Background to the Senegal interviews
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Background to the Senegal interviews19 décembre 2014
The narrators come from different villages in Senegal's southern province of Casamance. Some 40 kilometres from the coast, these villages are in Bignona department, in Casamance's Ziguinchor region. Since 1982 the whole province has been plagued by armed conflict between the government and Casamance's movement for independence: Mouvement des Forces Démocratiques de Casamance (MFDC). Once a thriving agricultural area, the province has become the poorest in the country.
Farming remains the main source of income in the villages of Casamance. The key crops cultivated are rice, groundnuts, maize, sorghum and beans, and people also grow fruit trees. The soil has become impoverished, and farmers lack the means to buy fertilizer. Changes in the rain cycle have also created challenges for traditional farming methods, and new kinds of equipment and different types of seed are required to continue farming successfully. Again, these are out of reach for most farmers.
Other livelihood options include fishing, masonry and small-scale trading. Many people migrate to Gambia to do these last two activities. As alternative sources of income are so scarce, many villagers rely on making and selling charcoal. As a result, uncontrollable tree felling is widespread and some tree species have become extinct in the province.
There is a large number of women's groups in the district which run agricultural and non-farm activities, mainly trading, selling local soap etc. Women also process palm oil to generate income.
Facilities and services/infrastructure
Access to education is limited in Casamance. The few schools lack educational equipment and materials. Many parents struggle to find the money for their children's school fees.
Access to healthcare in the district is also limited. There is a lack of skilled personnel at the medical centres, and certain drugs are unavailable. Moreover, many people lack the means to pay for health services.
The wells used for drinking water are very deep, yet they still dry up at certain times of the year. The local rain cycle is also changing – the period of rain has become shorter, reducing the overall supply. There are water taps, but in at least two of the narrators' villages they are not working, and women have to travel long distances to get drinking water.
The impact of conflict
The continuing armed conflict has had a disruptive impact on every aspect of people's lives and livelihoods in Casamance. Thousands of people have been killed over the decades and many more have been injured or maimed by landmines. Most young men have fled to the capital, Dakar, to find work, so that many villages are populated by old men, young children, and women. Because of the recurring violence people fear going to the fields to complete their everyday farming tasks. Some villages have been abandoned because of fears for safety, and people have had to start from scratch in a completely new setting.
The partner organisation
Panos Institute West Africa (PIWA) is a regional NGO, created in 2000. The organization contributes to democratizing communication, and consolidating public space for open African societies, where citizens' opinions are illuminated and voices amplified. PIWA, as with Panos London, is part of a global not-for-profit network promoting the participation of poor and marginalized people in international development debates through media and communication projects. PIWA seeks to strengthen public debates and political dialogue on key development issues in Africa, and supports the production and broadcasting of quality media content, produced by African people. Panos London worked closely on this project with Ibrahima Sané, who is a consultant work for PIWA in the area of oral testimony and community radio programmes.