After my trip to Angola, I am convinced that while Angola has a substantial landmine problem, the contamination from cluster munitions is minimal. In 2008, Angola signed the Convention on Cluster Munitions, but has yet to ratify the Convention. It’s past time for Angola to ratify the Convention and while my opinion may not carry much weight with the Government of Angola, I’m happy to express it all the same. Here’s the piece I wrote for the Cluster Munition Coalition calling on Angola to ratify the Convention:
Michael P. Moore
July 27, 2016
moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
While I was off gallivanting around Angola in June, the threat of landmines continued in other parts of the Continent. The total number mine action stories from the month is fairly limited, but they continue to show the trend of contamination lingering from long ago conflicts and the immediate fears of new use and new contamination from active wars. In Angola, some of the battlefields I saw had classic tactics of position where one force probed and attacked from a fortified position, trying to outflank the other while protecting one’s own flanks. The minefields on these battlefields followed predictable patterns along lines of defense. The new uses in places like Mali and Nigeria reflect assymetrical warfare where small forces use mines to disrupt the movements of larger, better-armed forces.
Three deminers attached to the MINUSMA peacekeeping mission were attacked and killed in the northern city of Gao by members of Al Qaeda (All Africa). The MINUSMA mission is the deadliest peacekeeping mission and in response, the mission commander has called for upgrades in the mission’s ability to detect and defend against improvised explosive devices and landmines, saying the threat from such weapons is “growing” (Newsweek).
In Mandera, a landmine attributed to Al Shabaab injured several police officers who were riding in the lead car of a convoy (All Africa). In a similar attack in Garissa, an ambulance driver was killed and three medics injured as they were en route to pick up a patient. The attack on the ambulance was also blamed on Al Shabaab (All Africa).
In 2013 Angola and Italy signed a cooperation agreement related to defense and international security, including landmine clearance. In June, the Angolan Defence Minister traveled to Italy to review the status of that cooperation (All Africa). In southern Cunene province, a mine action representative from the government agency, CNIDAH, called on landmine victims to register themselves with CNIDAH to be able to access the services provided by the agency. The representative also reported that over half a million square meters of land had been cleared in the province in 2015 by the national NGO, Terra Mae (All Africa). The US Assistant Secretary for International Security and nonproliferation, Tom Countryman, met with the international demining NGOs supported by the US State Department in advance of our visit (All Africa).
The Nigerian general in charge of operations in the northeast of the country against Boko Haram asked the government to keep several roads in the area closed to civilian traffic due to landmines. The House of Representatives is pressuring the military to open the roads to travel to allow displaced persons to return to their homes, but the general notes that the roads have not been surveyed or cleared fully and landmines and IEDs may remain (All Africa).
It may not matter to Boko Haram, but I applaud the Cameroon Bar Association’s condemnation of the Islamist group for multiple human rights violations, including the use of landmines, in its 2015 report on the human rights situation in the country (All Africa).
The effects of Boko Haram’s landmines on Cameroon were made clear when three Cameroonian soldiers were injured by a mine planted in the far north of the country (Cameroon Concord).
One of the benefits of landmine clearance programs is the jobs made available to residents of the mine-affected areas. In Zimbabwe, the HALO Trust has trained and employs a large number of men and women who were born and raised in villages along the minefields on the border with Mozambique. In addition to the obvious benefits of clearing landmines, the additional cash in the local economies helps drive development through construction of homes and investment in the communities (Voice of America).
For those injured by mines, Zimbabwe Assembly member Newton Kachepa called on the Ministry of Health and Child Care to provide wheelchairs and prosthetic devices (Bulawayo 24).
1,603 French-laid landmines were cleared from Algeria by the national army in May (Ennahar).
The current arms embargo imposed upon Libya includes restrictions on the import of non-lethal military hardware, such as mine detection equipment. As the Libyan army advances against the Islamic State forces in the town of Sirte, IS-laid landmines are taking a heavy toll and the Libyan army has asked for the ban on mine detectors and similar items to be lifted (Libya Observer).
