It is the Easter weekend and I am back in Ziguinchor after two years and that is a long time. I first came here 10 years ago and then kept coming back once or twice per year every year after that. So a two-year gap seems a long time.
It is a one-hour flight south of Dakar and I flew down on the Friday evening flight, which left Dakar at 17:30. As I stepped off the plane I saw K, the guy who manages the airport. He recognised me and greeted me warmly with the usual three pecks on the cheek. K and I used to party together on my previous visits. From our short conversation on the tarmac, I could see that he was the same person. He was still very tall and still very slim. My long-term Casamance friend, M-T, met me at the airport. This time she was driving an old Mercedes Benz. She was smiling and full of joy as usual. We were both happy and excited to be in Casamance at the same time. She now lives in Paris but comes home to Ziguinchor several times a year and it was a long time since we were in town at the same time.
After we got to our hotel, I dropped my bags and immediately went for a walk. I was curious to see how the place had changed in my two-year absence. There were three things I noticed right away. The main road was no longer riddled with potholes. During the rainy season it was always flooded and muddy.
The second was the new town hall built across from the old one, which was charming, but in need to being spruced up. In the last two years, Ziguinchor has a new mayor. He has built a huge house with high walls that have generated some animated discussion. I walked all the way to the end of the main road, which leads to the main market and the Casamance River. Now there are some benches and umbrellas for passersby. That’s new.
In two years, time seems to have stood still in Ziguinchor. I recognized the same faces and the same people in the same places doing the same things. Is that stability or a sign of the times of a town struggling to be relevant? The low level rebel independence movement, the Ebola outbreak in the neighbouring countries and the high cost of living have affected the region, especially Ziguinchor, which is far from the capital Dakar.
In the past, the Casamance region had the highest numbers of tourists and it was bustling with visitors and artisans selling masks and paintings. I noticed the artisans were no longer there and had been replaced by vendors selling imported second hand jeans.
Let’s hope with the new no visa requirement and the lower of airport taxes, Casamance will become alive again with visitors and the like.