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“We are home at last!”


Armed violence reduction | Senegal | PUBLISHED ON March 26th 2024
Family portrait, in front of the red-brick family home. The parents and three children smile at the camera.

The Sané family: Aminata, Moustapha and their three children, Fatmata, Samsidine and Mame Diambame. | © A. Faye / HI

Aminata and Moustapha are originally from the village of Bissine. They have been able to return with their children to the land of their ancestors now it has been made safe by HI's demining teams.

Aminata and Moustapha Sané were forced to flee Bissine in 1992 to escape the violent clashes between the Senegalese army and the fighters of the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance. They returned to Bissine with their children almost thirty years later to rediscover their roots and build a better life for themselves.

A long-awaited return

Aminata insisted that her family return to Bissine and that the children grow up there. © A. Faye / HIAminata was only two years old in 1992, but she remembers how her family was split up in their haste to escape. She fled to Gambia with her parents, where she met Moustapha, also from Bissine. After their marriage, the couple stayed in Gambia. However, like all the children of Bissine, Aminata and Moustapha had grown up with stories of their village and wanted more than anything to return to the land of their ancestors.

"We formed sections of Bissinois in exile and organised meetings to remind ourselves that one day we would return to the village. Every year, there was a meeting to boost the spirits of those who were losing hope," recalls Moustapha.

Moustapha first wanted to return in 2008, then again in 2014. But both times, he was held back by reports of arrests by armed men in Bissine. In the end, it was Aminata who insisted on returning to the village – and she had no trouble convincing her husband.

Aminata and her three children returned in 2021 and Moustapha followed in 2022. For more than two years, they lived with other families in one large hut while the houses were rebuilt. At the end of 2022, they moved into their own house, built by Moustapha.

"I'm very happy to be back home, I feel happy in the land of my ancestors. Being at home is the best life there is. The children are happy to be in Bissine too. We’d told them a lot about the village," says Aminata.

Village life

Moustapha watches over his field to make sure the monkeys don't steal his watermelons. © A. Faye / HIIn 2021, there were still many explosive devices in Bissine, remnants of past clashes. The local people urged the Centre National d'Action Antimines au Sénégal (CNAMS) to take action to ensure their safety and in 2022, HI was called in to carry out mine clearance operations. After four months' work, HI's deminers had released almost 95,000 m² of land back to the community and destroyed 15 explosive devices.

"Before, the area wasn't safe. We had to restrict the children's movements because we didn't know what was under the ground. But today, I'm no longer afraid for them: I let them play where they like and go and look for wild fruit in the bush, because the area is safe," explains Aminata.

Today, the Sané family earns a living from what they grow in the fields, with Mustapha selling their vegetables to the local hotels. His parents used to plant mostly millet, groundnuts and rice, but Moustapha has tried something new. This year, he has planted watermelons for the first time. The problem is that the red monkeys are also fond of them, so he has to keep a constant eye on his field to defend his crop against these gangs of thieves! Meanwhile, Aminata looks after the house and the family's chickens, which are kept in Bissine's communal henhouse. She also wants to make a kitchen garden at the entrance to her house, to grow her own fruit and vegetables.

At 2pm, once the children are home from school, it's time for lunch. © A. Faye / HIEvery day, Aminata lovingly prepares food for when her children come home hungry after a long morning at school. The couple's three children, Fatmata, Samsidine and Mame Diambame, aged 12, 9 and 7 respectively, all walk to the village school every day.

”Not everyone has returned yet, but some families are coming to the village to see how we live. They can see for themselves that we are safe, that life is better here. So they'll be back one day," says Moustapha. And Aminata concludes: "I want to stay here, so that my children grow up and live their lives in Bissine."

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.

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