Marabout wars in West Africa?

Hundreds of thousands of mourners have gathered at the holy city of Touba to pay last respects to Senegal’s late spiritual leader, Serigne Saliou Mbacke, who died at the age of 92 on Dec. 28. Saliou was the last surviving son of Cheikh Ahmadou Bamba, 19th-century founder of the Mouride sufi order, and had been “caliph” since 1990. About a tenth of Senegal’s 11 million citizens are said to be Mourides, including President Abdoulaye Wade, who declared three days of national mourning. Mouhamadou Lamine Bara Mbacke, a grandson of Ahmadou Bamba, is to become the sixth caliph. (Press Association, Dec. 31; Reuters, Dec. 30; BBC, Dec. 29) Gambian President Yahya Jammeh also expressed sadness at the passing of the caliph, calling it a “great loss” for both Senegal and Gambia. (Afriquenligne, Dec. 31) However, Gambia is being accused in the assassination a week earlier of another prominent Senegalese marabout, or holy man, with intrigues over armed separatist movements in the background…

Samsudeen Hydara, commonly known as “Dino,” was shot dead on Dec. 21—the eve of the Muslim feast of Eid al-Adha (locally called Tobaski)—by gunmen initially suspected to be separatist guerillas, at his residence in Manudaa, in the Senegalese region of Casamance. Hydara was a close advisor of President Wade, and was official envoy for brokering a peace deal with separatists in Casamance—the narrow southern strip of Senegalese territory sandwiched between Gambia to the north and Guinea-Bissau to the south. (Foroyaa, Gambia, Dec. 27 via AllAfrica) (See map.)

The Gambia Echo Dec. 23 warned that Senegal had accused Gambia in the assassination—and would seek retaliation:

The Senegalese government, through the Air Transport Minister, Farba Senghore, has all but named Banjul [Gambia’s capital] as responsible for the assassination of Samsedin Hydara. Minister Senghore was quoted as saying that the Government of Senegal has absolved the MFDC of all responsibility in the assassination of Mr. Hydara which is being interpreted as meaning that Senegal should look for the culprits across the border in neighboring Gambia. All indications are that Yahya Jammeh should now watch his back and this time it is for real.

Samsedin Hydara was the brother of Latif Hydara, also a presidential adviser and prominent marabout. The Gambia Echo account notes that nine accused Casamance separatists standing trial in Banjul for “clandestine activities” on Gambian soil have named Latif as their paymaster.

These claims were echoed by the Gambian newspaper Foroyaa Nov. 28 (online via AllAfrica), which asserted that that the slaying of Samsedin was a result of guerilla factionalism. It is not explained why an advisor to Senegal’s president would be supporting separatist rebels in Senegalese territory—although it could be a divide-and-rule ploy, or what the conspiracy crowd loves to call a “false flag” operation.

Gambia’s exile-based opposition Freedom Newspaper reports that Senegalese authorities “are not ruling out Jammeh’s army[,] as the killers were heard speaking in English after the shooting ‘the job is over’ and were seen heading to the border with Gambia. Accusing fingers are being directed at the Government of President Jammeh at this hour. Dakar is thoroughly investigating what they called an ‘external aggression against a sovereign state.'” (Senegal is Francophone, while Gambia is English-speaking.)

Freedom Newspaper also reported on Aug. 25, 2006 that Jammeh had sent soldiers into Senegal to arrest Samsedin, but, “protected by God Himself,” the marabout managed to escape.

The UN news agency IRIN stated Dec. 27 that after a war that displaced tens of thousands in the ’80s and ’90s, “Casamance is no longer gripped by all-out armed conflict yet communities there remain plagued by landmines, violent crime and occasional armed skirmishes, as well as political killings…” The agency warns that hopes for a formal peace deal could be dashed by the slaying of the marabout envoy (whose name is rendered by IRIN “Samsidine Dino NĂ©mo AĂŻdara”).

IRIN reports that leaders of the main separatist organization, the Movement of Democratic Forces in Casamance (MFDC), have denounced the assassination, and that another brother of the victim, Dino KĂ©banding AĂŻdara (Hydara), denied that the rebels were behind the slaying.

At the height of the conflict ten years ago, Amnesty International charged that the MFDC carried out targeted killings and torture of civilians. There was, of course, a strong ethnic cast to the conflict, with the Diola people largely supporting the MFDC, and the Mandingo, Balante, Manjak, and Mancagne often targeted as government collaborators. The Dakar regime, in turn, held scores of suspected MFDC collaborators without trial, and the demand for their release was a main obstacle to a peace deal.

And what is the role of Gambia in the Casamance conflict? Even if accused MFDC guerillas are now on trial in Banjul, leaders of the organization have also been granted haven there in the past. It was at a 1999 conference in Banjul that MFDC faction leaders met to hash out a unified position for the peace talks. (Global Security)

The blog Bartholomew’s Notes on Religion, in its Dec. 29 post on the imbroglio, notes:

President Jammeh is known to be a bit of an eccentric, and earlier this year he earned global scorn after announcing that he personally had developed a herbal cure for AIDS. Back in October, the Freedom Newspaper ran a gloriously tabloid headline concerning a local musician, informing us that “Jammeh Wants Jaliba Kuyateh’s Tongue As Ritual”…

Bartholomew provides the following quote from the lurid Freedom Newspaper account:

President Jammeh is after Jaliba’s tongue. His Marabout had asked him to produce the tongue of a leading Musician as a ritual known as “sarah or Sadaar.” This according to the Marabout’s “lestiharr” or fortune telling would save the President from being toppled if provided. Jaliba is Gambia’s leading Musician today. Therefore, he is an open target.

The article also implies (improbably) that Jammeh may have had a hand in the recent murder in Johannesburg of South African reggae star Luky Dube for similar purposes. The account says that since the October killing of Dube, Jaliba has been avoiding public appearances. “Jaliba have good reasons to be scared. President Jammeh is capable of taking his life just to stay in power.”

The marabouts evidently have the power to be king-makers in the region’s politics. Senegal’s President Wade regularly visits Touba after elections to thank the Mouride marabouts for their support. Far removed from the palace intrigues, the mendicant Baye Fall—dreadlocked and poverty-vowed followers of Cheikh Bamba’s disciple, Ibra Fall—are a part of the same order. (Reuters, Dec. 29)

See our last posts on West Africa, the sufis and the struggle within Islam.

  1. The article does not say
    The article does not say what Tariqa Samsudeen Hydara belonged to. The authour mentioned Serigne Saliou and the Murid tariqa but when discribing Samsudeen Hydara he used the term “Senegalese Marabout”. Is Hydara a member of the Murid tariqat? If not what tariqa is he a part of. This is a very important point to an un-informed reader. It could be taken as informative or it could be taken as slandering propaganda.