Michael P. Moore
July 27, 2016
Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
New wars and old wars, old wars and new wars. We continue to face the threat of landmines and explosive remnants of war from old wars, while rebel groups rely on landmines and improvised explosive devices to conduct asymmetrical wars in the present. In most countries we talk about here in these pages, the country falls into one group or another. A few places, Algeria is an example we see this month, faces the old and the new threats. It is my hope that this is a limited club and not a growing one. We shall see.
The Nigerian army has begun yet another push into the Boko Haram-held Sambisa forest in northeastern Nigeria. At a Nigerian military check-point on the Bui-Damboa road, a vehicle struck an artisanal landmine killing five people and injuring three others. The proximity of the mine to a Nigerian check-point suggests the military needs to be more vigilant when establishing their positions (All Africa). In Yobe state, seven people who had been displaced by Boko Haram and have since been able to return to their homes were killed by a landmine in their agricultural fields. The local government has responded with mine risk education program (Punch). Landmines have also been placed in the farmlands of Borno state and five farmers were killed by a mine, even though the Nigerian military supposedly had cleared the area. Because of the danger, many farmers are refusing to go to their fields despite the fact that they have no other means of support (Pulse).
The Minister of Welfare and Social Reintegration thanked the media for its role in raising awareness about landmines and other explosive remnants of war (All Africa). The EU ambassador to Angola, Gordon Kricke, promised additional financial support for landmine clearance in the eastern provinces of Moxico, Lunda Sul, Lunda Norte and Cuando Cubango (All Africa). In southern Cunene province, the Angolan army hosted mine risk education sessions in several schools (All Africa). In Zaire province, the National Demining Institute complete clearance work for the the Nzeto / Mbanza Congo power line having found six pieces of unexploded ordnance in the process (All Africa). In Moxico province, MAG handed over two cleared minefields to the community after 320 landmines and other explosive remnants of wars were removed (MAG).
The Cameroon Bar Association issued its report on violations of human rights including Boko Haram’s use of anti-personnel landmines which violates the fundamental right to life (All Africa). At a military funeral, the Cameroon army paid its respects to 13 soldiers who died fighting against Boko Haram, some of who were killed by landmines (All Africa). In addition to the dead, at least thirty Cameroonian soldiers are being treated for injuries that range from snake bites to landmine blasts (Citizen Digital).
Almost US $5 million is required to clear the minefield that marks the border between Mozambique and Zimbabwe in Gonarezhou National Park. The acting coordinator of the Zimbabwe Mine Action Center noted the need for funds to buy basic equipment like metal detectors. 300 people have been killed by mines in the park since 1980 along with hundreds of wild and domestic animals (All Africa). The leader of the Prophetic Healing Ministries warned his followers about the dangers of trying to extract red mercury from landmines, saying that red mercury is a hoax (All Africa).
Two women were killed and a third injured by a landmine placed in the Samam mountain on the border with Algeria (Reuters).
Two Malian soldiers were killed and another injured when their vehicle hit a landmine on the road between Gossi and Hombori in the north of the country (Fox News). In another incident, Chadian peacekeepers were ambushed north of Aguelhok in the Kidal region. The convoy the peacekeepers were traveling with struck a landmine and then gunmen opened fire. Five peacekeepers were kill and three injured (The Nation).
Three Libyan soldiers were killed and two wounded by a landmine in Sirte, during an operation to defeat the Islamic State rebels (Libya Observer). An eleven year-old girl who tried to flee the fighting in Sirte was grievously injured by a landmine and required 17 hours of surgery by six surgeons to be stabilized (Libya Observer).
Police in the southern city of Kismayo found and cleared a landmine from a major road (Garowe Online). In Mogadishu a landmine detonated near a government checkpoint injuring five people, two soldiers and three civilians (Horseed Media). In the semi-autonomous Puntland region, two Puntland soldiers were killed and three more injured as tried to defuse a landmine in Galgala (Garowe Online).
A landmine attributed to the Lord’s Resistance Army was found in the middle of a road in the Teso region, some 13 years after the LRA invasion. After closing the road, the police cleared the mine (All Africa).
The Algerian government announced the clearance of over 2,000 landmines planted by the French colonial authorities during the liberation war. In addition to the ongoing clearance activities, Algerian counter-terrorism forces found and cleared a landmine being used to protect an Islamist hideout (Strategy Page).
