The idea of an independent Cassamance; albeit a delusional one, is at the heart of the disastrous conceptualization of what political realists and Fulas, (one of several ethnic groups) in both Senegal and Gambia characterize as an impossible dream. And just last week, new proposals for yet another round of talks over the fraying Senegambia relations over the Cassamance crisis, filled the air with anticipation. But the proposed new round of talks over the drift into the pugnacious diplomatic tussle, which has created the detwinning of the Senegal and Gambia, has to take into account Yahya Jammeh’s intent, political interest and penchant for double-talk and double-dealing. To begin with, Yahya Jammeh has proven to Gambians time and again that he is both deceitful and conniving and is, therefore, untrustworthy. Gambians long go came to this conclusion based on a history of treachery that was often brutal and always bloody. But in addition, the region of Ziguinchor, whose rebels fight for independence from Senegal, is less than a quarter of Cassamance’s landmass, and barely a third of its population.
The Fulas who occupy half of the Cassamance landmass and constitute nearly half its population, are for the most part ambivalent or even disinterested in the low-level conflict being waged by the small band gullible teenagers who periodically engage the Senegalese army in targets of opportunity. Moreover, the so-called Cassamance rebels have, since Yahya Jammeh’s ascension in 1994, not fought for independence, but have instead acted as Yahya Jammeh’s instrument of political blackmailing of Senegal’s government. Noteworthy also is the fact that Cassamance’s so-called rebels, besides having a tribal affinity with Gambia’s Yahya Jammeh, are deeply engaged in a massive logging operation and forest exploitation in which Yahya Jammeh has the major interest and is also the primary beneficiary. Additionally, of the three Cassamance regions; Ziguinchor, Seidou and Kolda, only Ziguinchor, which is predominantly occupied by the Jolas, has been engaged in the decades old low-level conflict with Senegal. The largest majority of Cassamance residents, the Fulas, are determined never to break-away from Senegal, and for a band of renegades to change that will be a miraculous or an impossible task. In the pre-colonial era, the region of Cassamance occupied by the Fulas was under the domination of Fulas kings in Gambia, who ruled from Sankuley Kunda in Maccarty Island Division. Apart from fighting off the religious warlord Foday Kabba Dumbuya and saving the Jolas in both Gambia and Cassamance from forced conversion to Islam or extermination, the Fulas had no political connection, whatsoever, to the Jolas. And the Jola hegemony Yahya Jammeh sought to create, which would have extended to Guinea-Bissau, would ironically mimic the pre-colonial Fula kingdom of Fulladou that extended deep into Guinea-Bissau. But Yahya Jammeh’s unachievable fantasy of a Jola hegemony has caused the strained relations between Gambia and Senegal, but also between Gambia and Guinea-Bissau, where before Macky Sall came to power; Yahya Jammeh wielded enormous power, masterminding both the assassinations the Gambian born head of Guinea-Bissau army, General Ansumana Manneh and late Bissau President Nino Vieira. But Ziguinchor’s aspiration for Cassamance as a country, without the consent of Sediou, and most importantly, the vast Kolda region occupied by the Fulas, is a sheer waste of time and innocent blood. The Cassamance Fulas share cultural and political affinity with Gambian Fulas and their determination to remain part of Senegal cannot be changed by a small band of renegade illiterates hiding in the Cassamance bushes.
But perhaps the most contentious issue in the Senegambia relations saga is the position of the Gambia in a matter where the Senegalese government has the sole interest. Clearly, the fact that Yahya Jammeh has positioned himself as the intermediary between the rebels and the Senegalese government is not only worrisome, but proves beyond a shadow of doubt Yahya Jammeh’s deep emersion into Senegal’s internal affairs. The position of arbiter Yahya Jammeh has assumed in the Cassamance conflict, points to the role has played in empowering and directing the rebels in an attempt to create confusion or Senegal. Yahya Jammeh came to power with the grand illusion of a Jolas hegemony that would extend to Guinea-Bissau, only to discover the utter ridiculousness of his idea, but it did prevent him arming the Cassamance rebels.
However, later when he succeeded in gaining total power and authority through a gradual process of elimination of non Jola Gambians from the base of power, he offered the rebels sanctuary in the Gambia, complete government and hotel residences as well as Gambian diplomatic passports, bases in Gambian territory, and hospital and medical facility. For, Senegal to now turn to Yahya Jammeh in solving the Cassamance crisis is beyond comprehension. President Macky Sall should never send envoys to negotiate with Yahya Jammeh; instead Senegal should give Yahya Jammeh an ultimatum, failing which Senegal will resort to a military solution to end Yahya Jammeh’s intrusion in the affairs of Cassamance. A post Yahya Jammeh government must never allow rebels in Gambian territory and those caught will be arrested and should be handed over to Senegal. Gambians must never allow the country to be used as rebel sanctuary. Additionally, any rebel activity that spills into Gambian territory should be avenged by pursuing the rebels wherever they go in Cassamance with the objective of destroying the threat they pose to SeneGambian peace. President Macky Sall must understand that Yahya Jammeh has no interest in solving the Cassamance conflict and his new demands for Senegal to expel Gambian dissidents is a clear indication of asking for what Senegal will clearly reject. The fact the Yahya Jammeh has tied his intervention and bringing peace to Cassamance to the expulsion of Gambian dissidents in Senegal, is an impossible condition for Senegal to meet. But the most baffling thing is that Cassamance is not Gambian territory, and it is mind-numbing how Yahya Jammeh has put himself in a position to negotiate peace with Senegal over Cassamance; a territory of Senegal. Yahya Jammeh cannot be rewarded for arming, facilitating and prolonging the Cassamance conflicts, in the process causing the deaths of countless numbers of Senegalese soldiers. Former President Abdoulaye Wada did not stoop so low, despite the fact he too left office failing to put Yahya Jammeh in his rightful place. Now, President Macky Sall must not fall into Yahya Jammeh’s trap and ignore the biggest problem facing Senegal and it is not the Cassamance conflict, but the murderous tyranny and dictatorship in Gambia.