The Current Landmine Situation in Africa (July 2011)

Let’s start with a baseline: what is the current landmine situation in Africa?  According to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, Egypt, Libya and Somalia are the only African countries who have not signed or ratified the Mine Ban Treaty; of the three Libya is the only one without a participating member in the ICBL, Somalia has eight.  Since the early stages of the mine ban movement, African states and civil society have been major participants and responsible for much of the progress.  Ken Rutherford credits Nelson Mandela and South Africa’s leadership on the issue for bringing much-needed momentum to the mine ban treaty negotiations in the mid-1990s, especially since South Africa had been a significant producer and exporter of landmines under the Apartheid regime.  The first review conference of the Mine Ban Treaty took place in Nairobi in 2004 leading to a re-investment in victim assistance and identifying the 25 states with the greatest responsibility to act on behalf of landmine victims.  In addition to policy leadership, four African states that had been affected by landmines, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tunisia and Zambia, have declared themselves to be mine-free.  That’s the good news.

The bad news is that of those 25 countries with the greatest need and greatest responsibility, 11 (Angola, Burundi, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Senegal, Sudan and Uganda) are in Africa and Egypt and Somalia would also have made the list had they been parties to the Mine Ban Treaty.  The enormous number of refugees and displaced persons on the continent mean that there is a constant flow of people to and from conflict areas and the continent remains mired in multiple conflicts.  In 2011, there have been reports of new use of landmines in Libya and Sudan.  30 African countries are still affected by landmines and other explosive remnants of war and 534 landmine casualties were reported in 19 African countries in 2009 (Somalia alone accounted for 126 of those casualties). 

One of the obligations of parties to the Mine Ban Treaty is to clear all known mined areas within 10 years of ratifying or acceding to the Treaty. This year Algeria, DRC and Eritrea requested additional time to meet that obligation whilst Chad, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Senegal, Uganda and Zimbabwe had previously had such requests approved and continue to try and meet those obligations.  The delay in clearing mines means the risk of injury and death from landmines continues in those nine countries and more and more countries are requesting extensions as their clearance deadlines approach. 

That’s the view from ten thousand feet.  A little closer to the ground and we see some positive signs and some negative ones:

In Angola, progress continues to clear the extant minefields from that country’s civil wars.  In 2010, over 5,000 landmines were removed, freeing more than 1,000 km of roads and 76 million square meters of land for use (Angola Press Agency, 11-MAR-2011).

Whilst Nigeria was able to declare itself as mine-free, some sources suggest that tens of thousands of pieces of unexploded ordnance remain in the ground from the Biafra War (Daily Champion, 16-MAR-2011).

One thousand Congolese were forced to re-settle on an improperly cleared minefield in Kisangani to allow space for economic development (UN IRIN, 4-APR-2011).

The Japanese government, despite the tsunami and nuclear disaster, pledged to continue its support to mine action in Mozambique; a pledge that keeps Mozambique on target for becoming mine-free in 2014 (Agencia de Informacao de Mocambique, 15-FEB-2011 / Agencia de Informacao de Mocambique, 5-APR-2011)

The rebels fighting the Gaddhafi regime in Libya pledged not to use landmines in their struggle (Human Rights Watch, 29-APR-2011).

The sanctions against Zimbabwe mean that minefields leftover from the civil war in the 1970s remain intact.  The government estimates that $100 million is required to clear the remaining landmines (Zimbabwe Independent, 23-JUN-2011).

290,000 Somalis were warned of the dangers posed by landmines through mine risk education despite the ongoing violence and humanitarian crisis there (UNDP 18-MAR-2011).

Humanitarian aid is undelivered to regions of South Sudan due to landmines being laid by militias along the roadways (UN IRIN 6-JUN-2011 / UN IRIN 13-JUN-2011).

Lastly, a school in Western Uganda was using an unexploded bomb as a bell.  The bomb was discovered when a mine risk education team came to the school to make a presentation and a teacher rang the “bell” by hitting it with a rock to call the students to order.  The bomb was removed immediately for demolition (The Daily Monitor, 3-JUL-2011).

So, the overall situation is a mixed one.  We see some successes and some failures, but the general trendline appears to be positive.  Good.  Let’s keep it that way.

Michael P. Moore, July 27, 2011.

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