Demining a Road to Peace: The Continuing Role of Mine Action in Peacebuilding in Senegal

Some time back, I reported on the role that mine action can play in peacebuilding processes with specific reference to Senegal and the conflict in the Casamance (Landmines in Africa). I also covered the May 2013 kidnapping of a dozen deminers  in Senegal (Landmines in Africa) and their subsequent release two and a half months later, noting there was “No word about the future of demining in the region” (Landmines in Africa).  Now, because of a number of recent events, is a very good time to discuss the future of demining in Senegal.

At the outset, it is important to state that demining is typically an activity that occurs after the cessation of hostilities.  Some mine action, especially mine risk education, will occur in the midst of active conflict, but for most of Africa, landmine clearance is taking place in areas where a peace treaty or at least a ceasefire is in place.  Afghanistan does provide an example of a country, very much in conflict, where landmine clearance is ongoing and tremendous strides have been made to reduce the threat of landmines to the population.  However, the Mine Ban Treaty, to which Senegal is a party, does not allow for delays in implementation due to conflict; parties to the Treaty are expected to meet their obligations as quickly as possible. Another important point that should be mentioned here is, relative to other African countries, the amount of land contaminated by landmines in Senegal is very small, a few square kilometers at most.

 

Background: The conflict, the peace process and the landmine problem

The conflict in Senegal is a low-intensity, separatist conflict.  The Casamance region, the southern portion of the country, bordering on Guinea-Bissau and separated from capitol, Dakar, and the majority of the country by The Gambia, was once a Portuguese colony that the French acquired prior to Senegal’s independence.  That separate history is the basis for the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance’s (MFDC) claim for independence from the rest of Senegal.  Historically, the Casamance has been the breadbasket of Senegal and more recently continues to receive significant tourism from Europe at the Club Med at Cap Skirring just north of the Guinea-Bissau border.  The conflict started in 1982 after agitations by members of Casamance’s religious community, labor unrest in the wake of structural adjustment reforms imposed by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, and, according to some sources, questionable refereeing decisions in a football match between teams from Ziguinchor, the provincial capitol of Casamance, and Dakar.  Members of the MFDC also point to a rumored promise from Senegal’s first president, Leopold Senghor, to grant independence to Casamance twenty years after Senegal achieved its own independence (Africa Portal; Wikipedia).

Senegal’s presidents, Leopold Senghor, Abdoulaye Wade and Macky Sall, have all promised to resolve the Casamance conflict.  Wade suggested he could do so within 100 days, but that pledge was made in 2000 when he was first elected and while he was able to sign a ceasefire in 2004 with the MFDC, the conflict intensified at the end of his term in 2011.  Macky Sall’s election in 2012 has sparked renewed peace efforts and Sall appears to be sincere in his desire to bring about an end to the three decades of conflict and engaged with the process.  At the same time, the rebels appear to be tired of conflict, especially after the intensified violence of 2011 and early 2012 (Guin Guin Bali; The Monitor).  Many of the original firebrands have passed away and there is an entire generation of the MFDC who has never known anything but the conflict.  The MFDC itself is no longer a single entity, but a loose assortment of factions, the two largest of which are controlled by Salif Sadio (Front Nord) and Cesar Badiate (Front Sud).  Over the years, the MFDC has been supported by The Gambia, whose current president Yahya Jammeh is a member of the Diola which is the dominant ethnicity in the Casamance, and Guinea-Bissau.  The Gambia and Guinea-Bissau have provided arms to the MFDC in exchange for cash, timber, cannabis and cashew, as well as safe havens within their borders.  Like all too many conflicts, the long duration of the conflict in the Casamance has created a “war economy” where the MFDC and some members of the Senegalese army have been able to exploit the conflict.  The war economy is seen by some observers as a key reason for the failure of peace negotiations as any peace would eliminate lucrative smuggling and extortion rackets that have enriched many of the local actors (Overseas Development Institute).

