The Front Line

Trip Start Apr 27, 2010
1
13
23
Trip End Oct 26, 2010


Loading Map
Map your own trip!
Map Options
Show trip route
Hide lines
shadow

Flag of Senegal  , Ziguinchor,
Sunday, July 18, 2010

Today we visited the village of Bambidinka which has previously been the front line of the conflict and as a result caused mass displacement. It was previously a rebel base and although many were displaced internally, many did also flee across the Guinea-Bissau border as it lies approx 9kms away. Like I imagined, there was a heavy security/ military presence and ID was needed most of the time – I sometimes get angry at the need for the military to parade guns and weapons in your presence but at the same time this area was seriously damaged by the conflict and there is still much fear and suspicion.

We spent the morning with Tidian a close friend/ colleague of Martins and who also happens to be the newest village chief – It is clear that the events in the village have affected him in many ways and is now trying to encourage villagers to start again and re-build their lives. The first thing I noticed was the open well in the village. Unlike in Gambia where the majority of refugee hosting communities have at least 1 hand pump for clean drinking water, the communities this side of the border struggle to obtain fresh, clean water and still use open wells. I can only assume that although assistance has been provided to encourage return and the rebuilding of shelter, there have not been available funds to input sustainable water devices.

One of the first things I noticed was the military presence within the village itself – I asked how villagers felt about this and as I expected there was a mixed response. Of course, given the history there was a need for military presence within the village because the conflict is still on-going and it is known that rebels are based in and along the Guinea Bissau border. However, it is not ideal living under military control because it has been known that the soldiers do not limit themselves only to security control. In the past, soldiers have chased after the local women, have not necessarily stopped all movement through the controls (this then brings up the subject of the Senegalese military fuelling the war economy that is leaking through) and have previously put impositions on villagers – villagers have enough to work with but in some cases also have to help soldiers with various military needs e.g. wood for bunkers etc. On the whole, the villagers understand the military presence but also admit that it is not an easy relationship and life will be easier when the presence is gone.

The other significantly noticeable aspect of this community is the sheer size of bush and woodland – This village was displaced for a period of 15 years and as a result when people have returned they have then needed to clear 15years worth of forest – an uneasy task I imagine! In many cases you can see the mounds of where houses/ compounds used to be but have now been covered completely by the surrounding woodland. Villagers only really started to return back in 2007 and it is astonishing how much has been cleared but at the same time rather depressing how much is still to be done! Many return villages have relocated themselves to a smaller, compact geographical space as a result of the conflict but when villagers have returned to Bambidinka, they have chosen to return to their original compounds and have not chosen to move closer together. This has in the past caused issues especially with land mines but I wonder if it's also an opportunity for villagers to make clear that they will not let the conflict affect them anymore!

Like many people in this region, the main cash crop here is cashews as you can sell the nuts and the wine in order to sustain a livelihood. At present there is not much individual trade due to poor transport links, lack of markets and the volatility of the area but there are agents (middlemen) in the area that trade with individuals and then sell the produce on in Ziguinchor. Also, like Gambia, Guinea Bissau is much cheaper for commodities such as oil and sugar so although at present there is little cross-border trade, people do cross the border to stock up on other items.

At the time of displacement, 10 families fled to Guinea Bissau and have all since returned but not to Bambidinka. Most of them live in Ziguinchor or in the suburbs. Some do seasonally migrate to farm their lands but do not necessarily have shelter. There has been little assistance within this village and those who have repatriated from across the border were exploited by the local Guinean population. In comparison with Casamance refugees in The Gambia who have experienced full integration within society, Casamancais within Guinea Bissau have endured difficult conditions and is a primary reason why so many have willingly returned to Casamance! We are travelling to Guinea Bissau next week and it will be interesting to see how this story relates to the situation across the border.

Our journey back from the village was slightly depressing. I think we all had seen for ourselves what the conflict had done to villages and its inhabitants and it was difficult to watch how people are trying to rebuild their lives again. However, we did stop off at the Hotel Djiola on the outskirts of Ziguinchor which is a hotel revamped to a former glory and to reintroduce tourism into the region. Maybe it is me being a poor student but the place was too expensive for my liking – give me Hotel La Relais any day!!! The rooms and scenery were lovely and would be a nice place to visit in season!

We had our dinner at the fancy Hotel Kadiandoumagne which is the place to be in Ziguinchor - Actually like Gambia and its lack of social life, it is probably the only place to be for dinner/drinks. If I am honest, I love the place, the views and the setting is fab and it does very nice food - However I still can't seem to understand how they can get away with charging the prices it does - but again this is a poor student speaking - I will be looking forward to a time when I am no longer  poor.

Tomorrows agenda is WFP (PAM) and the ICRC (Red Cross) so fingers crossed we will get somewhere – and then Tuesday we are off to Guinea Bissau!! I am quite excited (plus another stamp in the passport)

Charlie-Ray
Slideshow Report as Spam

Use this image in your site

Copy and paste this html: