Whither the “African Spring”?

“I will eat them like samosas.”

 – Yoweri Museveni describing how he would deal with an Arab Spring-style demonstrators.

Recently, I saw a couple of posts on Facebook encouraging the people of Zimbabwe to rise up against the regime of Robert Mugabe.  That’s great, it really is.  But, if you are serious about encouraging Zimbabweans to rise up against Mugabe, don’t send Facebook posts; send money.  Send guns and people who know how to use them.  Send journalists to document the regime’s abuses and then send NATO air superiority.  But why stop at Zimbabwe.  Why not encourage the peoples of Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Cameroon, Gabon, Sudan, Uganda, Burkina Faso or Chad to rise up against their oppressive regimes.  You won’t run out of dictators in African to overthrow any time soon.

So, maybe the question should be, why, in the face of the successes of the Arab Spring, have we not seen an African Spring?  Well, who says we haven’t?  There have been popular revolutions recently in Madagascar when Adriy Rajoelina street protests ousted the Ravalomana regime and in Cote d’Ivoire, following the stolen elections, the true winner, Alassane Outtarra’s forces (with the support of French troops – see the Libya connection) ousted Laurent Gbagbo’s regime. That’s two examples and in Uganda we see the gathering storm created by the Walk to Work campaign, despite Yoweri Museveni’s recent re-election as president with support of nearly three-quarters of the electorate. The Madagascar and Cote d’Ivoire actions preceded the Arab Spring, but much like the unsuccessful Green Revolution in Iran (and the earlier, successful Cedar Revolution in Lebanon), these popular uprisings have demonstrated to the populations under oppressive regimes that popular movement can galvanize the opposition and possible create change.  But the wave of protest and change that has swept North Africa (Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Morocco) and Syria has not sparked a similar movement across sub-Saharan Africa.

I’d like to pose a few reasons why we have not seen an African Spring (or at least one recognized as such).  I’m sure that we will see several dissertations on this subject over the next few years but let me take an initial bloggy stab.  Specifically, I am interested on the barriers to the kind of mass mobilization that would spark a popular revolution as we saw in North Africa. Here, in no particular order, are nine candidates (I tried for ten, but ran short):

1. Election violence

In 2007, the presidential elections in Kenya were marred by (correct) accusations of fraud and vote-rigging; those accusations led to violent attacks by supporters of Raila Odinga against supporters of Mwai Kibaki and vice versa.  Odinga and Kibaki had stoked ethnic tensions leading up to the elections and the spasms of violence, leaving thousands dead and hundreds of thousands displaced, were committed along ethnic lines (IRIN News).  Since the 2007 election in Kenya, many other elections in Africa (Zimbabwe, Nigeria, Uganda and Cote d’Iviore, to name just a couple) have been accompanied by accusations of vote-rigging and subsequent violence.

These accusations and the associated violence reveal that many leaders (both in government and in the opposition) in Africa have instrumentalized ethnicity as a short-cut for loyalty.  This instrumentalization has polarized African nations to the point where mass mobilization of “the people” against the “government,” as seen in Tunisia and Egypt would be difficult because of the ethnic ties between leaders and followers.  As long as those ties exist (and are rewarded with patronage), leaders can rely on the continuing loyalty of their followers.

2. History of civil war in Africa

After the end of the Cold War, many African nations experienced long civil wars.  In West Africa the conflict complex drew in the nations of Liberia, Sierra Leone, Cote d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso; in East Africa the conflict complexes include Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan and Somalia; in Central Africa, the African World War grew out of the Rwandan genocide to involve the former Zaire, Uganda, Burundi, Angola and Zimbabwe.  These wars and the many other conflicts of the last two decades in sub-Saharan Africa have left the continent played out.  The exuberance with which Libyans embarked on their armed uprising against Gaddhafi’s forces would not be seen in countries already suffering from years of war and all of its associated pains.  In North Africa and the Middle East, despite the horrific oppression, the countries of the Arab Spring – Tunisia, Bahrain, Egypt, Libya and Syria – have been relatively peaceful.  Note that those Arab countries that have experienced civil war in recent years – Algeria, Lebanon, Palestine and Iraq – there have been no such uprisings or demonstrations. The absence of conflict has meant that the populations are neither polarized into backing one faction over another; nor have the potential revolutionaries already been brought into other movements. The one exception is Yemen which has experienced many years of low-level conflict and has been an active participant in the Arab Spring. 

3. African Union rules

Not too long ago, as recently as August, the African Union announced that it would not recognize the National Transitional Council in Libya as the official government, despite the fact that the NTC was recognized by members of NATO as the official government (Huffington Post).  This was due to the fact that one of the African Union’s rules explicitly prevented recognition of governments that came to power via coups or other non-democratic methods.  The abdications of Mubarak in Egypt and Ben Ali in Tunisia meant the AU could recognize the interim governments in those states, but because the NTC was seeking to seize power by armed means, the AU would not recognize the NTC (in September, the AU recognized the NTC, presumably under pressure from the US and Western Europe, [BBC News]). 

This rule was put in place to discourage coups and to protect leaders democratically elected.  Okay, many “democratic” regimes in sub-Saharan Africa are pure dictatorships with only thin veneers of electoral validation, but those regimes were the ones to come up with the rule of non-recognition of coup leaders out of self-interest and self-preservation.  The fact that Gaddhafi himself came to power by coup is an example of the inconsistency of the policy, but the rule is still there and it has been used to keep Andriy Rajoelina’s regime in Madagascar a pariah state.  In other words, the rule works when applied and I think the African Union wanted to demonstrate that it would be willing to enforce its policy in the face of external (NATO) intervention.

4. Lack of external intervention

Speaking of NATO, I think external interventions in Egypt and Libya have been key to the success of those revolutions.  When the United States withdrew support for Mubarak in Egypt, he and his supporters quickly fell from power.  When NATO airstrikes stopped the assault of Gaddhafi’s forces on Benghazi, that started to turn the tide; the continued assistance from NATO in terms of intelligence and air superiority helped to seal the end of Gaddhafi’s rule.  Tunisia is the only Arab Spring state to completely succeed in overthrowing the regime without external assistance and the absence of assistance to demonstrators in Bahrain, Syria and Yemen has kept those leaders in place.  In fact, the external intervention in Bahrain, Syria and Yemen has been (from Saudi Arabia to Bahrain and Yemen, from Russia and Iran to Syria) on the side of the ruling regimes.  Similarly, during Iran’s Green Revolution, the absence of external support to the protesters allowed the regime time to re-group and quash the uprising. 

In Uganda, the Walk to Work protests have been going for some weeks and the opposition leadership has been beaten and arrested.  But the US has refused to comment and has provided additional military support to the Ugandan army and government to pursue the Lord’s Resistance Army rebels.  This is in addition to the support Uganda receives from the US for sending Ugandan soldiers to Somalia to serve as peacekeepers.  The message to the Ugandan protesters could not be clearer: help is not coming for you.  So even where a potential African Spring event is occurring, the absence of external support for the protesters will likely prevent the uprising from succeeding.

5. Twitter and communications infrastructure

Did you know that Twitter is not available via SMS text messaging outside of Nigeria, Madagascar and Kenya? (The White African Blog).  Twitter was supposed to be available in Cameroon, but Paul Biya’s regime (he has since won re-election and will likely be president for life) banned mobile Twitter use prior to the elections.  Yes, you can use Twitter on computers anywhere in the world, but the ability to mobilize quickly would require remote, mobile phone posts to Twitter, either via a smart phone or SMS text.  If smart phones are hard to come by (simply because of cost), then SMS texts are the way to go, but for nearly all of sub-Saharan Africa, that’s simply not possible.  The Twitter infrastructure, such a key to protesters in Tahrir Square in Cairo, is not available to potential participants in an African Spring.  The fact that Cameroon banned mobile Twitter confirms the fact that Twitter can be a tool for mobilization and its absence is notable.

