Forgotten Enclaves: Casamance & Guinea Bissau

J.B. Russell

2014 - Ongoing

Senegal

Guinea Bissau and Senegal’s southern region of Casamance are geographically and culturally isolated. Guinea Bissau is a lusophone country surrounded by francophone neighbors and besieged by political instability, corruption and drug trafficking. Although Senegal is often regarded as a model of democracy and stability, West Africa’s longest running conflict, a low level independence struggle led by the Mouvement des Forces Démoratiques de Casamance (MFDC), has been going on in Casamance for more than 30 years with serious consequences for the population and largely unreported in the media. Senegal’s government and population are primarily Wolof, but the majority of Casamançais are Diola. Unlike most ethnic groups of West Africa, the Diola have no caste system. Their communities are based on extended clan settlements with a highly egalitarian organization and collective consciousness. Their culture is profoundly linked to nature and their environment. Although many have accepted Islam, their traditional beliefs are in one God (Ata Emit) "The Master of the Universe" and spirits such as Kankouran and Bakin that protect their families, communities and sacred forests. The conflict in Casamance was born from a sense of neglect and economic disenfranchisement by the central government in Dakar and over control of the region’s rich natural resources and tourism potential.

Economic activity and social life are centered along the region’s rivers, tributaries and waterways, its mangroves, forests, rice fields and beaches. Most communities sustain themselves through fishing, rice cultivation, cashew nut orchards and palm oil and wine production. Casamance and Guinea Bissau are also on the front lines of the battle against climate change. The region is home to one of Africa’s most important mangrove forests. The rich biodiversity in mangrove forests make them excellent carbon sinks and essential in the fight against global warming. According to a recent study by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP), mangroves are being destroyed at a rate three to five times faster than global deforestation. The report called mangrove forests “one of the most endangered ecosystems on the planet.” In Casamance, drought and rising sea levels due to climate change have caused the salinization of the delicate mangrove ecosystem. Salinization, along with over exploitation, have led to the destruction and degradation of large swaths of mangroves. In turn, fish stocks have declined dramatically, rice paddies have been inundated by salt water and agricultural land rendered unsuitable for cultivation, adversely affecting the food security and way of life of the local population. The combined effects of conflict and climate change have drastically reduced livelihood opportunities in the region causing large numbers of youths to emigrate in search of work and a better future. Many disappear in the desert conflicts of Mali and Libya or crossing the Mediterranean in an attempt to reach Europe.

From conflict to climate change to human migration, the forgotten enclaves of Casamance and Guinea Bissau are paradoxically at the forefront of some of the most critical issues of our time, issues that are profoundly related to the region’s unique culture and natural environment. Relative stability in Guinea Bissau, the election of Senegal’s president Macky Sall and a unilateral cease-fire by the MFDC have led to tentative prospects that an end to the Casamance conflict is perhaps possible. This project is meant to shed light on the extraordinary natural beauty, culture and potential of the region as well as the issues that must be addressed if a lasting peace and sustainable development are to take hold at this crucial juncture in the region’s history.

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  • A village elder emerges from the forest near his community in the Casamance region of southern Senegal. The Jola (Diola) people are an ancient ethnic group that predominate in Casamance. Unlike most ethnic groups of West Africa, the Jola have no caste system. Their communities are based on extended clan settlements with a highly egalitarian organization and collective consciousness. Their culture is profoundly linked to nature and their environment. Diagho, Senegal. 10/11/2014.

  • Vehicles and passengers cross the mangroves by boat to join the town of Marsassoum. The remoteness of the region and lack of infrastructure impedes development and contributes to the non-sustainable exploitation and degradation of natural resources. Marsassoum, Senegal. 10/11/2014.

  • A family moving through the mangroves in a pirogue at low tide. The coastal mangroves of Guinea Bissau and southern Senegal are some of the most important in Africa. Rising sea levels and drought due to global warming and climate change are causing the salinization of the complex mangrove wetland ecosystem with adverse affects on the fauna and flora of the region. Mangroves harbor an extraordinary amount of bio mass and are exceptional carbon sinks. Their destruction not only affects local populations, but also the worldwide fight against global warming and climate change. Canchungo, Guinea Bissau. 05/11/2014.

