Over the past few months, we have reconvened a civil society network from our earlier work in the Casamance with the skilled facilitation of our Senegalese Peacebuilding Associate, Joachim Diene. In April 2014, Joachim and Karuna Center director Olivia Dreier held community meetings that included a total of 407 people from 46 villages in the region of Oussouye. They also took three excursions to meet with rebel encampments in the surrounding forests. During these meetings, community members in the region made clear recommendations for the peace negotiations, based in the recognition of their economic, political, and cultural rights as well as the need to successfully reintegrate combatants. These community members told us they are willing to do everything in their power to support the peace process, and have decided to call their combatants home. Yet for this to happen, they explained, the rebels will have to first make peace with their ancestors and undo the spiritual protections and vows they took when they went to war. In traditional Casamancais belief systems, ignoring these sacred commitments could bring death or harm upon a combatant or their loved ones.
Two hundred priestesses of the sacred forest in Oussouye have agreed to hold a regional three-day ceremony, before the rainy season begins this summer, to formally undo the combatants’ sacred commitments and allow them safe return to their communities. Karuna Center has taken the lead in raising funds to support the ceremonial expenses and is integrating this event with ongoing peacebuilding efforts to support local communities and reintegrate rebels.
It is said that in the Casamance, “each village is a republic.” Peace will not automatically come with the signing of an agreement; it must be built village by village. The ceremonial removal of wartime protections is a courageous step to pressure both rebels and government officials to reach a peace agreement in good faith.
Learn more about Karuna Center's work in Senegal.