Internet use in general differs between sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa.  In 2007, there were only 3.23 internet users per 100 people in sub-Saharan Africa compared to 13.64 per 100 in North Africa (International Telecommunications Union). More internet users means more people with access to information about protests. Remember, the Wikileaks revelations about Tunisia’s rulers and their corruption helped to spur the Arab Spring protests and without internet access, Tunisians and others would not have been able to share this information quickly. 

6. Religious diversity

The Arab Spring states are not religious monoliths.  Egypt and Tunisia have a wide array of faiths and broad diversity of Islamic beliefs, from moderate to extreme.  Syria is extremely diverse, Bahrain is majority Shia (although the rulers are Sunni), and Libya has a wealth of tribes adherent to a spectrum of Islamic beliefs.  However, the mosques in all of these countries were and are important centers for organizing.  The Friday prayers were often followed by marches and mass demonstrations, presumably following sermons given in support of such actions.  Throughout Arab Spring, one could count on the largest demonstrations and protests taking place on Friday afternoons and with each successive week, the number of participants increased. 

At the same time, the rulers of these countries identified with Islam and professed their devotion and so could not shut down the mosques (as they had done with Twitter and mobile phone networks).  The mosques became centers of protests and allowed potential demonstrators to first come together in a non-confrontational venue, see the solidarity of their fellow potential protesters, and emerge together in a demonstration.  It takes bravery to join a protest; that bravery is helped when you already feel the support of group participation instead of venturing to the demonstration site in isolation. 

In sub-Saharan Africa, a union between Christians (of many, many denominations) and Muslims would be needed to coordinate protests in a similar manner as was done in the Arab Spring.  It’s not impossible, and is happening in Syria now, but the simple difference of Friday prayers versus Sunday services creates a divide in the population.  Whose holy day do you protest on? 

7. Language

The term “Arab Spring” can refer not only to the ethnic origins of the populations involved, but also the language.  From Bahrain to Morocco, the Arabic language is a shared tool for communication.  Al Jazeera broadcasts could be seen and understood by the majorities of the populations of the Middle East and North Africa.  This linguistic alliance eases communication and information sharing.  I do not dare estimate the number of languages spoken in sub-Saharan Africa, but I am sure there is no lingua franca throughout the continent.  English may come the closest, although Swahili, French and Arabic may also be contenders.  The language barrier may be more insurmountable for mobilization than ethnic or religious divides: if the leaders of the demonstrations cannot get their message across, they will not attract new adherents.

8. Urbanization

Where people live closer together, the ability of leaders (or opposition) to mobilize the population is much easier.  The average level of urbanization (proportion of population living in cities) in sub-Saharan Africa is 36% (Afribiz); for North Africa (the Africa of Arab Spring) the level is 59%.  Yes, there are some sub-Saharan countries with extremely high levels of urbanization, e.g., Gabon at 85%, whilst Egypt is only 43% urbanized (Cairo does have around 15 million people living in and around the city, making it the largest metropolitan area in Africa, more populous than two-thirds of sub-Saharan African countries, [Wikipedia]).  Communication and transportation are easier in urbanized areas; social networks may be denser; places to congregate easier to locate. 

When populations are more spread out, when countries are less urbanized, mass mobilization requires physically getting people to the demonstration sites and feeding and housing them between demonstrations.  These logistical barriers are not found in urban settings where demonstrators could simply go home after the event, or – as in Tahrir Square – the networks and markets necessary to feed and support the demonstrating populations already existed because they were needed to support the city in the first place. 

9. Educated Youth Bulge

The Arab Spring started when Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire in front of a government office in Tunisia.  He later died of his wounds.  His self-immolation was borne out of the frustration he felt as a college graduate who was forced to work as a street vendor (BBC News).  That frustration is not unique. Across Africa and the Middle East, there are large populations of young men and women who were promised better lives and jobs if they received an education; promises that have not been fulfilled.  In Arab countries the frustration has fueled blogs, websites and Facebook accounts.  In sub-Saharan Africa countries, the same process is happening, but the level of access to the Internet is less than in North Africa and the Middle East (see above).