Despite the economic disincentives to peace, the majority of the Casamançais, including the membership of the MFDC, want the conflict to end.  Having been displaced from their homes and villages for decades, the old arguments of independence have worn thin for the Casamançais.  The time appears ripe for resolution.

In 2012, the US State Department’s Bureau of Conflict and Stabilization Operations (CSO) helped the US Embassy in Dakar monitor the presidential election.  After Macky Sall’s peaceful election and inauguration, the US Embassy and CSO offered to support Sall’s efforts to bring an end to the Casamance conflict.  For the US peace would mean an expanded opportunity for Senegal to participate in peacekeeping missions and a reduced potential space for Islamist extremists and drug traffickers to operate.  As part of CSO’s engagement, a senior Casamance Advisor has been posted to the Embassy in Dakar to provide in-person support and demonstrate the US’s commitment to the peace.  In addition to providing a Casamance Advisor, the US has also dedicated $1million to helping to support  peace talks between the MFDC and the Senegalese government hosted by the Community of Sant’Egidio; Demobilization, Disarmament, and Reintegration efforts; and to landmine clearance organizations (US State Department Briefing Paper).

The peace talks themselves are occurring along two tracks.  The first track, hosted by Sant’Egidio, is between the Sadio faction of the MFDC and the government of Senegal.  Multiple rounds of talks have been held in Rome and the process continues to move forward.  The second track, between the Badiate faction of the MFDC and the government of Senegal, is hosted by the former mayor of Ziguinchor, Robert Sagna, and an organization based in Guinea-Bissau, Djemberem di Cumpu Combersa (DDCC).  A third faction of the MFDC, the Diatta faction, made peace with the government of Senegal in 2013 and called upon fellow MFDC members to lay down their arms.  While some of Diatta’s followers have done so, others have joined the Badiate faction for the time being.

In the 1990s and possibly earlier, both the Senegalese army and the MFDC used anti-personnel landmines with the majority of the mines laid by the Senegalese army.  There is no evidence to suggest new mine usage since Senegal joined the Treaty and the MFDC has stated that they are not currently using landmines, but retain the right to do in the future.  Senegal was one of the first members of the Mine Ban Treaty, but has not demonstrated a strong commitment to the Treaty’s obligations and the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) questioned Senegal’s slow implementation of landmine clearance on several occasions.  To date, almost 15 years after the Treaty entered into force, Senegal still has not completely determined the extent of landmine contamination, but it is estimated at only 3.5 square kilometers, a little over one square mile.  Because of instability and security risks in the Casamance, mapping and marking of minefields did not begin until 2005 and landmine clearance did not begin until 2008 even though Senegal had committed to clearing all mines by 2009.  These self-imposed, almost negligent, delays forced Senegal to seek and receive a seven-year extension to its Treaty obligation to clear all landmines.  In 2012, a new mine action strategy was developed and Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) and Mechem joined Handicap International as active humanitarian demining organizations in Senegal.  With the arrival of NPA and Mechem, the speed of landmine clearance increased significantly and the capacity for clearance has increased further with the arrival of mine detection dogs and mechanical clearance devices. As of today, Senegal is required to clear all landmines by early 2016, a date that it could easily meet with the assets currently available.

 

Where are we today?

The Casamance peace talks, stalled in recent months, have recently restarted.  Sant’Egidio hosted negotiators from Sadio faction of the MFDC and the government of Senegal in Rome in November leading to an agenda for the negotiations.  Additional talks between the government and all the MFDC factions had been planned for December in Banjul, capitol of The Gambia, but those have been delayed until January at the earliest.  Because the MFDC is split into several factions with different structures and ideologies, reaching an agreement between the government of Senegal and the MFDC will likely involved reaching separate agreements with the factions.  Even though the Sadio faction is considered a hardline faction, willing to accept only independence, it is also smaller and more unified under its leader so an agreement with the Sadio faction may be easier than with the Badiate faction.  Badiate does not have nearly as strong a control over his members as Sadio does.

