The Month in Mines, June 2013Posted: July 25, 2013
If it were possible, some of this month’s stories would make more cynical about the continuing threat of landmines on the continent and the responsiveness of individual states and the international community. At the same time, some of this month’s stories make me more hopeful of a future free of landmines for the continent than I already am. The cup is simultaneously half-empty and half-full; I just wish it would start trending in a definite direction. With that wishy-washy introduction, let’s traverse the African continent from north to south and east to west:
Handicap International has taken a leading role in training members of Libya’s fledgling civil society on advocacy in support of the Mine Ban Treaty and the Cluster Munitions Convention. The mere fact that any organization could be discussing any kind of humanitarian disarmament program in Libya is a stunning achievement and the members of Asalama (“Safety” in Arabic) and the Libyan Organizations for Demining and Development should be applauded for their demining and risk education work. I take the expansion of activities for these organizations as a sign that the immediate threat of landmines is being addressed in a satisfactory manner and by working to get Libya to join the Mine Ban Treaty, future landmine threats can be prevented (Cluster Munitions Coalition).
In another country whose future appears brighter than it might have just a few years ago, Somalia still faces a lingering insurgent threat that has adopted the use of landmines as a primary weapon. In Mogadishu a landmine destroyed a mini-bus carrying passengers. At least one person was killed and another injured in the blast (Mustaqbal Radio). In the southern Somali city of Kismayo, the number of landmine attacks against government and civilian targets may be increasing, especially as the contentious issue of “Jubaland” is sorted out. Jubaland is the name of the region in and around Kismayo and some observers believe that the Kenyan government supports the establishment of a semi-autonomous region (Jubaland) that would be a buffer state between Somalia and Kenya. A president of Jubaland has been appointed and there now exists a Jubaland government although the government of Somalia does not recognize its legitimacy. Kenyan troops are seen as protecting the Jubaland project and have been targeted in two landmine attacks in June. In the first attack, the Deputy Mayor of Kismayo and several Kenyan soldiers were injured; in the second attack, an unknown number of Kenyan soldiers were injured, possibly killed. In the aftermath of the second attack, Kenyan soldiers fired indiscriminately into the crowds at a busy market, injuring at least 15 civilians and leading many Somalis in Kismayo to believe that the Kenyan Army, once the liberators of Kismayo are now the occupiers (All Africa; Mareeg).
However, demining activities are also on-going in Kismayo and the local policy force removed two landmines planted along a major roadway. The location of the mines was reported by a tip from residents and the policy chief was quick to praise those who reported the mines (Bar Kulan Radio).
The four Lebanese men, arrested in Nigeria and accused of membership in Hezbollah, continue to twist in the Nigerian criminal court system. When four landmines and a respectable arsenal of small arms was discovered in a bunker of the four’s home in Abuja, the security service in Nigeria did not make the connection to Boko Haram which has been responsible for numerous attacks on civilians, but to Hezbollah which has not made any such attacks. Certainly the arms in question are not legal and would be of interest to any terrorist organization, but the immediate blame of Hezbollah is interesting and stunningly short-sighted. There’s more to this story, but fortunately, the landmine element has concluded (All Africa; All Africa).
The border between South Sudan and Sudan continues to be a volatile location and the presence of landmines in White Nile State (Sudan) and Upper Nile State (South Sudan) threatens the lives of pastoralists who traverse the border regularly in search of pasture land. Rebel groups in both states, operating with support of the other country’s government have been accused of using landmines. And it’s not just people who are at risk: in one reported incident, a person was killed along with 40 cattle (Radio Tamazuj).
Away from the border, in Jonglei State, a humanitarian crisis of frightening proportions is developing. Humanitarian agencies, including Refugees International and Doctors without Borders have been unable to access the hardest hit parts of the State, and the United Nations peacekeeping force has been grounded after one of its helicopters was shot down by the South Sudanese army. According to Refugees International, the use of landmines by the rebel force loyal to David Yau Yau has led to many injuries among children especially (All Africa).
Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA) has joined the International Committee of the Red Cross as the second international mine action operator active in Zimbabwe. NPA will take responsibility for clearing three of the five known minefields in the country and has already surveyed two of those minefields, beginning clearance in one of them. Of especial interest is mine clearance of the Great Limpopo Park which is a potential tourist destination that crosses the borders of Mozambique and South Africa. Like South Sudan, a large proportion of the landmine victims of Zimbabwe are herd animals with an estimated 120 cattle killed by landmines for every person killed by landmines, devastating the local meat and dairy industry (Norwegian People’s Aid).
The Swedish Civil Contingencies Agency (Myndigheten för samhällsskydd och beredskap or MSB) is one of several mine action operators working on explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) and mine action in Mali. In a recent profile of MSB’s work, Christofer Wärme described MSB’s efforts to train Malians in EOD and humanitarian demining. This is part of the larger project in Mali coordinated and supported by the UN Mine Action Service (MSB).
The sheer scale of the landmine problem in Angola is sometimes overwhelming. Since 2010, the Government of Angola has invested 25.4 billion Angolan Kwanza, equivalent to US $263 million in demining across the country and still the problem persists in huge numbers across vast swathes of the country (All Africa). However, the work continues as evidenced by the handover to the regional government of Huila Province of a former minefield measuring nearly 400,000 square meters that can now be used for farming and houses (All Africa). In addition to the enormous sums contributed by the government, the President and First Lady actively support the reintegration of landmine victims through the First Lady’s patronage of the Lwini Foundation which raises funds that “enabled the construction or rehabilitation of special needs schools, support the orthopedic centres and paralympic sports, the implementation of professional training programmes, [and] grant of internal and external scholarships.” The President offers his support by attending the Lwini Foundation’s fundraising gala in June which featured music by the artist Seal and granting a “privileged partnership” to the Foundation with the Office of the President (All Africa; All Africa).
The international community also contributes to mine action in Angola and in June the European Commission co-hosted a four-day training in humanitarian mine action with the National Inter-sectoral Commission for Demining and Humanitarian Assistance (CNIDAH) to improve mine action activities in Benguela Province (All Africa).
In Mauritania two new demining teams were deployed to clear minefields in Nouadibou Province. These teams, trained by Norwegian People’s Aid with support from the governments of Germany, Japan and Norway, will increase the national capacity to address the landmine threat and help ensure that Mauritania meets it Mine Ban Treaty obligations (Norwegian People’s Aid).
Weapons smuggling in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula continues. In June a vehicle was seized carrying rockets, grenades, machine guns and landmines. Unfortunately, a second vehicle, possibly carrying additional arms, escaped (Xinhua).
In the Jebel Chaambi region of Tunisia, near the Algerian border, Tunisian security forces continued their operations against Islamist rebels who have taken root in the mountains. In early June, two separate blasts resulted in the deaths of two soldiers and the wounding of seven others. After half a dozen such incidents, these were the first reported deaths due to landmines in the current campaign (Tunisia Live; Reuters; All Africa; Tunisia Live). Later in the month, an animal set off another landmine which did not result in any human casualties; the condition (or type) of animal was not reported (All Africa).
Nine Senegalese deminers working for South Africa’s MECHEM were still held by members of the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance. The threat of kidnapping and presence of landmines in the Senegalese region of Casamance restricts access to the region and prevents humanitarian actors like the International Committee of the Red Cross from providing much-needed services and supplies to the population (All Africa).
The threat of landmines was made clear when a motorcyclist struck a mine in Casamance, killing her instantly. The route was a familiar one to the motorcyclist, who was aware of the risks (APS).
The president of the Gambia, Yahya Jammeh also commented on the threat of landmines in the Casamance. Jammeh provided tractors to farmers in Foni District, but many individuals used those tractors to illegally transport timber from Casamance to the Gambia for resale. During the transport process, many tractors were destroyed by landmines and Jammeh warned those who would seek tractors to avoid such risky activities (All Africa).
Lastly, President Barack Obama visited Senegal as part of his tour of Sub-Saharan Africa. Despite visiting Senegal and having the conflict in the Casamance on the Agenda, the landmine issue did not come up as far as I can tell, but gay marriage did (Voice of America; The White House).
Poniso Njeulu, who represents the Sinjembela constituency in the Zambian Parliament, has been active in raising concerns about a possible minefield in his district which lies along the border with Angola. Two landmines have been found recently, one by a child and another by a farmer, and fortunately neither exploded. Farmers in the region are now afraid to till their land for fear of detonating mines which has the potential to cause food insecurity if planting and harvesting does not occur in a timely manner. Njeulu has called upon teachers in the region to sensitize children about the dangers of possible unexploded ordnance and landmines and he has also requested the government to send a team of experts to the region to review and assess the scale of the problem (Lusaka Voice; Post Zambia). Zambia has previously declared that it has cleared all known minefields in accordance with Article 5 of the Mine Ban Treaty and if the minefields that Njeulu has identified are confirmed, Zambia will need to present a report to the Meeting of States Parties about the extent of contamination and plans to address it.
Western Sahara and South Africa
The International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) released a report on the impact of landmines of refugees including the Sahrawi people of Western Sahara. The report called on states to “eliminate the harrowing risks that refugees and asylum seekers face from landmines and unexploded ordnance. States must protect refugee victims and urgently respond to their needs.” In Western Sahara, local activists took advantage of the report to highlight their plight and maintain their push for autonomy and independence from Morocco (All Africa).
Western Sahara representatives also met with South African officials and signed a Memorandum of Understanding on a Financial Contribution towards the Humanitarian Landmine Assistance Programme. This Memorandum was one of three signed between the two governments in June and “reaffirmed that South Africa’s common view that the issue of Western Sahara ‘remains a question of decolonisation and the inalienable right of people to self-determination in accordance with the United Nations Charter’” (All Africa).
Also in South Africa, the defense contractor DCD Protected Mobility opened a new armored vehicle manufacturing facility that will produce mine-resistant vehicle for the South African military and for armies around the world (Business Day Live). Between the manufacture of mine-resistant vehicles, the deployment of deminers through MECHEM and the support of victim assistance programs like the one in Western Sahara, South Africa continues to be a leader on the continent for humanitarian demining and mine action, a process that started in the early 1990s when South Africa, a former producer of landmines, instituted an export moratorium.
The United States
Although Mr. Obama did not mentions landmines during his tour of Africa, US Army Africa Command (AFRICOM) observers did. MG Charles Hooper, head of strategy and plans for AFRICOM said that “building human capital” is one of AFRICOM’s goals in several African states, including Angola, Namibia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, US Army engineers have trained their counterparts in landmine clearance techniques. Such activities are a welcome alternative to the counter-terrorism focused operations that occupy most of AFRICOM’s engagement on the continent (Reuters).
Lastly, in Waning Colonial Power News: despite the economic and political crises in Italy, the government of Italy will contribute 1.2 million euros to mine clearance projects in Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan this year. This is a drop from the 2 million euro commitment last year, but unlike last year, this year’s contribution is solely for African countries. The commitments are partly the result of guilt from Italy’s “part in backing countries” that used landmines (ANSA). I would think that Italy’s guilt and culpability is worth a bit more than 1.2 million euros, but it’s a start.
Michael P. Moore
July 25, 2013