Michael P. Moore
June 28, 2016
moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
Demining allows development. Before schools can be built or crops can be planted, the mines must be cleared. MAG anticipates another 25 million square meters of land in Moxico province will still need to be cleared at the end of this year. Until that work is done, Angola cannot fulfill its destiny.
In Maputo at the 2014 Review Conference of the Mine Ban Treaty, the countries that have joined the Treaty, including Angola, committed to making a landmine-free world by 2025. This would be a very good thing and in a future post I will explore what it will take for Angola to meet that target, but a mine-free world is not an end point in and of itself. A mine-free world allows everything that we might take for granted in the United States to happen: houses to be built, land to be used, paths to be taken – life to happen. And it starts with mine-free communities.
Our merry party has grown: the Deputy Chief of Mission for the US Embassy, Connie, and the Dutch Ambassador to Angola, Willem, have joined up and Connie will be with us for the rest of the trip. Willem comes with a security detail provided by the Angolan national police which adds another four people (who come with a police truck and siren which they have mercifully not used yet). We are in Luena, capital of Moxico province which had been a UNITA stronghold during the civil war and was where Jonas Savimbi was killed in 2002, effectively ending the conflict. Luena is a planned city which has never caught up to the plan, but the wide boulevards and Portuguese architecture are appealing for casual strolls.
MAG has been working in Moxico province since 1994 and done an awful lot in that time. Like NPA and HALO, they are operating at lower capacity than in the past, but with new leadership in country and increased attention from the headquarter’s fundraising team, they are hoping to turn it around. And be able to hand over more cleared minefields to the community.
Today we are in Lingonga minefield and visiting the Calapo school which had been built on the minefield after MAG cleared. Calapo is near a river and along the main road out of Luena. During the civil war, the bridge was a strategic point and the Angolan army laid mines along both sides of the river. In 2008, a government demining team cleared the roadway and the space for the bridge, but the minefields along the river were left mostly intact. MAG started working on the site in 2014 as the river is a major water collection point and while we were there we could see several people washing their clothes in the river just a few yards from the bridge. They were now safe to do as MAG had cleared all of the mines on the southern side of the river and had begun work on the northern side of the river. The minefields on the south side of the bridge are called Lingonga East and Lingonga West. Lingonga West had been further divided into the Alpha and Bravo minefields. The Bravo minefield, where the Calapo school had been built, was handed over to the community in 2015. Today we were handing over the Lingonga West-Alpha minefield and the Lingonga East minefield.
We did the usual minefield tour with MAG: briefing, don the PPE gear, walk the minefield and blow some stuff up, but for the me the draw was to see the end product, what could be done once a minefield had been cleared. Moxico’s vice governor told us that this area had been prioritized for clearance by the local government as the population was growing from refugees returning from Zambia and the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angolans returning to Moxico. The Brigadier told us that in 1986, when he was serving in the army in this area, there were no people living here (the Brigadier was part of the engineering corps which laid the landmines in the minefields that MAG was clearing; the Brigadier was able to draw maps from memory that have proven useful to MAG).
After the tour, we headed to Calapo school. The students and the community came out to greet us.
The school has 6 teachers and 300 students who attend classes from 8 am to 3 pm with an hour’s break for lunch. If the minefields had not been cleared and the school been built, those same children would have gone to a two-room school compared to the 14 classrooms they have now. The local administration has also secured new school books and desks to fill the classrooms.
And even though the landmines around the school have been cleared, the school bell – the back half of an air-dropped bomb that did not explode – is a constant reminder to the community that the school grounds were once a battlefield. (Another school we saw nearby had its bell made from the metal rims of a truck wheel.)
During the handover ceremony, MAG’s technical field manager, a burly South African who goes by “H” and lost an arm to a roadside bomb in Afghanistan, recalled that when he and his team first came to the Lingonga minefields in 2013, “We promised you we will finish [demining] the area and today, I promise you we are finished with this side of the river.” MAG cleared 110 anti-personnel mines from the grounds where the school stands, an area of 95,000 square meters. H also told the assembled parents, community leaders and regional administrators, “We are now working to clear the other side of the river [of landmines].” The minefields on the north side of the river are well known to the community, a boy having lost his life in one of the fields a few years earlier.