An African Spring is not entirely out of the question, but the above reasons show the enormous hurdles that would need to be overcome to rid African nations of their dictators.  And Facebook posts won’t get it done.

Michael P. Moore, October 25, 2011.

Twitter’s Lyrical Landmines

I spend a lot of time monitoring social media and have set up searches on Twitter to find all tweets containing the words “landmine” or “landmines.”  The results have sometimes been a bit confusing, especially since the cast of “Jersey Shore” uses the word frequently (you’ll have to look it up, if you’re wondering).  However, an even more interesting development is how frequently the word “landmine” shows up in song lyrics.  In addition to the bands, Landmine Marathon (a heavy metal outfit from Phoenix, Arizona) and the Landmines Band (punk rock from Richmond, Virginia), a number of songwriters have used landmines as metaphors or subjects in their songs.  So without further ado, and in no particular order, here are some frequently quoted landmine lyrics from Twitter…

(please understand, I take no responsibility for the content or quality of these songs or their YouTube videos; a few of the songs I knew, but most were new to me.  Sorry for the YouTube advertisements).

Metallica, One: “Landmine has taken my sight…”


Wale, Lotus Flower Bomb: “Baby girl you the bomb and all but I be damned if I do not landmine…”


The Vowels, Part 2, Why?: “I’m not a ladies man, I’m a land mine; Filming my own fake death”


Wale, Word Play: “Play me for a stepping stone then, I land mine”


Aerosmith, Ragdoll: “Tapdancing on a landmine”


Motley Crue, Saints of Los Angeles: “Red line tripping on a land mine, sipping at the Troubadour”


Kendrick Lamar, Hiiiipower: “I’m standing on a field full of Landmines doing the moonwalk hoping I blow up in time”


Billy Talent, Diamond on a Landmine


Jay Electronica, Not a Disturbance: “Take it easy homie you know these land lines is land mines. One step ka-BOOM.. . twenty years of man time”


The US Military’s Alternatives to Anti-Personnel and Persistent Landmines

As of January 1st of this year, the United States government, under the Landmine Policy announced on February 27, 2004, would no longer “use any persistent landmines — neither anti-personnel nor anti-vehicle – anywhere” including the Korean Peninsula, but would “continue to research and develop enhancements to the current self-destructing/self-deactivating landmine technology in order to develop and preserve military capabilities that address the United States transformational goals” (State Department).  So far, the US has produced two alternative systems, the XM7 Spider Network Command Munition Systems (Spider Systems) which replaces anti-personnel mines in the national armory and the Scorpion Anti-Vehicle Alternative which replaces anti-vehicle / anti-tank mines. Both the Spider and the Scorpion systems are “networked munitions systems,” which I understand to mean that they detonate upon command from a soldier and not victim-activated.  From examining the government’s solicitation documents and publicity materials, I understand the Spider system to be further along in testing and production and the Scorpion system has yet to be fully accepted by the US military: “In February 2009, the Scorpion program conducted a third “user jury,” placing real prototype systems in the hands of Soldiers… [the U.S. Army’s Product Manager for Intelligent Munitions Systems] will incorporate Soldier feedback to make changes that enhance Scorpion’s capabilities” (US Army, pdf).

According to the U.S. Army’s Product Manager for Intelligent Munitions Systems:

“Spider is an alternative to persistent antipersonnel (AP) landmines and the first of the networked munitions to be fielded. The AP munition was developed to protect friendly forces and shape the battlefield while minimizing risk to friendly troops and noncombatants. The system’s Munition Control Unit (MCU) is fitted with six munitions launchers, each covering a sector of 60 degrees. On operator command, the Spider autonomously deploys trip wires corresponding to each sector. When the trip wire is activated, a signal is sent from the MCU to the Remote Control Unit (RCU) where an operator decides whether to detonate the grenades or take other action. Spider can be recovered and replenished after an engagement and deactivated on command to enable safe recovery or passage of friendly forces. Spider meets National Landmine Policy by incorporating self-destructing / self-deactivating capability and enhanced control mechanisms, and by developing and fielding a landmine alternative prior to 2010” (US Army, pdf). 

