Source: Al Jazeera
Female reporters in Senegal’s Casamance region break the communication barriers between opposing sides.
Ziguinchor, Senegal – On a hot, steamy day in Ziguinchor, a small coastal city in Senegal’s southern Casamance region, 31-year-old Marie Leocadie Coly walks into a recording studio, turns on the fan and puts on her headphones.
At the signal from the producer sitting behind the glass window, Coly begins to speak into the microphone.
“Welcome to Radio Kassumay, the radio of Women for Peace and Development of the Casamance,” Coly says cheerfully as she begins her live, one-hour broadcast.
Coly is one of the 52 female reporters who make up the Network of Community Radios for Peace and Development in Casamance, a group of 18 radio stations, run entirely by women, that span Senegal’s southern region, which is home to one of Africa’s oldest separatist movements.
Since the creation of the first station in 2004, the broadcasts have become an essential platform for the promotion of peace in the country.
“The radio [stations] have played a key role in breaking the communication barrier between opposing sides in the Casamance conflict,” says Abdou Sarr, director of World Education, a non-profit organisation that funds several peacemaking programmes in Senegal, including the radio network.
“But our goal is also to inform and empower women, who play a key role in the peacemaking process,” Sarr adds.
Casamance is separated from the rest of Senegal by The Gambia. Ethnic and religious differences between the two regions, as well as a sense of economic and political marginalisation from the rest of the country, led to the rise of an independence movement in Casamance in 1982.
Thousands of people have been killed in the more than three-decade-long conflict, and tens of thousands have been displaced, according to the UN.
While the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC) and the Senegalese army declared a unilateral ceasefire in 2014, violent clashes have continued in recent years.
In the recording studio, a large board displays Radio Kassumay’s weekly programming. Conflict and cross-border issues, religion, children’s rights, women’s rights, and disability are some of the segments featured.
Intercalated between these are blocks of music featuring a wide range of genres from local music and choir music to American hip-hop.