependence on international financial institutions, the “events of Ziguinchor,” became a pretext for politicization and “de-Senghorisation.”
The events of December 26 were politicized to such a degree that on December 29th a gathering—with a handful of militants of the ruling PS from the region—served to legitimize a “motion of support” for President Diouf’s “Force reste à la loi”3« Force reste à la loi »: The law remains in force, the right to use force. policy. The party meeting was to prompt and validate the government’s next steps which would involve the “blind repression, arbitrary arrests based only on denunciation” of those suspected to be behind the demonstration.
As for “de-Senghorisation,” the disagreement with President Senghor’s nation-building policies led Diouf’s regime to quickly label the Ziguinchor events as “secession.”4“Après les manifestations de Ziguinchor,” Le Soleil, December 1982 – January 1983. This was despite the poet (Senghor) president’s philosophy of the history of the nation, that cautioned against the “temptation of the nation-state to standardize people through their nations” at the expense of the “richness that derives from the diversity of nations and people.”5Léopold Sédar Senghor, Nation et voie africaine du socialisme (Paris: Présence africaine, 1961).
Through his philosophy of placing culture before politics, President Senghor urged people “to put culture at the beginning and at the end of the whole development process.” He believed in the complementarity of the diversity of nations and peoples and found that the Ajamaat (the ethnic Diolas) and their ethnic Sereer cousins (his historical community) were the true Negroes in Senegal. Thus, he not only paid attention to the narrative on the “Casamance specificity” which is symbolic of the “Négritude” (philosophy based on taking pride in the beauty and positive attributes of Black African history, identity, and culture), he elevated Abbé Augustin Diamacoune Senghor, the bard of the local collective memory of Casamance to the status of a “Living Human Treasure.”
As a host of a cultural talk show at the regional station of the “Office des Radio Télévisions Sénégalaises,” the Catholic priest Augustin Diamacoune Senghor, aka “Papa Koulempi,” was able to disseminate the historical narrative of Casamance in the form of collective memory. The priestess Aline Sitoé Diatta, who was an active anti-colonial resister, became the figure of the “Casamance Nation built peacefully by the union of hearts and minds.”6Abbé Augustin Diamacoune Senghor, Le message religieux et culturel de la reine Alinsiitowe Diatta, (Dakar: Conférence donnée à la Chambre de commerce de Dakar, 1980). This memory was at the heart of the regional specificity of Casamance as supported by President Senghor, but led to Diamacoune’s imprisonment under President Diouf’s regime. It was the “Joola/Felupes/Ajamaat” traditions that Diamacoune shared that were targeted by a regime whose political project was henceforth “the uniformization of the nations ” under the sole “Islamo-Wolof” model.7Momar Coumba Diop and Mamadou Diouf, Le Sénégal sous Abdou Diouf : Etat et Société (Paris: Karthala, 1990).
President Diouf’s approach differed from that of the Senghor era and reflected his administrative background, reminiscent of the colonization era. The colonial power had tried in vain to force an apparent unity on Senegal and to bring the Casamancese to accept its uniform administrative measures across the country. In this regard, France installed an indigenous brigade in the region in 1907 to implement its policy of homogenization, but the attempt failed.
Former President Diouf would later write that, “the more politics and economics are reduced to bureaucracy, with its abstract norms and processes distanced from citizens, the more identity constructions become important.”8Abdou Diouf, Le pluralisme culturel, un projet politique, Le Monde, 2003, available at https://www.lemonde.fr/archives/article/2003/05/22/le-pluralisme-culturel-un-projet-politique-par-abdou-diouf_321083_1819218.html. This is helpful in understanding the placing of the economy before culture and the attempt to impose a homogenous national model, the Islamo-Wolof model, and its centralized bureaucracy with non-local agents on diverse groups. This attempt awakened the consciousness and imagination of the Casamance as well as the specificity of their history and identity as informed by the “Ajamaat” (Diola) traditions.
“Injé Ajamaat:” Community of testimony
The armed rebellion in Casamance broke out after the verdict of December 13, 1983. With many protestors sentenced to prison, those who escaped capture by the police by hiding in the thick forest near the city where they only ventured out after dark were consequently condemned to stay within what would become the maquis or underground resistance enclave. They became rebels fighting for the secessionist cause based on a demand for the independence of Casamance. Faced with a justice system considered to be in the control of the Senegalese state, the traditional values of justice would exclusively guide the Casamance secessionist movement-in-the-making during the month of December 1983, also known as the “red December.”