Development of the Spider system is managed by the US Army’s Program Executive Office Ammunition (PEO Ammo) and carried out as a joint venture by Alliant Techsystems Inc. (ATK) and Textron Systems Corporation.  At the Association of the United States Army’s 2011 Annual Meeting and Exposition, PEO Ammo, ATK and Textron all exhibited examples of the Spider system, photos of which are below.

To date, I have found evidence that the US Army has ordered the manufacture and delivery of 179-199 Spider systems.  The first order of 9-14 units was made in FY06 (Solicitation # W15QKN-06-R-0103); the second order of 110-125 was made in FY09 (Solicitation # W15QKN-09-R-0103) and a third order of 60 units was made in FY11 (W15QKN-11-R-B001).  All three orders are part of the “Low Rate Initial Production (LRIP) Phase” of the development of the Spider system.  In terms of cost, the second order was priced at $68 million, roughly $500,000 per unit; the first and third orders did not include estimated costs.  The $68 million spent on the Spider system in FY08 only represents the cost of research and development of alternative systems to anti-personnel mines; it does not include any purchases of anti-vehicle mines (still allowed in FY08), M18A1 Claymore mines, or research and development costs of the Scorpion system.  For comparison’s sake, the United States contributed $85 million to humanitarian mine action in 2008 (The Monitor), probably far less than was spent by the government on purchasing new landmines.

In addition to the Scorpion and Spider system, the US government issued a market survey “to gather information on potential material solutions that have the performance capability to fully replace the current Family of Scatterable Mines (FASCAM) capabilities (the M86 Pursuit Defense Munitions (PDM), the M131 MOPMS, M87/M87A1 Volcano (Ground and Air), M692 and M731 ADAM 155MM, M718/A1, M741/A1 RAAM 155MM, and the CBU-89A/B and CBU-78A/B Gator bombs) without being designated an “Anti-personnel mine” (Solicitation # W15QKN-10-X-0147).  Essentially, most existing scatterable mines would fall under the definition of cluster munitions, especially the Gator bombs (Global Security).  The market survey sought to try and eliminate “dumb” scatterable munitions and replace them with “smart” or self-destructing / self-deactivating scatterable munitions.  The M87 Volcano system, is probably part of the next generation of intelligent munitions and described as “a mass scatterable mine delivery system that delivers mines by helicopter or ground vehicle. It enables tactical commanders to emplace antitank (AT)/AP or pure AT minefields with a minimum of personnel. A Soldier-selectable, self-destruct mechanism destroys the mine at the end of its active lifecycle – 4 hours to 15 days – depending on the time selected. Using a ground vehicle, a 1,000-meter minefield can be laid in 4 to 12 minutes based on terrain and vehicle speed. A helicopter can complete the mission in 20 seconds. Advantages of this system include faster response, increased lethality, greater efficiency and enhanced safety” (US Army, pdf). 

So, the summary of all of this is that the United States continues to explore the development and use of anti-personnel landmines, albeit under the limited definition (i.e., non-persistent) of the 2004 Landmine Policy which the US claims is in line with the Mine Ban Treaty.  In the FY12 budget, the Department of the Army requested $87.4 million to continue research and development of “Alternatives to Anti-Personnel Landmines” building upon FY10’s appropriation of $89.1 million and FY11’s appropriation of $95.6 million (Department of the Army, pdf). I wish I had some witty remark to close, but I’ve got nothing.  The things I wish I didn’t know…

Michael P. Moore, October 14, 2011.

