The Month in Mines: September 2012, by Landmines in AfricaPosted: October 8, 2012
There is no simple narrative to tie together the mine action stories from the Continent this month. In Angola, Somalia, the United States, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Libya and South Sudan, positive news was tempered by negative or less-welcome news.
At one point in September, Colombia tried to lay claim to the title of country with the second-most landmine victims after Afghanistan with 10,000 reported casualties, but a report from Voice of America (VOA) re-stated the long-standing statistic of 80,000 persons injured by landmines in Angola. VOA described the slow and pain-staking work of deminers but also the rewards of the work, highlighting how demining has opened up areas for tourism. Work in Angola is progressing, but an additional five years have been requested to complete demining, a request that will be considered at the Meeting of States Parties to the Mine Ban Treaty later this year.
Despite the development opportunities created by demining, some mine action projects are having trouble finding funds. The Angolan Red Cross, despite the patronage of Isabel Dos Santos, daughter of recently re-elected Angolan President Eduardo Dos Santos and one of the richest women in Africa (Wikipedia; Louise Redvers, personal communication), requested support for its mine action activities through the Angolan Press Agency. Blaming international donors for stopping their support of mine action programs in the wake of peace in Angola, the Angolan Red Cross will be limited to only mine risk education activities (All Africa).
The long-running dispute along the border between Sudan and South Sudan looked closer to resolution after the leaders of the two countries met and reached agreement on oil shipments and revenues. The question of Abyei’s status (should have been resolved by a referendum that Khartoum never allowed to take place after occupying the region militarily) has been forward to international arbitration. This agreement should help the humanitarian situation along the border which has been worsened by each sides’ arming of rebels fighting the other government and Khartoum’s bombing of rebel-held areas in South Khordofan and Blue Nile. Landmines are also present in the region (All Africa) and deliveries of humanitarian aid have been lost due to landmine accidents (All Africa).
Demining activities have been delayed due to rains and flooding in the summer months, but with the dry season coming on, international operators have been able to pick up their activities (although some NGOs – hooray to Norwegian People’s Aid, Mines Advisory Group, SIMAS and the Danish Demining Group – continued demining throughout the summer). Some organizations took advantage of the period to conduct mine risk education seminars and to engage in victim assistance programming for landmine survivors and other persons with disabilities. Also of note, the development of the South Sudan National Policy for Persons with Disability is underway which will likely have significant bearing on victim assistance programming in South Sudan (UNMAS).
Politically and militarily, Somalia has made impressive gains this month. Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, a moderate from the Peace and Development Party and a longtime civil society activist, was elected President over corruption-tainted incumbent Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed in a not-necessarily democratic, but internationally-recognized election. Within days Mohamud was the target of assassination attempts but has also toured the country and met with stakeholders. Shortly after Mohamud’s election, the Kenyan Army and AMISOM forces arrayed themselves for the final assault on Al Shabaab’s stronghold of Kismayo.
The extent of problems in Somalia is evident not just from the assassination attempts against the new President, but also in the fact that a single deminer could have removed 60 landmines in Mogadishu over the last five years when there are hundreds of deminers active in the country (All Africa). Landmine and IED attacks continue to harass armies allied with the Somali government with several blasts in Mogadishu (All Africa; RBC Radio), Afgoye (RBC Radio) and Beledweyne (All Africa) killing at least six people and injuring 20 more. Casualties include civilians as well as the soldiers target by the explosions. In Kenya, near one of the refugee camps housing hundreds of thousands of Somalis who fled the fighting and famines, two policemen were injured when they tried to respond to another blast that injured civilians. Reports suggest the first explosion was “bait” to lure the policemen past a planted landmine (All Africa).
In preparation for defending Kismayo, Al Shabaab has been busy laying thousands of landmines in the jungles of Lower Juba. These minefields are intended to delay and deter any advance from AMISOM and Kenyan forces. “It will take an unforeseeable amount of time to de-mine Lower Juba because of the proliferation of landmines along the main road between the town of Afmadow, which is controlled by the joint forces and Kismayo, which is the next destination for advancing allied forces,” [Retired Somali army Lieutenant Faisal Abdinur Berey] said. “Many al-Shabaab members have maps of the landmines, which have killed many passers-by and camel herders” (Sabahi).
The International Committee of the Red Cross in West Africa published a report on the vulnerability of women and children during conflict, highlighting the impact of landmines in Senegal among other stories. The report described the recovery process and needs for one woman injured by a landmine laid by rebels in the Casamance region. Martine’s story nicely details the full spectrum of victim assistance from emergency medical treatment to socio-economic reintegration while also providing a model of peer support and how providing assistance and emotional support to other survivors has helped Martine in her own recovery (ICRC, pdf).
The clearance work in Libya in the aftermath of the revolution there has been nothing short of remarkable. “To date the 24 mine clearance and 29 risk education teams comprising 300 personnel currently operating in Libya have destroyed 191,000 landmines and ordnance and cleared 2,650 homes and 75 schools of UXOS [unexploded ordnance]. They have also provided 153,000 Libyans with UXO risk education.” Unfortunately, landmine and UXO contamination in Libya dates back to World War II and even though NATO has provided some information on the ordnance it used and has shared a list of unexploded ordnance, NATO “has so far refused to provide exactly where weapons struck and when they failed to function properly.” The human toll is significant with over two hundred Libyans killed or injured by landmines and UXOs since the conflict ended (IPS News).
The US State Department released the 11th edition of its annual report, “To Walk the Earth in Safety,” detailing the “accomplishments of the U.S. Conventional Weapons Destruction Program.” The report reiterates the fact that the “United States is the world’s single largest financial supporter of conventional weapons destruction” providing $142 million in aid to 42 countries in 2011 and that over the last twenty years, US funding has “helped countries safely dispose of over 1.6 million excess small arms and light weapons, over 90,000 tons of munitions, and nearly 33,000 excess or poorly-secured man-portable air-defense systems (MANPADS)” (State Department). This is good and impressive stuff, but the United States continues to remain outside of the Mine Ban Treaty and the current Administration’s review of the 2004 Landmine Policy is still ongoing after three years. As long as the US remains outside of the Mine Ban Treaty, other countries will also do so. The US is a leader in the movement to ban landmines, always has been. There is no reason why it should not take the next logical step and sign and ratify the Mine Ban Treaty.
Democratic Republic of Congo
In August, landmine survivor Dedeline Mibamba Kimbata became the first woman to represent the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) in wheelchair racing at the Paralympics in London. In September she applied for asylum in the United Kingdom saying “she had not benefited from money given to Congolese athletes by games officials” and “In my area, 95% of people voted against [DRC President Joseph] Kabila.” Kimbata was part of a group of Congolese Paralympic athletes seeking asylum and photographed wearing “Stop Kabila Now” shirts. The athletes “criticised the Congolese government on the African TV channel Ben TV since arriving in London. They claim this has meant that they are regarded as traitors.” Their asylum application is under review (The Guardian).
As Jerry Garcia once said, “Every silver lining has a touch of gray.”
Michael P. Moore, October 8, 2012