BMI View: Senegalese President Macky Sall is on a three-day visit to the Casamance, the southern Senegal region whence a low-level separatist conflict has been waged for thirty years, in order to reaffirm his commitment to a peaceful settlement. Any concrete resolution to the intractable conflict would remove a key source of terrorism risk in the country, and would provide a significant boost to Sall's political ratings.
The Casamance is the southern region of Senegal, bordered by Gambia to the north and Guinea Bissau to the south. Ethnically predominately Jola (or Diola), as opposed to the Wolof that dominate the rest of the country, the region is also apart in terms of language and colonial heritage, having been administered by the Portuguese (rather than France in the remainder of Senegal). For the past thirty years there has been a separatist movement emanating from the region, led by the Mouvement des Forces Démocratiques de Casamance (MFDC), which has sporadically flared up with violence.
Committed To Finding Peace
During his election campaign current Senegalese President, Macky Sall, said that 'Our priority is the definitive resolution of the Casamance crisis through inclusive dialogue.' Sall has differed from previous Senegalese presidents in that he has declared his intention to deal with all rebels, rather than only moderates, in order to find a lasting peace - even those that have not laid down their arms (the MFDC has a number of factions operating under its umbrella). Talks with some of the most hardline rebels have been brokered by a Rome-based NGO, the Community Sant'Egidio's. In November 2013 it was reported that representatives from the MFDC and the government had agreed on an agenda for peace negotiations, and the region is likely to be granted some measure of autonomy.
It remains to be seen whether any lasting peace will be found during these latest negotiations. The Casamance dispute is long running and has deep-seated roots, and any step towards greater freedom for the region could ultimately just strengthen calls for a split from Senegal. Divisions within the region itself further muddy the waters and make a lasting settlement even more elusive. Further, the dispute is not merely ethnic and political but also economic, with many in the region feeling that they contribute more to Senegalese coffers than they receive in terms of development funding.
A paucity of infrastructure has hampered development in the Casamance, further fuelling discontent. To this end the Senegalese government has embarked on a programme - the Casamance Development Pole Project - aimed at boosting agricultural production, improving access to rural communities through constructing roads, and seeking to disarm rebel groups. This programme is being supported by the World Bank, with funding of XOF20bn.
Will Sall Enjoy A Peace Dividend?
Should Sall be successful in securing a peace deal with the MFDC's various factions, we believe that the president's ratings would get a significant boost. This would grant him considerable political leverage with which to continue the reform agenda on which he was elected in 2012 ( see 'Donor Pledges Offer Encouragement For Sall's Reforms').
The peaceful resolution of the conflict would also improve our political risk and defence ratings for the country. Despite being a bastion of political stability in the region, with a well-established tradition of democratic elections - a relative anomaly in coup-prone francophone West Africa - the threat of terrorist attacks stemming from the separatist movement in the Casamance drags down our Defence ratings for Senegal. The headline Security Risk rating for the country is 64.6 (out of 100), slightly higher than the average of 63.9 across the 37 Sub-Saharan African countries for which we carry ratings at present. Senegal's composite security rating would have been higher were it not scored below average for Terrorism Risk - 58.3, compared to 58.8. Any reduction in the risk of terrorism would be a boost for Senegal's - and the Casamance's - tourism sectors, and encourage foreign investment. However, while Sall appears strongly committed to resolving the Casamance question, these are yet early days in the most recent negotiations around the thirty-year dispute.