According to the Ajamaat traditions, which frame Casamance’s specific identity, when “one dies for the truth, one does justice to himself or to others in the name of truth.” In the late 18th century, marked by the slave trade, these traditions appeared and shaped the identity of the community:
“Of the Feloops, […] They are of a gloomy disposition and are supposed never to forgive an injury. They are even said to transmit their quarrels as deadly feuds to their posterity; insomuch that a son considers it as incumbent on him, from a just sense of filial obligation, to become the avenger of his deceased father’s wrongs. […] They display the utmost gratitude and affection towards their benefactors; and the fidelity with which they preserve whatever is entrusted to them is remarkable; […]”9Mungo Park, Travels in the interior districts of Africa… in the years 1795, 1796 and 1797 (London, 1807).
Mungo Park, the Scottish explorer, promoted this image of “people who seek revenge” from their Mandinka neighbors in The Gambia, who were their main intermediaries in the Atlantic trade system and with whom the “Feloops/Diola” were often in conflict. “Joola/Diola,” or “the one who seeks revenge,” is a Mandinka exonym, but they called themselves “Ajamaat.”10Emmanuel Bertrand-Bocandé, Notes sur la Guinée portugaise ou Sénégambie méridionale, Bulletin de la société de géographie, 1849
“Ajamaat,” or in its long form Injé ajamaat (literally: I am the one who witnesses…), conveys more of a relationship to the past, i.e., a “promise on the past.” It appears more as a community of testimony, a “testimony of the conscience [injé].” The individual who is a witness [aja-amaat] must be present not only physically, but also morally; not only to prove, but to accept responsibility for his or her words, actions, and even omissions. This is the essence of “Ajamaat:” an invitation to act in truth, take responsibility, and cultivate moral honesty. Testimony, as a promise on the past, thus has a pacifying value, for peace is situated between responsibility and truthful evidence.
In 1993, the Movement for Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC) asked France for mediation and arbitration to find a solution to the war, though the movement disputed the notion of “testimony” used by Jacques Charpy, the former curator of the French West African colonies archives, to defend the idea that Casamance has always been part of Senegal. The MFDC rejected this interpretation in “Casamance. Pays du refus,” and emphasized that the people of Casamance expected from France “a solution of truth and justice, an arbitration and not a “testimony.”11Abbé Augustin Diamacoune Senghor, Casamance Pays du refus, 1993
Indeed, culturally the Casamance people differentiated themselves from the Senegalese using a narrative that denounced the absence of equal respect for their traditional practices and beliefs. This contrasts with the reality of communities that cohabit Casamance and that have a solid cultural proximity.12P.C. Bassène, Histoire authentique de la Casamance : le pays ajamaat, influences adventives, entraves des institutions traditionnelles et manifestation de l’Etat dans la colonie française du Sénégal, c. -1500-c. 1947. (Toulouse – Paris: La Brochure / Injé Ajamaat, 2011.) The “Injé Ajamaat” principle expresses such a framework of social regulation, an institution through which the very nature of resistance to colonial conquest was projected. As a testimony, the institution can remain a factor of safety in the ensemble of constitutive relations of the social bond.13Paul Ricoeur, La mémoire, l’histoire, l’oubli, (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 2000).
“Injé Ajamaat” is then naturally a socio-political organization defined by the stability and the reliability of each testimony, which secures the social links that rests on the trust of the given word. This economy of the social bond is a rule in every societal act that the Ajamaat makes. This understanding of the Ajamaat community was lacking in the violent government’s approach which deepened the social roots of the crisis, as noted by Professor Abdoulaye Bathily’s party, the Democratic League/Movement for the Labor Party (LDMPT), in a situation that called for bold political decisions, frank, and sincere dialogue.14Xavier Diatta, Fiju di Terra. La Crise casamançaise racontée à mes enfants, (Montréal: Injé Ajamaat/Kmanjen, 2017).
“Culture before politics” for peace in Casamance
In accordance with the principle of “Injé Ajamaat,” young people enlisted in the resistance movement out of a sense of filial obligation, some to avenge a relative, some for ideological reasons. Likewise, there were those who joined the Senegalese national army.
However, during major traditional gatherings, these young combatants get together in the name of tradition. The MFDC fighters cannot claim to hold a monopoly of power over the Casamancité. Therefore, among those directly involved in the dialogue of firearms, culture proves to be a pacifying element.