In terms of the conflict itself, there is a de facto ceasefire in place between the MFDC and the government, a ceasefire that began with Macky Sall’s election.  There has been some “banditry” but no confrontations between the sides, although there was the small matter of the kidnapping of Mechem’s deminers.

From the middle of 2012 until the kidnapping of the Mechem deminers in May 2013, tremendous progress had been made in landmine clearance in Senegal.  In less than a year, more land was cleared than had been cleared in the previous 13 years.  The Mechem team was clearing land in the “zone of occupation” near the Guinea-Bissau border and was working on minefields near two of the Badiate faction’s barracks.  The Badiate faction was worried that if those minefields were cleared, then the Senegalese army would have had a clear path to Badiate’s headquarters and so the deminers were kidnapped to halt the progress.  In addition to fears of an attack by the Senegalese army, the MFDC was alarmed at the presence of former Senegalese soldiers in the Mechem demining team and believed that the former soldiers were spies in active service to Dakar (they weren’t).  Despite this fear on the part of the MFDC, the deminers were well cared for during their captivity and the three female deminers were released after 25 days and the nine male deminers were released in July.  In response to the kidnapping, Senegal’s mine action authority suspended all demining activities in the Casamance, including activities in the areas controlled by the Sadio faction.

Just as the peace negotiations restarted in November, demining activities have also resumed.  At the end of November, Senegal’s mine action authority, the Centre National d’Action Antimines  au Sénégal (CNAMS) issued two new task dossiers for survey work in support of the rehabilitation of the R6 highway between Ziguinchor and Kolda.  The rehabilitation of the highway is one of several development initiatives in the Casamance supported by the US government and the World Bank.  One of the task dossiers called for survey of the stone quarries that will be the source of materials for the highway and the other dossier covered the highway and its shoulders.  Those dossiers provide work for two of the three international mine action operators, Handicap International (which is supported by the US State Department) and Mechem (which is supported by the European Union), but does not provide work for the third, Norwegian People’s Aid.  According to statements made by CNAMS, NPA is being held in “reserve” should additional clearance tasks be identified, but NPA is unaware of when any such tasks might be announced.  Also, the highway survey work being conducted by Handicap International is only survey work; if Handicap International were to find evidence of contamination, it would mark the suspected hazardous area, but have no responsibility for clearance under the current task dossier.  There is no timetable for clearance work along the highway.

Of the known minefields in Senegal, most are used to protect barracks and cash crop plantations.  There are some nuisance mines that have been scattered by the MFDC along paths and roadways, but these are few in number.  The minefields protecting Senegalese army barracks are mapped and the Senegalese army maintains these maps; the Senegalese government has no allowed HI, Mechem or NPA to map these minefields.  The minefields protecting MFDC barracks are not mapped.  Both the Senegalese army’s landmines and the MFDC’s landmines pose risks to internally displaced persons and refugees who are starting to return to their villages and their cashew and mango groves.  The displaced Casamançais are seeking to re-start their lives in their homes, but they are not aware of the locations of the mines because neither the Senegalese army nor the MFDC have marked the minefields.  The Senegalese army could very easily do so with the aid of their maps, but MFDC minefields would need to be identified through technical and non-technical survey.  It is very likely that returning Casamancais will be killed or injured by landmines if these minefields are not marked very soon, if not completely cleared.

Senegal has a responsibility and obligation to clear its landmines so as to protect those returning Casamançais.  Senegal signed the Kampala Convention on internally displaced persons (IDPs) (Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre) which requires states to provide for the safe return or relocation of IDPs.  The continuing threat of landmines in the villages of displaced persons would be a violation of the Kampala Convention.  As a signatory, Senegal is bound by the Convention which requires that displaced persons are provided with safe locations to live in, whether it is their former homes or new homes.  In addition Senegal is obligated under the Mine Ban Treaty to clear all of the landmines in its territory in the most expeditious manner possible. While Senegal officially has until 2016 to clear its landmines, any delay or wastage of resources would be unacceptable.  As such, the use of minefields by the Senegalese army for defensive purposes could be a violation of the Mine Ban Treaty.

