Photo of Khadimou Rassoul Badji in front of the National Assembly in Dakar, Senegal, on May 1, 2013. This photo was taken by our Observer Hamidou Sagna.
Dakar residents got quite the surprise last Wednesday when a young disabled Senegalese man peddled his way through the capital on a tricycle, only stopping when he reached the National Assembly.
Khadimou Rassoul Badji had set off five days earlier from Ziguinchor, in the region of Casamance, 450 kilometres away from the capital. He undertook the feat hoping to raise awareness of the ongoing conflict in Casamance and to promote sports for disabled people. The 28-year-old suffered from polio as a young child and has since been paralysed in one leg. He powers his tricycle with the help of his arms.
His journey took him from the south to the north of Senegal, crossing through a part of Gambia on the way. On arrival at the National Assembly, he delivered a letter addressed to the president explaining how land mines have left many people in his region without limbs.
Nestled between Gambia and Guinea-Bissau, the Casamance region has endured over 30 years of conflict during which separatist rebels from the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC) have fought against government forces. Despite an official cease-fire agreement in 2005, sporadic unrest continues.
The young athlete attached a Senegalese flag as well as a white flag to his tricycle to symbolise his desire for peace in Casamance.
“In Ziguinchoir, there are a lot of children with disabilities because of the land mines”
Khadimou Rassoul Badji is the disabled athlete who travelled by tricycle to Dakar.
I started getting ready for my adventure back in November. At the beginning, my aim was to reach Dakar in four days. In the end, I’m a bit sad because it took me five days, but I’m proud to have done it on a tricycle that I designed myself. I had a telephone with me, but I was on my own for the journey. I had planned the towns I was going to beforehand.I cycled about 100 kilometres a day. The biggest difficulties were enduring the heat and watching out for trucks and lorries. On the road, drivers sounded their horns to encourage me and slowed down to tell me to be careful. Some even tried to persuade me to stop because they thought it was dangerous. When I arrived, I was completely exhausted because I could only use my arms and my right leg to power the tricycle.“In my city, the infrastructure is not suited to people with disabilities”It’s not easy for people with disabilities in Senegal to move around. The cheapest wheelchairs cost 200,000 Central African Francs [Editor’s note: approximately 300€]. Also, the infrastructure in Ziguinchoir is quite poor: there are very few access ramps and getting into public buildings - even hospitals! - is really difficult.My only disappointment is that no officials were there to meet me, not in Senegal nor in Gambia. [Editor’s note: Badji requested a meeting with Senegal’s president, Macky Sall, as well as the President of the National Assembly, but has not heard back from them as of yet.]“I wanted to talk about Casamance which is, for me, a forgotten region in Senegal”In Casamance, there are a lot of disabled people. They’re mostly children who have strayed onto land mines. I’m the president of a sports association where 30 of our members have been injured by land mines [Editor’s note: according to the Dakar-based National Mine Action Centre, there have been 751 land mine victims in Casamance]. Despite the conflict having officially ended, there’s still scattered conflict all over the region.With this expedition, I wanted to promote sport for disabled people, show that we can do big things when we want to, and talk about the situation in Casamance which is, for me, a forgotten region in Senegal.
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist (@alexcapron).