In gratitude, the school children, dressed in their uniforms despite it being a Saturday, sang the welcoming song on our arrival and departure. You can hear the song on YouTube here .
This is why we clear landmines. These children were born after the end of the war and they should not have to live with its after effects: Angola’s war should be part of its history, not its present.
Michael P. Moore
June 26, 2016
moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
Cuito Cuanavale is Angola’s Gettyburg, its Dien Bien Phu, the great nation-making battle. The biggest tank battle on the African continent since World War II’s El Alamein, Cuito Cuanavale is the battle that broke Apartheid South Africa. On one side was the Angolan army (FAPLA) supported by thousands of Cuban troops; on the other, the rebel group UNITA and hundreds of South African conscripts. And since this was the Cold War, Angola was supported by Soviet money and materiel; South Africa and UNITA operated under US sponsorship.
In Angola’s far southeastern province of Kuando Kubango, Cuito Cuanavale was an otherwise nondescript spot on the map but after an attempt by FAPLA to destroy UNITA in the town of Mavinga, a South African counter-attack drove FAPLA 200 kilometers back to the high ground above Cuito Cuanavale with the Cuito River protecting FAPLA’s flank and rear. The airstrip in Cuito Cuanavale allowed for rapid re-supply and convoys of hardware pounded down the road from Menogue. FAPLA and the Cuban army, at the orders of Fidel Castro himself, decided to hold the line at Cuito Cuanavale and the mine-laying began in earnest. There is perhaps a greater concentration of anti-tank mines here in Cuito Cuanavale than anywhere else in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The HALO Trust has been clearing landmines from Kuando Kubango province since 2002 and from Cuito Cuanavale since 2005. Throughout Angola, HALO has cleared about 90,000 landmines, of those 50,000 came just from Kuando Kubango and of those 30,000 came from Cuito Cuanavale. Cuito Cuanavale deserves its title as the most mined town in Africa and it was the next spot on our itinerary.
To get to Cuito Cuanavale and the HALO Trust working area, we flew from Malanje to Menongue, the capital of Kuando Kubango. In Menongue we met with the vice governor and the local CNIDAH office. The governor thanked the donors for their support and admitted, “There’s still a lot to be done,” to clear the remaining mines. The provincial coordinator for CNIDAH showed us the operational map for the province.
They use the map to monitor the activities of the operators, including government agencies, national NGOs and international NGOs. The office documents demining, risk education, victim assistance and landmine accidents. In 2015, just under 3 million square meters of land was cleared, removing over 4,000 mines and 2,000 pieces of UXO. 7,000 people received mine risk education and another 7,000 received some victim assistance services (with a population of just over 600,000, that means 1% of the province received victim assistance, a staggering total that I will be following up on). There were also five landmine accidents which injured four people and destroyed one vehicle. In 2013, there were 13 accidents which left one dead and eight injured.
From Menongue, we took a short hop flight to Cuito Cuanavale where the airstrip had been rebuilt to accommodate the annual celebration of the battle of Cuito Cuanavale on March 23. Of course, the drainage around the new airstrip wasn’t done properly and during the first big rainstorm the run-off took out HALO’s camp, a couple of houses and the local church. The drainage has been fixed and HALO’s camp has been re-located outside of town, next to the massive water and energy plant. In HALO’s map below the town name is at the end of the same airstrip and the minefields are marked in green (for cleared minefields) and red (for fields yet to be cleared).
The HALO team, led by Tony and Gerhard, showed us around Task 320, a minefield laid by the Angolan army after the battle. Before the tour began, we had to don protective gear and sign the guestbook, which also recorded our blood types.
The task is nearly all anti-tank landmines with some anti-personnel mines as “keepers” to keep the anti-tank mines from being lifted. Similar anti-tank mines had destroyed three South African tanks that are now the highlights of the tour of the battlefield.
Task 320 consists of two rows of mines between which the local villagers have started cultivating cassava. There are paths that traverse the lines of mines from the small collection of houses down to the river. In 1999, a person crossing the minefield triggered a mine and later died at the hospital in town. By clearing the minefields, forty families will benefit, directly and indirectly, from increased agricultural land and safe passage through the area.