 

The Opportunity, Landmines as a Peacebuilding Tool

There is precedent for mine action as a peacebuilding tool.  The organization, Geneva Call, has used its Deed of Commitment to the Mine Ban Treaty as a means of engaging non-state actors like the MFDC and encouraging them to adhere to the humanitarian principles of the Mine Ban Treaty.  In post-conflict reconstruction, mine action projects have provided opportunities for former opponents from governments and rebel groups to cooperate to determine the extent of landmine contamination and clear the mines.  Niger presents a recent example of this, an example that has been help up for Mali, a neighbor to Senegal.  The US State Department is using mine action as a peacebuilding tool in Burma and is working with partners to bring together actors in Senegal through mine action.

Several people have indicated to me that the newest round of landmine survey and clearance, under the task dossiers issued by the CNAMS in November, should be viewed as a confidence building measure between the government of Senegal and the Badiate faction of the MFDC.  In the most recent round of negotiations between Senegal and the Badiate faction, Badiate said he would allow landmine survey of the R6 highway and to show its commitment to the negotiations, the government is limiting its current clearance activities to the highway.  However, there are probably other opportunities for mine action that could be used as confidence building activities.

First, the defensive minefields maintained by the Senegalese army around its barracks could be cleared; frankly, these minefields should have been cleared long ago.  Since these fields are under the control of the Senegalese army, the permission and acceptance of the Badiate faction should not be required to clear the mines.  And the clearance of the defensive minefields would demonstrate the confidence and the commitment the Senegalese army has to the peace process.  Second, the MFDC has expressed an interest in participating in the demining process.  Just as the mine action operators have hired some former Senegalese soldiers, the operators could also hire and train some former MFDC members, especially those from the Diatta faction which has laid down its arms. The mine action operators could also interview the MFDC factions as part of a non-technical survey process to determine the extent of landmine usage by the MFDC over the years of the conflict.  This kind of cooperation on mine action occurred between former rebels and the government of Niger.  Last, the government and the MFDC factions should agree on other areas for landmine survey and clearance.  For example, there are landmines in areas under the control of the Sadio faction on which agreement could be reached for clearance; an urgent need since most landmine casualties in recent years have occurred near the border with The Gambia (The Monitor).  It was the Badiate faction, not the Sadio faction, who kidnapped Mechem’s deminers, so landmine clearance in the northern sections of the Casamance need not have been suspended.

The alternative to creating more opportunities for mine action would be to release the existing assets in Senegal for use elsewhere.  In its statement at the 13th Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty, the ICBL responded to Senegal’s statement by saying, “Senegal should make the best possible use of the landmine clearance methods available, and ensure that only confirmed hazardous areas are cleared, which does not always seem to be the case” (AP Mine Ban Convention).  This statement reflects the fact that the R6 highway and its shoulders are not believed to be contaminated with landmines and that while Mechem and Handicap International have been provided with task orders, Norwegian People’s Aid has not.  Therefore, CNAMS has requested survey of a mine-free area while failing to fully employ the landmine clearance assets at its disposal.  This is wasteful and the ICBL was right to call Senegal out for this and Norwegian People’s Aid has made it clear that NPA is not interested in task orders for survey or clearance of areas with no justification for mine action activities.  If Senegal cannot agree with the Badiate faction to allow for other areas to be surveyed, then Senegal should communicate this to the mine action operators so that they may re-deploy their assets to other countries instead of needlessly wasting limited donor funds and people’s time.  Having so many demining organizations in Senegal also gives the false impression that more is being done to clear the minefields than is truly happening; that false impression may encourage more displaced Casamançais to return to mine-infested villages and groves.