Anti-tank or Anti-vehicle mines: Perfectly legal and plenty lethal

I said when I started this blog (August 1st Post) that I would be using the Mine Ban Treaty’s definition of a landmine, specifically meaning anti-personnel landmines, but of late I’m having trouble with that definition.  A landmine is a landmine is a landmine.  An anti-tank or anti-vehicle mine is as dangerous (if not almost certainly more lethal) to a person than an anti-personnel mine.  A single anti-vehicle mine can also kill or injure on a greater scale than an anti-personnel mine.  Recent mine accidents in Abyei, Sudan (BBC News), in Eritrea (All Africa) and just this past weekend in South Sudan’s Unity State (Africa Review) were likely caused by anti-vehicle mines, killing thirty-one and injuring fifty-two others in just three incidents.  In addition to their greater potency, anti-vehicle landmines are perfectly legal for states to use, even those that are party to the Mine Ban Treaty.

From the recently updated United Nations Disarmament page on landmines:

“Landmines come in two varieties: anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines. Both have caused great suffering in the past decades. Anti-personnel landmines are prohibited under the [Mine Ban Treaty], adopted in 1997… The Secretary-General calls on all countries to also regulate the use of anti-vehicle landmines. Such weapons [anti-vehicle mines] continue to cause many casualties, often civilian. They restrict the movement of people and humanitarian aid, make land unsuitable for cultivation, and deny citizens access to water, food, care and trade.” (United Nations).

So, where does this distinction between anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines come from?  I can trace it back to the International Committee of the Red Cross’s 1996 report, Antipersonnel Landmines: Friend or Foe?, in which a group of military experts had made several declarations regarding the military utility of anti-personnel mines.  The report and the assembled experts declared that “the military value of anti-tank mines is acknowledged, the value of AP mines is questionable” and “The limited military utility of AP mines is far outweighed by the appalling humanitarian consequences of their use in actual conflicts” (Journal of Mine Action). With the support of military experts and leaders, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines could lobby governments to ban anti-personnel mines, but the declaration of the “military value of anti-tank mines” meant that governments would be loath to ban those munitions as well.

Anti-personnel and anti-vehicle mines are defined in Article 2 of the Mine Ban Treaty as follows:

“’Anti-personnel mine’ means a mine designed to be exploded by the presence, proximity or contact of a person and that will incapacitate, injure or kill one or more persons. Mines designed to be detonated by the presence, proximity or contact of a vehicle as opposed to a person, that are equipped with anti-handling devices, are not considered anti-personnel mines as a result of being so equipped…

“’Anti-handling device’ means a device intended to protect a mine and which is part of, linked to, attached to or placed under the mine and which activates when an attempt is made to tamper with or otherwise intentionally disturb the mine” (Mine Ban Treaty, emphasis added). 

By defining anti-vehicle mines according to their intended purpose and mentioning anti-handling devices, but specifically using the word “that” instead of “and,” the Mine Ban Treaty authors allowed states to continue to manufacture and use anti-vehicle mines. Also, not all anti-vehicle mines possess anti-handing devices: “Technical literature suggests that between 50 per cent and 75 per cent of existing anti-vehicle mine types are equipped with antihandling devices. Austria, Belgium, the Czech Republic, France, Germany, Spain, Norway, Sweden and the UK [all parties to the Mine Ban Treaty] possess anti-vehicle mines with anti-handling devices” (German Initiative to Ban Landmines, pdf), but the report does not say whether all of those countries’ anti-vehicle mines have antihandling devices.  

According to Human Rights Watch, “Under the definition of “antihandling device” in the Mine Ban Treaty, the following would be included:

  • antihandling, anti-disturbance, anti-tilt circuits and fuzes
  • anti-lift and pressure release circuits and fuzes
  • trip, contact and break wires
  • tilt rod fuzes
  • magnetic influence fuzes
  • light sensitive fuzes
  • cocked striker mechanisms in the firing chain
  • motion sensitive fuzes
  • acoustic sensors
  • infra-red (IR) sensors
  • seismic or vibration sensors
  • electro-magnetic sensors

It would appear that any use of tilt rods, tripwires, breakwires, and contact wires would be prohibited under the treaty, as they could clearly cause the antivehicle mine to explode from an unintentional act” (ICBL).