The minefield itself is nasty, no other word for it. There are hundreds of anti-tank mines in the rows, some with anti-personnel mines nearby, many without. Fortunately only a handful of unexploded shells have been found in the area, leaving most of the clearance fairly uncomplicated. The sandy soil is easy to excavate as well. But there are just so many of them. In the picture below there are nine and many more just beyond.
The anti-tank mines are not destroyed immediately as doing so would spread metal fragments throughout the site. Fortunately, the weight of a human being won’t set off these mines so leaving them in the ground for a few days is not a problem. The anti-tank mines are clearly marked and usually the sand is put back over them to reduce any temptation to tamper.
At the end of the month, all of the anti-tank mines will be destroyed in a couple of days, leaving rather big holes.
Anti-personnel mines are destroyed the same day they are found.
Living on the margins
Angola is home to Africa’s first female billionaire, Isabel dos Santos, but the majority of the people are on less than $2 per day. The people by the minefield would probably feel like they hit the lottery to see $2 in a day. Hardscrabble, eeking out an existence by subsistence farming with minefields limiting their ambitions. But life goes on here.
The few families in the community (one could not call it a village) came out and greeted our party (which between the deminers, the local administrators, the Angolan soldiers and us, easily outnumbered the community members).
Just across Cuito River from this community is the new airstrip, a new hotel, Chinese-run utility plants and the massive new battle memorial. But the only visible investment in this community is the corrugated roofs, which the community members hold in place using Soviet recoilless rounds scrounged from the battlefield.
This task will be completed by the end of August. At that time, HALO will need to assess its financial situation and decide how to proceed. Kuando Kubango province won’t lack for mines if HALO chooses to continue to work in Cuito Cuanavale or elsewhere in the province.
Only the first 40 kilometers of the road to Mavinga have been cleared; in that span 50 minimum metal anti-tank mines were found and dozens more would likely be found if one went looking. South African laid minefields, which covered the retreat of the South African army from the battle of Cuito Cuanavale, make up a 30 kilometer-long barrier to the east of the town. Beyond Mavinga, minefields can be found all the way to the Zambian and Botswanan borders. And these minefields are linked to just a brief period, maybe a year or so between 1987 and 1988, of Angola’s forty years of wars. HALO has had mine-clearing activities in four provinces: Kuando Kubango, Bié, Huambo and Benguela; and survey work in Kwanza Sul and Huila with plans to survey Namibe and Cunene provinces. Those provinces have their own particular histories and related landmine contaminations. The urban areas have been the focus of demining and the rural areas, like the community pictured above, will be the last to benefit. In other words, those whose lives would be immediately improved by additional farmland and safe paths, are still waiting and will continue to wait without additional support for groups like the HALO Trust. The battle ended nearly thirty years ago, and every March 23rd, the great and the good of Angola come to Cuito Cuanavale to celebrate it. For the other 364 days of the calendar, the people of the minefields should be remembered and assisted.
Michael P. Moore
June 23, 2016
moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
Norwegian People’s Aid first began working in Angola in the 1990s. They are focused on the northwestern provinces of Malanje, Uige, Kwanza Norte and Zaire, three of which border the Democratic Republic of Congo. NPA is committed to helping Angola meet the objective of being landmine-free by 2025, but NPA’s current capacity is less than a third of what is was in 2008. At the current capacity, NPA would need 16 years to complete all known tasks. By doubling current capacity, NPA would complete those tasks in 8 years. NPA will likely complete mine clearance in Malanje province within the next year, a massive achievement. The US State Department and Embassy of Japan are the only current donors to NPA in Angola.
My first flight on a Cessna. I’m reminded of Bill Bryson’s abiding fear of such aircraft, but I found it to be relatively calm if a bit noisy. The haze and humidity over Luanda made looking out the window pretty much useless, but once we got into the interior the clouds cleared and we could make out the ground. We were following the railway almost due east, covering the miles with ease. A quick check-in at the hotel and then to the Norwegian People’s Aid office for a briefing. Our party includes Dr. Adriano and the Brigadier from CNIDAH, Dorches from the US Embassy, Stan Brown and Dennis Hadrick from the State Department and myself. Brent the pilot makes seven.
Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) has been working in Angola for 21 years and based in Malanje (the town and the province) for the last decade. NPA is responsible for the northwestern provinces of Malanje, Uige, Kwanza Norte and Zaire. Malanje is one of two provinces in Angola (Huambo is the other) that could have the distinction of being the first to be mine-free. That’s a race everyone wins.
NPA’s country leader in Angola, Vanja, is new having come from Croatia originally with stops in South Sudan and Ukraine in between. Joaquim is NPA’s number two with 16 years of experience and has been running the show for the last year. But there’s work to be done. According to Vanja the current capacity (about 100 staff, half of them deminers) would need 16 years to clear all of the known minefields in the four provinces. If the funding were increased and NPA could have 100 deminers on staff, NPA would only need 8 years to clear the remaining minefields. Unfortunately NPA’s trend line is heading in the wrong direction. In 2008 NPA had over 300 employees and triple the annual budget with funds coming from the Norwegian government, Norwegian oil companies and the US State Department. Now NPA’s funding comes almost solely from the US State Department with a small grant from the Japanese embassy. The crash in oil prices led to the end of support from the Norwegian petroleum sector. NPA has a proposal out to Switzerland’s Digger Foundation for a mine-clearance machine and the supporting costs, but have yet to hear one way or the other.
In addition to the formal briefing from NPA, we had a meeting with Malanje’s vice governor for economic affairs (each province has a governor and three vice-governors; the vice governor for social and political affairs typically holds the mine action portfolio, but he was on leave at the time of the meeting). The vice governor emphasized the role of demining in economic development, saying “We must declare the whole country clear of mines.” Specific to Malanje province the vice governor spoke about the economic opportunities to be found in the emerging tourism industry around the Kalandula Waterfalls (second or third-highest in Africa depending upon who you ask), “It is our wish to have this area declared free of mines,” and the benefits to local subsistence and commercial farming. He concluded his remarks by asking, “What do you need from the [provincial] government to achieve this objective?”
The vice governor also mentioned that a mine had exploded just two weeks ago not far from Malanje town when some farmers triggered it on the way to their fields (luckily no one was hurt). There is no formal reporting mechanism in Angola for landmine accidents in Angola and even though NPA covers four provinces, they only were aware of a single incident in Malanje province (and being absolutely fair, it is not NPA’s responsibility to track landmine incidents except insofar as it informs their prioritization and confirms the location of minefields; the government, either nationally or locally, should have a surveillance program in place. According to Dr. Adriano, the local office of CNIDAH should be monitoring for landmine incidents, but that is information that is clearly not reaching NPA and is not reported by the national office of CNIDAH). After the blast, no one seemed to know what happened to the victims or their families.
The recent explosion and the fact that farmers in at least one village are doing impromptu, “community” demining (and handed some 15 live landmines to NPA staff when NPA started clearance in the village) demonstrates the demand for agricultural land. From the airplane I saw evidence of slash and burn techniques in place (clouds of smoke and blackened fields) which suggest that more sustainable practices have yet to take hold. Agricultural extension agents could accompany demining teams to discuss improved techniques ahead of releases of land by the operators and reduce some of the pressure on the land and the clearance teams (in Mozambique I was told villagers were “nipping at the heels” of the deminers to get crops in to the ground; in Angola it sounds like the farmers aren’t that patient).
Day in the Minefields of Malanje:
The Norwegian People’s Aid team took us to three sites: two that had been completed and one still in progress. We started with the in-progress site, Carreira de Tiro, a wartime strategic point held first by the Cubans and then by the Angolan army, the FAPLA (now the FAA).
Carreira de Tiro is 8 kms from Malanje town is lies just below a ridge which overlooks the town. The mines were laid by FAPLA in 1986 as a defensive measure to protect the high ground. Now it is agricultural land and the ridge separates two small villages with lots of foot traffic between them along a rutted dirt road. The villagers knew about the minefield and the local administration asked NPA to clear the minefield on behalf of the nearly 1,000 families living in the village immediately below the ridge. Fortunately (miraculously), no injuries or accidents have been reported. NPA started working on the minefield about six weeks ago, using a MineWolf to create breech lanes and when the MineWolf encountered mines, NPA switched to manual demining.