  • A fisherman casts his net at sunrise in the mangroves of Guinea Bissau. The mangrove wetlands of Guinea Bissau and southern Senegal are the most important in all of Africa. Drought and rising sea levels due to global warming and climate change, as well as human activity, are causing the salinization and destruction of the delicate ecosystem. Mangroves harbor an extraordinary amount of bio mass and are exceptional carbon sinks. Their destruction not only affects local populations, but also the worldwide fight against global warming and climate change. Canchungo, Guinea Bissau. 16/11/2014.

  • Fishermen controlling fish stocks on the Soungrougrou River near a protected area where bamboo stakes have been planted to recreate an environment similar to the mangrove roots that once were the breeding grounds for commercial fish stocks. The initiative hopes to improve fishing conditions and the livelihoods of local communities that have been devastated by the loss of mangrove forests. Marsassoum, Senegal. 16/04/2016.

  • In a landscape of devastated mangroves along the banks of the Soungrougrou River in the Casamance region of Senegal, a fisherman pulls in a largely empty net. Locals and many experts believe that drought and rising sea levels caused by climate change have resulted in the increased salinization of the mangrove ecosystem and the degradation of large swaths of West African mangrove forests. The destruction of the mangroves has had significant, detrimental consequences on fish stocks, wildlife and the livelihoods of local inhabitants. The biomass that mangrove forests harbor makes them excellent carbon sinks in the fight against global warming. According to a recent report by the UNEP, mangrove forests worldwide are being destroyed at a rate three to five times faster than global deforestation, making them one of the most threatened ecosystems on the planet. Marsassoum, Senegal. 05/12/2015.

  • Local fishermen clean their nets along the banks of the Casamance River. Fishing is crucial to the local economy. Rising sea levels and drought due to global warming and climate change are causing the salinization of the unique mangrove ecosystem of the coastal zone, with adverse affects on the fish, shrimp and shellfish stocks that local communities depend on for their livelihoods. Sédhiou, Senegal. 12/11/2014.

  • Young men linger at the fishing port at low tide in the mangroves. Lack of employment opportunities, development and a decline in the traditional way of life have pushed many youths to migrate to cities and abroad in search of work. Canchungo, Guinea Bissau. 04/11/2014.

  • Fishermen in traditional wooden pirogues arrive on the beaches of Kafountine in the Casamance region of Senegal. Thousands of tons of fish are smoked, salted and dried along the beaches and exported throughout the region, playing a crucial role in the local economy. However, not enough has been done to protect the region's natural resources. Illegal fishing by foreign trawlers and the degradation of the mangrove ecosystem, the breeding habitat for many fish species, have drastically reduced fish stocks and hurt local fishing communities. Kafountine, Senegal. 08/11/2014.

  • Fish drying on wooden racks along the beaches of Casamace. Thousands of tons of fish are smoked, salted, dried and exported throughout West Africa from the region, playing a crucial role in the local economy. The coastal zone of Casmance is home to Africa's most important mangrove wetlands. The cutting of wood to feed the fish smoking operations have severely affected the mangroves forests of the region. Mangrove forests are vital “carbon sinks” for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the fight against climate change. In a recent report, the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) called mangrove forests “one of the most threatened ecosystems on the planet.” Kafountine, Senegal. 08/11/2014.

  • Fish smoking ovens on the beach in the Casamace region of Senegal. Thousands of tons of fish are smoked, salted, dried and exported throughout the region every year, playing a crucial role in the local economy. The coastal zone of Casmance is home to Africa's most important mangrove wetlands. The cutting of wood to feed the fish smoking operations have severely affected the mangroves and the forests of the region. Kafountine, Senegal. 08/11/2014.

  • A tourism complex built by an Italian group crumbled onto the beach due to rising sea levels and coastal erosion. Just a year earlier, although threatened, the buildings were still intact on the bluff. Climate change has caused the sea to encroach on the coastline at an alarming rate in recent years with severe affects on infrastructure, agriculture and coastal communities. Varela, Guinea Bissau. 13/12/2015.

