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I want my grandchildren to grow up on the land of my ancestors

Explosive weapons

In 1992, Mansata had to flee the village of Bissine in Senegal to escape armed violence. Thirty years later, she has returned and now lives here in safety with her children and grandchildren.

Portrait of an elderly woman dressed in a colorful dress and scarf, seated in the shade of a straw hut. She is looking to the left, holding her hands in her lap.

Mansata Diedhiou in her house in Bissine, Senegal. | © A. Faye / HI

Mansata Diedhiou is approaching her 90th birthday with equanimity. Although she can’t see very well anymore and needs a stick to get around, when she talks to us about her experiences over the last thirty years her memories are still vivid. She tells us about the ordeal of the people of Bissine in Senegal, driven from their homes by conflict. Today, thanks to Humanity & Inclusion (HI)'s demining operations, they have been able to return to their land in complete safety.

Sudden exile

Mansata surrounded by her daughter-in-law, Mariama, and two of her grandchildren, Dieynaba et Malik. © A. Faye / HIMansata was born in Bissine. She stayed there when she got married and had eight children, four girls and four boys. They lived a peaceful life in this village in Casamance, located at one of the region’s most strategic economic crossroads. The land was rich and provided them with more than enough to live on. But everything changed on 9 October 1992, when the conflict between the Senegalese army and the fighters of the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance caught up with the people of Bissine.

”That was the day the men came. They set fire to the houses and killed three young people from the village. My husband and I fled to Guinea with the children."

For the first two years after their arrival in Guinea, the authorities provided the family with food. They then managed by clearing fields, working in rice paddies or harvesting cashews nuts. Often, they worked two days out of three for the sole benefit of the landowners, reaping only a meagre reward for their labours. Mansata recalls some unfortunate encounters with unscrupulous people who took advantage of their distress.

"The children found work clearing the undergrowth on plots of land, but once they'd finished, we'd be evicted by the owners. We’d have to look for somewhere else to live and work.”

The return home

Portrait of Mariama's 3-year-old daughter Dieynaba. © A. Faye / HIIn 2014, Mansata left Guinea to return to Ziguinchor with her family. Although happy to be going back to their village, leaving Guinea felt bittersweet. Once again, the family had to leave part of itself behind. Mansata still remembers the young lemon trees she had planted in Guinea, but of which fruits she never got to taste.

She finally returned to Bissine in 2020, accompanied by two of her sons and their families. Her other children live in nearby villages or in larger towns further away, such as Kolda, Thiès or Dakar.

"I wanted to come back so that my children and grandchildren could have something of their own, so that they could support themselves and live in their own village.”

Other groups of displaced people also returned to Bissine in 2020. But the village wasn’t safe: the land was contaminated by explosive devices, a legacy of the fighting. The villagers urged the National Mine Action Centre in Senegal (CNAMS) to do something to ensure their safety and, in 2022, HI was called in to demine Bissine. Four months later, our demining teams had released almost 95,000 m² of land back to the community and destroyed 15 explosive devices.

A better life

Mariama cooking for the family. © A. Faye / HIToday, Mansata and her family are back on their land. Her two sons are now builders and they are helping to rebuild the village. Mariama, Mansata's daughter-in-law, explains:

”My husband told me how the war had driven him and his family from the village. When people decided to return, we followed. When I arrived, I was told that all the mines had been removed and I could see that the people were living without fear, so I'm not afraid either. I want to stay here. I'm happy here. I grow sweet potatoes and manioc, my husband has planted watermelons... Life is better here, we have more resources.”

And Mansata concludes, with a smile:

"Nobody will bother me here, I'm on the land of my ancestors. I want my grandchildren to grow up in Bissine. We live happily here.” 

Senegal estimates the extent of contamination linked to the conflict in Casamance at 1,200,000 m² of land, spread over five departments. In May 2022, HI relaunched its demining operations in Casamance, where the organisation had already cleared more than 900,000 m² of land since 1996. HI's current two projects will clear 800,000 m² of land by 2025, helping to restore security and socio-economic prosperity to communities in the Ziguinchor and Sédhiou regions.

Date published: 16/04/24


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