On the civilian side, rightly or wrongly, Senegalese leaders with ties to Casamance—Alioune Tine (Raddho), Seydi Gassama (AI), Birahim Seck (Forum Civil), Aliou Sané (Y’en a marre), Ousmane Sonko (Pastef), Guy Marius Sagna (France Dégage)— are suspected of having pro-Casamance postures. In the political propaganda, they appeared by default as the heirs of the MFDC founders who loyally denounced the Casamance frustrations with the framework of legality and democracy offered by the post-independence governmental institutions. Yet the new generation of Casamancese, conscious of their experiences, are keen to forestall the forms of resentment which have led to the “events of Ziguinchor”.
As such, generations change, yet their testimonies regenerate themselves. Therefore, Casamancité as a “promise on the past” can be modeled in terms of generational experiences. By generation, we mean the coincidence between one or several age groups and one or several events that served as a reference for the acknowledgement of the memory of this event.15 Pierre Nora, Les lieux de mémoire, (Paris: Gallimard, 1997). Generation as a testimony, as a promise, is based on the past and informed by cultural values.
To get out of the “impasse of neither peace nor war” in Casamance, it is necessary, through a cultural approach, to establish a space of testimonies allowing various generations to renew and possibly reconcile their perspectives based on dialogues about the past. For over forty years, these generations have been experiencing a past that they have not been able to name: “conflict in Casamance” or “civil war in Senegal”? A policy aimed toward a culture of peace begins with the ability to name the danger that threatens that peace.
Questioning the significance of December 1982 from this perspective is to make the “Bukut,” the great sacred initiation that brings together different generations to address how to maintain traditional values considering new realities, aligning the past and present with the future in the quest for peace. In this regard, the “Bukut” is bringing three post-independence generations—the MFDC generation at independence in the 1960s, the protest generations of post-1968, and those who grew up in the conflict—that do not seem to share the same promise on a culture of peace rooted in history.
Indeed, all three generations consider that there is a lack of consideration from the “Islamo-Wolof” State” model. Bureaucratic religious-like behaviors for political domination cannot be separated from the demand for cultural recognition. The rebellion in Casamance must henceforth become a call to better reflect on cultural policies for peace, inter-generational testimonies, and dialogues of “truth, justice, peace” as framed by traditional values to resolve a dormant, but real, civil war in Senegal.
- 1Assane Seck, Sénégal. Emergence d’une démocratie moderne (1945-2005): Un itinéraire politique (Paris: Karthala, 2005).
- 2LASPAD (LASPAD SSRC-APN Report), Rapport Final. Sortir de l’impasse du “Ni paix Ni Guerre” en Casamance. Voix/voies citoyen.nes sénégalais.es, gambien.nes et bissau-guinéen.nes (Saint-Louis: UGB-LASPAD, 2020.)
- 3« Force reste à la loi »: The law remains in force, the right to use force.
- 4“Après les manifestations de Ziguinchor,” Le Soleil, December 1982 – January 1983.
- 5Léopold Sédar Senghor, Nation et voie africaine du socialisme (Paris: Présence africaine, 1961).
- 6Abbé Augustin Diamacoune Senghor, Le message religieux et culturel de la reine Alinsiitowe Diatta, (Dakar: Conférence donnée à la Chambre de commerce de Dakar, 1980).
- 7Momar Coumba Diop and Mamadou Diouf, Le Sénégal sous Abdou Diouf : Etat et Société (Paris: Karthala, 1990).
- 8Abdou Diouf, Le pluralisme culturel, un projet politique, Le Monde, 2003, available at https://www.lemonde.fr/archives/article/2003/05/22/le-pluralisme-culturel-un-projet-politique-par-abdou-diouf_321083_1819218.html.
- 9Mungo Park, Travels in the interior districts of Africa… in the years 1795, 1796 and 1797 (London, 1807).
- 10Emmanuel Bertrand-Bocandé, Notes sur la Guinée portugaise ou Sénégambie méridionale, Bulletin de la société de géographie, 1849
- 11Abbé Augustin Diamacoune Senghor, Casamance Pays du refus, 1993
- 12P.C. Bassène, Histoire authentique de la Casamance : le pays ajamaat, influences adventives, entraves des institutions traditionnelles et manifestation de l’Etat dans la colonie française du Sénégal, c. -1500-c. 1947. (Toulouse – Paris: La Brochure / Injé Ajamaat, 2011.)
- 13Paul Ricoeur, La mémoire, l’histoire, l’oubli, (Paris: Editions du Seuil, 2000).
- 14Xavier Diatta, Fiju di Terra. La Crise casamançaise racontée à mes enfants, (Montréal: Injé Ajamaat/Kmanjen, 2017).
- 15Pierre Nora, Les lieux de mémoire, (Paris: Gallimard, 1997).