Four state parties, Denmark, France, Japan and the United Kingdom, have declared that all anti-vehicle mines, whether or not they possess anti-handling devices, are allowed under the Mine Ban Treaty.  Other states parties, twenty-five in all, “Support the view that any mine, despite its label or design intent, capable of being detonated by the unintentional act of a person is an AP mine and is prohibited;” which includes anti-vehicle mines and those with anti-handling devices.  Certain anti-handling devices, like tilt rods and trip wires are more likely to be accidentally triggered than others, hence the broader definition taken by these twenty-five parties.  Therefore, that means that remaining 120 parties have not expressed any opinion about when anti-vehicle mines might qualify as anti-personnel mines (The Monitor, pdf).

So, many countries possess anti-vehicle mines, many without anti-handling devices, and countries are allowed to buy, sell or transfer anti-vehicle mines to any country virtually without restriction.  Where the Mine Ban Treaty strictly prohibits the sale or transfer of anti-personnel mines, anti-vehicle mines face no such restriction.  I had been wondering about where the landmines that were plaguing the roads in Sudan and South Sudan in recent months had come from since both Sudan and South Sudan had declared their stockpiles of anti-personnel mines, but they are under no such obligation to report or restrict the use of anti-vehicle mines.  There could be thousands of such mines stockpiled by African militaries and rebel groups.  In Libya, tens of thousands of anti-vehicle mines had been stockpiled by the Gaddhafi regime and recently weapons looted from Gaddhafi’s warehouses have been smuggled into Darfur (Bloomberg) demonstrating the possible proliferation of anti-vehicle mines in northern Africa.  

In terms of relative proportions, 20% of all mines in Angola and Ethiopia are believed to be anti-vehicle mines and in Kosovo, half of the 7,200 mines cleared between June 1999 and May 2000 were anti-vehicle mines (German Initiative to Ban Landmines, pdf). According to the 2010 Landmine and Cluster Munitions Monitor, States Parties had destroyed 45 million stockpiled anti-personnel landmines and another 13.6 million anti-personnel landmines were due for destruction by four parties (Belarus, Greece, Turkey and Ukraine) (Landmine Monitor).  Using the figures from Angola / Ethiopia and Kosovo as the low and high estimates, that would mean that States Parties (not counting those States not Party, i.e., China, Russia and the United States among others) may still possess stockpiles of between 15 and 60 million anti-vehicle mines. 

The Mine Ban Treaty is a laudable document, but the definition of anti-personnel landmines in the Treaty represents a compromise; we need not be bound by such compromises.  It does not matter to the men, women and children killed and injured in Abyei, Unity State and Senafe that the anti-vehicle mines they struck were “legal.”  All that matters is that they were mines.  So, I going to avoid parsing things: a landmine is a landmine is a landmine.  And all future landmines need to be banned and all existing mines need to be destroyed, whether they are “smart,” “non-persistent,” “anti-personnel” or “anti-vehicle.” 

Michael P. Moore, October 11, 2011.

September 2011, the Month in Mines

Libya dominated the landmine headlines in September, but news also continued to come out of Somalia (mixed) and Angola (good).  The second meeting of States Parties to the Convention on Cluster Munitions was held in Lebanon with the participation of several African states, including Swaziland – a party to the Mine Ban Treaty since June 1999 – which acceded to the Convention during the meeting.  Eritrea and Sudan also appeared in landmine-related news stories this month.

I think the biggest story of the month is the slow realization of the scale of the landmine problem in Libya.  Two United Nations Inter-Agency Missions, one to Brega (UNOCHA, pdf) and the other to Ra’s Lanuf (UNOCHA, pdf), provided some information in the broader context of the emerging humanitarian crisis in the country.  The NATO Civil-Military Fusion Centre published a landmine-specific background paper on Libya documented the widespread use of anti-tank and anti-personnel landmines by forces loyal to Gaddhafi (Civil-Military Fusion Centre, pdf).  There was some early usage of landmines by rebels in Libya before they disavowed any further use (BBC News), but there have been no recent reports of use by forces loyal to the National Transitional Council (NTC). 

