Amidst conflict between Senegalese Army and separatist Movement of the Democratic Forces of Casamance, MFDC, traditional rule is making a huge impact in promoting peace, reducing hunger and addressing unemployment, especially in the Oussouye, a community in Casamance, south of Senegal.
King Sibiloumbaye Diedhiou of Bubadjum Ayi kingdom uses cultural practices in promoting peaceful coexistence among the diverse tribes in the community.
The Casamance region is endowed with natural resources including dense forests and beautiful beaches. The region has been bedeviled with conflict which date back to more than four decades between government forces and the MFDC. It has flared into civil war on more than one occasion.
Autonomy of Casamance to manage its natural resources; which the separatists believe is used in developing the northern part of the country, is the main factor of the conflict.
The Oussouye community like others is not left out of the conflict. But king Diedhiou is using unique traditional norms in promoting peace through peaceful negotiations.
Speaking through an interpreter, during a visit to Oussouye by a group of journalists, the king mentioned rendering of apology and forgiveness as being central to his conflict resolution mechanism but stated that fines are imposed on severe offenses or destructions.
The king stated that the area abounds in land for grazing cattle “so anyone whose cattle destroy people’s crops will be asked to pay. If the destruction is huge, the cattle owner will be asked to pay installments” He said following such traditional conflict resolutions, “ inhabitants of the community move freely at night because there is peace”.
King Sibiloumbaye Diedhiou who always wears a red gown and holds a tired broom which symbolizes authority said “when I hit the ground with the broom before contending parties my decision rules and the issues are resolved.” He said his conflict resolution approach has drastically reduced the presence of the police in the area.
A social intervention programme, the king has established is based on agriculture is addressing the food security needs of the needy.
He said “people in need of food are provided with bagged food; mostly rice which are placed at their doorstep at night.”
This gesture he explained is to prevent stigmatization and to also fulfill scriptures about giving alms quoted in Matthew 6:3-4. He noted that this is done discreetly that the receivers of the supply don’t even know the distributors. To sustain the social programme, residents dedicate every Thursday to work on the King’s farm.
Since culture plays an integral part of the Oussouye community, an annual festival dating back to over four decades is held from September 30th-October 2nd. During the event, known as the Omabole Cultural festival, all the four families in the kingdom display their traditions and customs. This the king said is also to promote tourism while thanking their god for a successful year of peace and good harvest,
The tour to Ziguinchor, Senegal is part of the “Engaging Media and Minorities to Act for Peacebuilding” EMMP programme. It was attended by journalists from Ghana, Sierra Leone and Senegal.
The objective is to give journalists the opportunity to interact with minority groups in Senegal where conflict is rife and traditional measures being deployed in promoting peaceful coexistence. It also aims at exposing the journalists to issues of illegal migration and integration process of returnees.