To date, NPA has cleared 49,800 square meters of the 120,000 square meters in the hazardous area. With 19 deminers on site, NPA expects to complete all clearance activities within three months. During the clearance, NPA has found only anti-personnel mines, Russian-made MA 75s. Before NPA arrived, farmers prepping the fields had found 15 mines and handed these to a presumably surprised NPA team. The mines found by the farmers and those cleared by NPA are slated for demolition soon, but need to be transported to another location where a massed explosion can be safely contained.
The mines were laid in a single belt, approximately 1 meter apart and no mines have been found outside of that belt. The belt itself is cut by a farmer’s field full of cassava plants and along one of rows, a single mine was found. The farmers use hoes to create the rows and it is sheer luck that in building the row the farmer did not trigger a mine.
I was glad to see that our visit did not interrupt NPA’s work (although they did halt while we were walking the minefield) and the deminers were continuing their work and had uncovered five more mines which will need to be lifted and destroyed.
NPA did receive approval from the local police force to detonate four mines for show. Dorches, the US Embassy representative did the honors and got a pretty decent bang and puff of smoke.
Having seen what an active minefield clearance project looks like, NPA then took us to visit two cleared sites. The first, Camatende, was 15 kilometers from Malanje town and had been cleared a couple of year ago. A military outpost had been protected by a minefield that crossed a small dirt track. After the war, several people had been killed or injured trying to cultivate the land and NPA was asked to clear the minefield on behalf of the 30 or so families living in the area. NPA cleared the mined, finding 14 anti-personnel mines and returned the land to the community. Clearly grateful for NPA’s intervention, some forty of the 150 members of the community, led by community leader Jose Tchikeza, turned out to greet us and thank us in person with speeches and ululations.
The second site, in the village of Caculama, was much farther away, nearly an hour’s drive mostly on tarmac road. During the war, most of the residents of Caculama had been displaced and when they returned to their community, the presence of mines constrained their options for housing. Some 80 families had returned with nowhere to go and were putting pressure on the community that was there. The local administration contacted NPA who came and cleared the mines in just 44 working days using mechanical and manual means. 22 anti-personnel mines were destroyed in the process and those displaced families have been able to build 200 houses and are now engaged in subsistence farming in the surrounding fields. There were no speeches to greet us, but the youngest beneficiaries of NPA’s work were more than willing to pose for a photo.
This is a generation that won’t know the fear of landmines. This is a generation of hope for Angola. And a pretty cheeky bunch as well.
Tomorrow (the 22nd) we head to the HALO Trust’s working site in Cuito Cuanavale. We’ll make a brief stop in Menongue to re-fuel and meet with the local administration there.
Michael P. Moore
June 22, 2016
moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
The past hangs over Luanda like the humid air. The hulking Portuguese fort that looms over the harbor and the Parliament building a constant reminder of the colonial era. Also dominating the skyline is the memorial to Angola’s first president, Dr. Agostinho Neto who led the ruling MPLA party during the liberation war and for the first four years of independence. The second and current president, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, has ruled Angola for eight times as long as his predecessor, but it is Neto’s visage which stares down at you, the way that Lenin, Mao and Ho Chi Minh dominate the iconography of their countries.
Memories are malleable and in Angola, the narrative presented by the two public buildings I visited – the aforementioned fort and memorial – creates an Angola that has overcome colonization, achieved peace, and developed into a global presence thanks to petroleum reserves and national determination. The exhibits I saw were long on artifacts and photos and very spare in context or explanation. Tour guides provide much of the context, but the language barrier left me to my own interpretations which are what follow. The Portuguese fort has been re-purposed as the museum of war and focuses on the forty years of conflict that begun with the liberation war in 1961 and continued with the civil war until its conclusion in 2002. The liberation war story is relatively straightforward, but also presented as part of the long continuum of struggle by Angolans against Portuguese rule. There are hallways which show the weapons of centuries past and the development from musketry to machine guns and a very brief nod to the historic queen whose defiance of the Portuguese led to brutal reprisals. The Portuguese cannon placements, facing inland rather than towards the sea, show where the colonial rulers feared the threat lay to their control. The liberation war also created Neto as the national hero.