It is entirely reasonable and plausible for CNAMS to withhold permission for landmine clearance activities in areas where the safety of deminers cannot be guaranteed.  But Senegal should be honest with the mine action operators about this situation.  To hold NPA and its mine-detection dogs, “in reserve,” as Senegal stated in Geneva is irresponsible, but if Senegal is concerned about security (and again, this is a valid and reasonable concern given recent history), Senegal should be honest with NPA so that NPA may choose whether to wait “in reserve” or to try and mobilize elsewhere.  If the current security situation allows for very limited activities, the CNAMS should inform its partners of this fact; after all, confidence building with one’s opponents is important, but maintaining your friends’ trust is equally so.

In some conflicts, landmine victims represent only a small portion of the total number of casualties, but in the Casamance, landmines have killed or injured more than 800 people in 24 years (The Monitor) while the conflict overall has killed about 5,000 people over 30 years of conflict (Guin Guin Bali).  The high proportion of casualties from landmines reflects the low-intensity of the conflict (for comparison, the current conflict in South Sudan has killed more than 1,000 people in less than a month with no reported casualties from landmines); the continuing and immediate threat from landmines is demonstrated by the fact that landmines have caused more than 50 casualties between 2011 and 2012.

 

Recommendations

Mine action and landmine clearance can and should be part of the peace negotiations between the government of Senegal and the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance.  Too many lives are threatened by the continuing presence of landmines in the Casamance, landmines laid by both sides in minefields that the Senegalese army and the MFDC continue to rely on for defensive purposes.  As negotiations proceed, landmine clearance tasks should be agreed upon and other mine action activities, especially mine risk education for returning displaced persons, allowed to continue.

  • Recommendation # 1: Include landmine clearance on the agenda for peace negotiations, starting with the planned talks in Banjul in January 2014 and future talks in Rome.
  • Recommendation # 2: A true cease-fire is necessary to provide the space for mine action organizations to work.  The cease-fire should also recognize the right of demining teams to operate according to their own guidelines for prioritization and needs.
  • Recommendation # 3: Senegal must admit the extent of the minefields laid by its soldiers and share the maps of the minefields with the CNAMS.  These minefields represent the majority of the landmine contamination in Senegal and need to be prioritized for clearance and that can only happen if the army is transparent about the minefields it has laid.
  • Recommendation # 4: If the MFDC finds the presence of former Senegalese soldiers in demining teams objectionable, the MFDC should clearly state that; if the MFDC finds the absence of their own current or former members in demining teams objectionable, the MFDC should clearly state that.  Mine action organizations should be free to hire the best persons for the tasks at hand, but they also need to be made aware of any possible security concerns prior to deploying those persons.
  • Recommendation # 5: Involve all parties to the conflict in landmine survey and clearance. After recent conflicts in Niger, the two sides to the conflicts cooperated to map and clear landmines used by the combatants.  This model could be replicated in the Casamance and demonstrate the commitment of all parties to a cease-fire and eventual peace agreement.
  • Recommendation # 6: The countries supporting mine action in Senegal need to cooperate to agree upon the short-term and long-term goals of their support. The United States is simultaneously supporting key negotiations between the government of Senegal and the MFDC and the demining task orders issued to Handicap International.  In this situation, the priority for the United States is to see a negotiated settlement to the conflict.  The European Union and the governments of Germany and Norway are supporting landmine clearance for the sake of landmine clearance.  Because the United States is not a party to the Mine Ban Treaty, it has not made the same commitments to clearance and cooperation that the other donors have made.

Several people were killed or injured by landmines in the Casamance in 2013, including children.  Unfortunately, more will suffer the same fate in 2014.  Senegal has the opportunity to eliminate this threat and the obligation to do so under the Mine Ban Treaty.  Landmine action can provide an avenue for collaboration and peacebuilding with the MFDC and to fail to attempt to do so is unacceptable.

Michael P. Moore

January 10, 2014

 

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