On Friday afternoon, some young people in the Casamance village of Kandiadiou, in the district of Sindian near the border with The Gambia border, were on a horse-drawn cart returning from the weekly Friday jumu’ah congregational prayers. Suddenly there was a loud bang and a violent explosion.
The hooves of the horse or the wheels of the cart had stepped on or rolled over a land mine. It’s the last days of the monsoon rains and there was a downpour over night. Old mines remain in the crop fields and when it rains they appear, dredged up by the splashing water.
Casamance is home to one of Africa’s oldest ongoing conflicts. Insurrectionists led by the MFDC have been fighting the Senegalese government troops for an independent separate homeland and the violence has claimed thousands of lives since breaking out in 1982. The mine that exploded on Friday was believed to be a remnant from previous fighting.
Despite efforts to remove mines buried by both the military and the rebels throughout the conflict, they continue to claim civilian lives. Friday’s tragic incident is a reminder that a lot more work needs to be done to demine the region. The Senegalese government has been working on demining the trouble spots in the province but thousands of Casamançais continue to live in fear of being blown up by undetected mines.
The peril of landmines in the Casamance should be a concern of the people and the government of The Gambia since thousands of Gambians freely go into and come out of the Casamance on a daily basis and therefore are in imminent danger of losing life or limb from the mines.
Some estimates suggest there be as many as 110 million landmines buried in the 60 or so countries contaminated by these deadly devices. The numbers of men, women and children killed and – more often, maimed – by landmines have started to increase again because of these conflicts. In 2015 about 6,500 people were killed or injured from landmines worldwide. Most of the victims were civilians and roughly one-third were children.
Despite these challenges, it is possible to clear a country of landmines. After 22 years of hard work, Mozambique was declared free of mines in 2015. Over 200,000 landmines were removed or destroyed from 17 million square miles of land. The Senegalese government should marshal regional and even global help to clear the forests of the Casamance of landmines.
There has been concerted efforts to ban mines in recent years, but landmines don’t yet belong to history. In 1997 the Mine Ban Treaty banned the manufacture, stockpiling and use of anti-personnel mines by the 162 countries that have signed the act. While it has reduced the numbers of landmines in use, for those that didn’t it is almost business as usual. Major arms producers such as the United States, Russia, and China have retained huge stockpiles of mines. India, Myanmar, Pakistan and South Korea still manufacture them – and others reserve the right to. What is needed is a comprehensive global landmine ban treaty that is enforceable.