The civil war, which started even before Angola’s independence, was a proxy war, part of the “hot war” that was the Cold War with South Africans, Cubans, Zaireans and Namibians participating, strengthened by the financial and military support of the United States and the Soviet Union. The museum simplifies the narrative as a continuation of the colonial struggle pitting Angola against the Apartheid regime of South Africa, thus reducing the stigma against UNITA and allowing for reconstruction and reconciliation.
The artifacts of the civil war include pieces of a South African jet shot down during the pivotal battle of Cuito Cuanavale and a napalm shell attributed to both Portugal and the South Africans.
The use of landmines during the wars received very little attention in the museum, a fact that somewhat surprised me. I am certainly biased on the subject, but I expected with all of the other weaponry on show that at least a representative sample of the dozens of landmines used in Angola’s wars would be in the exhibit. Instead, there was just a single mine, lacking in any markings or distinguishing features. Its provenance is unknown. I am sure there are many examples of Portuguese or South African mines that could have been included, but the exhibitors chose this one.
Speaking of landmines, yesterday was a strategy and planning meeting for Angola’s mine action sector. With more than forty participants including the national demining commission, CNIDAH; the national demining institute, INAD; national operators, APACOMINAS and Terra Mãe; international operators, Norwegian Peoples Aid, the HALO Trust and MAG; the Geneva International Center for Humanitarian Demining; and the US State Department. I was told by those present that the meeting was positive and should set the framework for a mine-free (or landmine impact-free in State Department parlance) Angola by 2025. Landmine clearance started in Angola in the early 1990s and was interrupted by the resurgence of the civil war in the mid-90s until the conclusion of the war in 2002. Over the last decade much progress has been made, but we are at a critical point. The international operators are all being forced to reduce staff due to a decline in funding: HALO has withdrawn from Bie province, DanChurchAid has completely withdrawn and MAG has shrunk from its peak staffing. And peak staffing and capacity is what is needed to complete landmine clearance in Angola. The size of the country and the scale of contamination means that if the international operators could function at double their peak capacity, Angola’s landmines would be eliminated by the target date of 2025. That means more than doubling the investment currently coming in to the country. Yesterday’s meetings should empower CNIDAH to take the lead on planning and deploying national and international clearance assets, but CNIDAH will also need to clearly communicate to the donor community about the need and potential. The planned US-Norway summit on humanitarian mine clearance, scheduled as part of the United Nations General Assembly meetings are an ideal opportunity to make that case.
In addition to demining, Angola’s mine action strategy must include victim assistance.
In the Neto memorial there was a poster exhibit from Fundacao Lwini, a national organization that works on behalf of landmine victims and persons with disabilities. Angola’s First Lady, Ana Paula dos Santos was inspired by Princess Diana’s visit to Angola in January 1997 in which Diana met with landmine survivors at an orthopedic center in Huambo and dos Santos established Fundacao Lwini in 1998 to carry on the work that Diana championed.
The posters included photos from the OK Prosthetics missions to Angola in 2013, 2014 and 2015 under the Passo Seguro project.
OK Prosthetics is an Icelandic company founded by the same man who started the Ossur company, one of the leading producers of prosthetics (including the Cheetah legs used by Paralympic runners). OK Prosthetics focuses on low income countries to make high quality prosthetics available. As a comparison, on the left is a locally-made artisanal prosthetic from southern Angola and on the left is model produced by OK Prosthetics.
The Passo Seguro project clearly benefitted many Angolans in need of proper prosthetics, but I have some concerns that I hope to share with the Lwini Foundation during my trip: Is it possible for Angola to produce orthopedic devices of the same quality as those made by OK Prosthetics? How would one repair an OK Prosthetic should the need arise? Landmine survivors and amputees often need more than orthopedic devices and prosthetics to fully participate in society: how does the Passo Seguro project contribute to other Fundacao Lwini initiatives?
Next stop is Malanje, a few hundred kilometers inland where Norwegian People’s Aid and APOPO are working.
Michael P. Moore
June 19, 2016
Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org