  • A man baths in the Casamance River. The remoteness of the region and lack of infrastructure impedes development and contributes to the non-sustainable exploitation and degradation of natural resources. Bambaly, Senegal. 12/11/2014.

  • Prosper Diatta, a farmer, observes a breach in the levies that protect his rice paddies caused by unusually strong storms and exceptionally high tides. The inundation of his rice fields by salt water and the increasing salinization of the soil due to the effects of climate change along the coastal region of Guinea Bissau have drastically reduced Diatta's rice harvest, jeopardizing his family's food security and livelihood. Varela, Guinea Bissau. 12/12/2015.

  • Prosper Diatta, a farmer, protects his remaining rice fields from birds by cracking a rope to scare them away after unusually strong storms and exceptionally high tides breached the levies that protect his rice paddies, destroying a large portion of his harvest. The inundation of his rice fields by salt water and the increasing salinization of the soil along the coastal region of Guinea Bissau due to climate change induced drought and rising sea levels have drastically reduced Diatta's rice harvest, jeopardizing his family's food security and livelihood. Varela, Guinea Bissau. 12/12/2015.

  • The skeletal remains of hundreds of mangrove trees mark barren flats along the Soungrougrou River where dense mangroves once flourished in the Casamance region of Senegal. The region is home to one of the world's most important mangrove forests, however large areas of the forests have been dying off in recent years. Locals and experts believe that drought and rising sea levels due to climate change have caused the increased salinization of the unique mangrove ecosystem leading to the degradation of large swaths of mangrove forests with detrimental consequences on biodiversity, fish stocks and the livelihoods of local inhabitants. According to a recent report by the UNEP, the world's mangroves are being destroyed at a rate three to five times faster than global deforestation. The report calls mangrove forests "one of the most threatened ecosystems on the planet." Marsassoum, Senegal. 16/04/2016.

  • Youths at a ceremony to honor the death of an important figure in their community who had been an immigrant in Europe. They are discussing jobs, opportunities and the option of emigrating to larger cities or abroad in search of a better future. Canchungo, Guinea Bissau. 11/04/2016.

  • Women carry dried crusts of dirt scrapped from former rice patties that have become too salinized to produce rice. Faced with the loss of their rice fields, the women collect the salt rich surface layer of the rice fields, filter the salt water of the river through the dirt crusts to make a salt rich brine which is then used to make solar salt through the process of evaporation. The solar salt production helps compensate families for the loss of their rice yields and does not damage the local forests compared to the wood burning evaporation process. Diafar Douma, Senegal. 20/04/2016.

  • A member of the women's Salt Producers Association (APROSAL). Many former rice fields that have become too salinized to continue cultivating rice are being transformed into salt producing basins. Capatrice, Guinea Bissau. 12/11/2014.

  • Bassirou Sambou submerged in an estuary that runs through the mangroves near his community in the Casamace region of southern Senegal. Drought and rising sea levels caused by climate change have caused the salinization of the mangrove's unique ecosystem. As a result, large swaths of mangrove forests and the rich biodiversity that they harbor have been destroyed or degraded in the region. The way of life and culture of the Jola (Diola) people, an ancient ethnic group that predominate in Casamance, is profoundly linked to their environment. Their traditional livelihoods are based around rice farming and fishing. As the mangroves died off, fish stocks disappeared and rice patties were invaded by salt water, Bassirou Sambou and his friend Salatou Sambou created the Kawawana association (an acronym for "Let's all preserve our patrimony" in the local dialect). The association has managed to replant thousands of mangrove trees and have the entire area declared an "Aire du Patrimoine Autochtone et Communautaire" (An Area of Aboriginal and Community Heritage) which allows them to protect and regulate the exploitation of the area's natural resources. Their initiative has become a model for many other communities in the region who face similar climate change threats. Mangagoulack, Casamance, Senegal. 17/04/2016.


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