Friday 23 March 2018

Bissau clinic eases life as an amputee for Senegalese DJ

Bissau clinic eases life as an amputee for Senegalese DJ
(AFP (eng) 07/22/17)
Senegalese rapper and DJ Louis Bernard Diedhiou, who stepped on a mine in 2001

Senegalese rapper and DJ Louis Bernard Diedhiou was just a young teenager on the day in 2001 when his love of megastar musician Youssou N'Dour nearly killed him.

Hailing from Casamance, a southern region of Senegal that has suffered on-off conflict for more than three decades, Diedhiou was shaking branches for mangoes to sell so he could buy an N'Dour concert ticket.

But he stepped on a mine, a legacy of long-running conflict between the Senegalese army and separatist rebels of the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC), in an accident that could have left him dependent on his family for life.

"The mine got me in both legs and both hands," he recalled. "I couldn't go back to school after that." He would permanently lose his legs and two fingers.

Diedhiou, now 32, is one of nearly 80 people who have crossed into neighbouring Guinea-Bissau to benefit from an initiative launched two years ago by Senegal's National Centre for Anti-Mine Action (CNAMS), a mine victims' charity, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

Like him, they have all made the journey to the capital, Bissau, for treatment at the Centre for Motor Rehabilitation (CRM) -- a place dedicated to helping them establish an independent existence.

"The programme is designed to equip amputated patients, mine victims identified in (chief Casamance town) Ziguinchor," Ana Rodrigues, a Portuguese physiotherapist with the ICRC, told AFP at the centre.

Since 2015, 78 have already received help and five more are due to visit the centre by September, according to the ICRC.

- Active threat -

Created in 1981, Bissau's CRM was founded to care for the victims of mines laid during the independence battles and the subsequent civil wars in other former Portuguese colonies, Angola and Mozambique.

Generations of former fighters have been cared for at the Bissau centre, but the Senegalese-Red Cross initiative has extended its expertise to those living in Casamance.

The Casamance conflict began in 1982 and is technically ongoing. While no peace deal has been signed, a prevailing calm has settled over the region.

What remains an active threat to the population are mines: 826 people have stepped on them in the last quarter-century, according to official figures, at a cost of 151 lives and 85 more people without lower limbs.

"A lot of mine victims are discouraged because they can't work," observed Diedhiou, sporting khaki trousers and a heavy chain around his wrist, his hat straining to cover his dreadlocks as he waited for a prosthetic fitting.

At first, the musician was cared for in Ziguinchor, the largest city in Casamance, around 150 kilometres (93 miles) from Bissau, but the cash-strapped clinic could not give him the quality prostheses and wheelchair he needed.

"(In Ziguinchor) they ask for too much money, 15,000 CFA francs (23 euros/$26) to buy bandages," complained Diedhiou. "It costs a lot less in Bissau. We don't pay, the ICRC handle everything," he added.

A prosthetic limb can cost from 100,000 to 200,000 FCFA (152 to 304 euros), far beyond the reach of most Senegalese, and, according to orthopaedic technician Dasylva Miguel Marcal, only lasts for two to four years.

"If the patient puts on weight, or loses it, we have to change them," Marcal said, speaking to AFP in a room where every surface was covered by bandages, white powder and materials used to mould the artificial limbs.

- 'Got to move' -

Life as an amputee in Senegal is difficult, said Diedhiou, even for someone with a relentlessly positive attitude like him.

People regularly heckle him in the street, he told AFP, and even so-called friends and neighbours make fun of his disability.

Finding solace in his music, he has rapped a special song for a campaign in Casamance that sought to highlight the plight of mine victims and bring more awareness to his community.

"You just have to see to believe. Everything is happening in your head. Relative and positive," he raps in the song.

Senegal's Solidarity Initiative for Development in Action (ISAD), a charity for mine victims, believes the government puts its limited resources into the most pressing problems but leaves victims behind.

"Billions (of CFA francs) are injected into demining," said ISAD coordinator Sarani Diatta, "but they forget the consequences of the conflict," including the long-term care required by those who have lost legs and arms.

ISAD partners with the Red Cross to help victims find work in trading and poultry farming, working against the negative image that prevails in their communities.

Sitting in his wheelchair, the DJ is getting impatient. He has business to attend to and concerts to plan, thoughts that get him through the long sessions of physical therapy and waiting for his new legs.

As he raps in another of his songs: "You can't just sit there and ask for things. You've got to move."

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