The Month in Mines, October 2012, by Landmines in Africa

If I were to tell you that the two African countries with the most landmine-related stories in October were Somalia and Angola, would you be surprised?  October was the 20th anniversary of the founding of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL).  As a sign of how much progress has been made, Somalia become 160th country for whom the Mine Ban Treaty has entered into force; as a sign of how much still needs to be done, at least five landmine blasts occurred in Somalia.

Somalia

The Mine Ban Treaty entered into force for the 160th State Party on October 1, 2012.  With Somalia’s accession, all of Sub-Saharan Africa is now under the Treaty’s regime.  Somalia faces significant logistical hurdles to become compliant with the Treaty, from stockpile destruction (the current, recognized government of Somalia does not control all of its territory, let alone the arms and weapons in the state) to landmine clearance to victim assistance.  However, by acceding to the Treaty, Somalia can access significant resources to assist in this process while also making a statement about the kind of nation it wants to be: one that is at peace with itself and looks after its own people (All Africa).

The last Al Shabaab stronghold, Kismayo, was re-captured by AMISOM and allied forces in September, but Al Shabaab’s insurgency campaign continues throughout Somalia.  Landmine attacks were reported in Kismayo (All Africa), Wanlaweyn (RBC Radio), Baidaba (RBC Radio), Beledweyne (All Africa), and Sool (BBC News) killing at least six civilians and injuring 13 more; military casualties were not reported even though four of the blasts targeted military and government officials.  Additionally, AMISOM troops discovered a cache of landmines and other explosive materials during a sweep of Kismayo (All Africa).

As a side note, the reporting from within Somalia continues to be excellent despite the fact that 16 Somali journalists have been killed this, with Al Shabaab claiming credit for at least ten of those assassinations.  Other journalists have been attacked or threatened with attack.  One journalist, Ahmed Farah Ilyas, was killed by gunmen outside his home while investigating a landmine blast (BBC News).  I applaud these brave men and women without whom we would know so much less about that is happening in this critical corner of the world.

Angola

Angola continues to clear landmines as it develops its internal capacity.  Demining authorities announced the destruction of hundreds of explosive remnants of war, including landmines in Kwanza Norte Province (All Africa) and Huila Province (All Africa).  Cleared land will be returned to productive use such as agriculture and other development initiatives.  Capacity building activities include training on demining and information management led by the national mine action authority, CNIDAH, for staff from several ministries, such as Social Welfare, Education and Agriculture (All Africa).

A much larger project, a national database of all Angolan landmine victims was also launched in October.  This database will give the service providers and relevant government ministries and agencies a complete census of landmine victims and other persons with disabilities in the country to, hopefully, better serve their needs as they recover and reintegrate into society.  In 2005 the number of landmine victims in Angola was estimated at almost 130,000 (All Africa) while other published estimates range from 23,000 to 80,000 (The Monitor).  A crucial step in the development of this database will be to ensure that the necessary services are provided to landmine victims.  The majority of Angolans live on less than US $2 per day and knowing who and where the landmine victims are is useless information if the services are not available for socio-economic reintegration.

Egypt

This month saw the 70th anniversary of the Battle of El Alamein between the tank divisions of Britain’s Bernard Montgomery and Germany’s Erwin Rommel.  The battlefield itself was known at the time and continues to be referred to as the “Devil’s Garden” in reference to the 16 million shells and landmines in Egypt’s deserts.  In 2012, 17 people have been injured by unexploded ordnance and a conservative estimate places the total number of casualties at 8,000 civilians, with 725 known survivors since the battle itself.  The Bedouin community is particularly hit hard as they migrate through the deserts.

In recent years, the United Nations Development Programme with funding from Britain and Germany has supported victim assistance and demining programs, but the scale of the problem has dwarfed the funds made available.  A new demining initiative was launched this past April, but funding from the European Union has been withheld due to fears of corruption.  Funding could be made available through sales of leases for the oil and natural gas reserves that lie under the Devil’s Garden and could be exploited if the region were demined.

Despite the battles over money, landmine accidents continue to occur and new victims will need assistance.  Abdullah Salah, a Bedouin survivor himself, has set up an NGO to support other landmine victims but the services that Salah’s NGO is able to provide were not specified and the transitory nature of the Bedouin population would suggest that a comprehensive recovery and re-integration program is not currently available (The Independent).

Greek President Papoulias visited Egypt in October to renew and strengthen economic ties.  Despite the continuing financial crisis in Greece, Greek investments in Egypt are worth 1.5 billion euros with plans to increase to more than 5 billion euros.  In addition to these economic ties, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s spokesman announced that “Greece will help Egypt in removing landmines implanted during World War II” (All Africa).

 

China

The Greeks are not the only Western nation bearing demining gifts to Africa.  A South Sudanese army captain who had completed a one-month training course in China on humanitarian demining declared, “China’s demining teachers are great, China’s demining technologies are great, China’s demining devices are great, and the Chinese people’s friendship with the South Sudanese people is great” (People’s Daily Online).

The United States

The XM7 Spider Munitions system, one of the US Army’s alternatives to anti-personnel landmines, seems to be a little closer to full utilization.  The initial evaluation of the system took place in 2010 and this month saw the “Network Integration Evaluation” during field maneuvers at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.  The Spider has tripwires to alert the operator who must deliberately activate the associated explosives (DVIDS Hub).  Earlier this year, a $58 million award was issued to Alliant Techsystems Operations and Textron Defense Systems to upgrade the Spider’s operating system and purchase spare parts to ensure that the Spider would be ready for field use this year (Solicitation # W15QKN-12-T-B003).

Michael P. Moore, November 7, 2012

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