The landmines that have been laid in Libya number in the thousands, possibly the tens or hundreds of thousands and clearance will take years.  Mines Advisory Group has destroyed 8,000 pieces of unexploded ordnance (Mines Advisory Group) and Danish Church Aid is active in Misrata which was struck by cluster munitions (Danish Church Aid), but the NTC estimates that at least 40,000 landmines were laid around Brega alone (Reuters) and the Gaddhafi regime possessed thousands more mines in warehouses that have since been looted (Time).  The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS), responsible for securing and overseeing the removal or destruction of conventional munitions “is woefully understaffed” in Libya (Time). 

In addition to the immediate need for mine clearance, Libya’s hospitals are already overwhelmed by the number of persons – many of whom are civilians and children – who have been injured in the fighting. “The most common injuries now are amputations and ‘open fractures’, which are bones literally shattered and sometimes jutting out of the body from high-velocity wounds” and one author estimated the number of amputations performed in Misrata as almost 5,000 (The National).  Libya lacks the rehabilitation infrastructure to adequately respond to such injuries with no prosthetic centers or wheelchair manufacturers; in addition to the absence of physical rehabilitation facilities, Libya also lacks the ability to provide emotional, psychological and socio-economic assistance to those disabled by their injuries (The National).

Efforts in Libya have already begun to try and get the oil and petroleum industries back on-line.  While still mostly intact, the oil wells and refineries are currently off limits due to severe landmine contamination.  Thousands of mines were laid by Gaddhafi’s forces around oil facilities and until those are removed, a process that will take many months, Libya’s ability to rely on its oil revenues, estimated at $176 million per day (Reuters).

Outside of Libya, Somalia and Angola featured regularly in the news with stories about landmines.  After Al-Shabab’s withdrawal from Mogadishu (a tragically short retreat as today’s – October 4th’s – news shows: BBC News), the Transitional Federal Government’s forces, supported by international peacekeepers, sought to clear the streets of the city.  The security crackdown found many landmines and improvised explosive devices in areas formerly held by Al-Shabab (Mareeg; All Africa; and All Africa).  Those seizures of explosives led to the unfortunate death of Mustafa Mohamed Da’ud, an employee of the United Nations Mine Action Service in Somalia.  Mr. Da’ud apparently died whilst unloading ordnance from a truck in preparation for destruction (All Africa).  In Angola, continued progress was made on demining activities in the country, led by the National Institute for Demining (INAD) (All Africa; Angola Portal; All Africa; and All Africa).  INAD’s work was recognized with the Diamond Trophy of the Business Initiative Directions for the socio-economic benefits of demining (All Africa). 

Brief mentions were also made of landmine incidents in Eritrea where seven people died and dozens more were injured when the bus they were riding in struck a landmine (All Africa; and Assena); in South Sudan where Mines Advisory Group destroyed a large stockpile of arms belonging to the Sudanese Peoples Liberation Army (Mines Advisory Group); and Sudan where United Nations-African Union mission in Darfur (UNAMID) peacekeepers have expanded their mine risk education activities in response to several recent incidents involving children in Darfur (United Nations). 

Lastly, although not in Africa, a twenty-two year old elephant, now-named Pa Hae Po, wandered from Thailand across the border into Burma where he stepped on a landmine severely injuring his front left foot (The Guardian).  Pa Hae Po’s injury was reported, among other sources, by the Associated Press  and Official Wire globally (AP; and Official Wire); by the Washington Post and San Francisco Chronicle in the United States; by the Guardian, Telegraph, Edinburgh Evening News and Birmingham Mail in the United Kingdom; and by 3 News in New Zealand.  All told, Pa Hae Po’s story was carried by 144 news outlets (Google News Search).  If Pa Hae Po had been a child in Mozambique, the Democratic Republic of Congo or Chad instead of an elephant in Thailand, how many stories would have been written about him?

Michael P. Moore, October 4, 2011