The region I was staying in, the Casamance, was at the centre of a dispute between the central government and the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance, which sought independance for the region. Their reason was that the Diola, who were the majority in the area, didn’t feel the nation’s Wolof majority were giving them a fair shake in the governing of the country.
I knew that the MDFC and the army often clashed violently and that there have been a few attempts at a peace accord, the most recent of which was signed in 2004. Despite all this, when I was there, my host family was reluctant to give me details of the dispute. After I left, I kept in contact with some of host family but an eruption of violence sent many of them to refugee camps in neighbouring countries and I lost touch.
The children in the photo above would be in their twenties now, assuming they’re still alive, living with conflict as a part of their everyday lives. Assuming they still live in the area, they’re also likely raising children of their own in an area that’s also heavily landmined.
Last week, 17 cashew farmers had their left ears cut off by men claiming to be part of the MDFC, telling their victims that they were in their territory. The leaders of the movement quickly denounced the actions, saying that civilians are not to be targeted. Sometimes the line between a rebel group with legitimate greivances and a gang of thugs can be a thin one.