The Month in Mines, October 2013Posted: November 14, 2013
Recently I spoke with someone about the landmine issue and when he suggested that more awareness of the issue was needed, I disagreed, arguing that people are pretty aware of landmines and have a universal, negative reaction. When the movie, Diana, was released this month, a number of stories came out about Princess Diana’s landmine advocacy and whenever I have mentioned that I write a landmine-related blog, there is an instantaneous recognition of what I am talking about. I think we need to think about how to activate that awareness. Is there a simple action we, as landmine advocates, can ask for? I would welcome your thoughts as you review this month’s news.
The popular narrative for Somalia, even with the release of the movie Captain Phillips about Somali piracy, is one of an improving country with enhanced security. The withdrawal of Doctors without Borders from Somalia presented one challenge to that narrative and the attack on the Westgate Shopping Center in Nairobi, Kenya presented another. The continuing threat from Al Shabaab’s landmines and improvised explosive devices further undermines the narrative of security and safety, especially as it demonstrates the geographic reach of the Islamists and the limited range of federal security forces. In October, a landmine in Beledxaawo killed three and injured several others at a coffee shop frequented by police officers. In Kismayo, a landmine detonated in a residential area possibly targeting community elders. Government officials promised a strong response, but outside of those two towns, Al Shabaab holds sway and until the national army, with support from UN peacekeeping forces, can oust the remaining rebels, more attacks are likely (RBC Radio; RBC Radio)
The Algerian army reported finding and destroying almost 5,000 landmines, anti-personnel and anti-vehicle, dating from the French colonial period and the war of independence. These mines, part of extensive minefields laid by the French along the borders with Tunisia, Morocco and Libya (Kuwaiti News Agency), are not the only ones that Algeria must contend with. In October, a massive arms cache, including many landmines and the surface to air rockets (MANPADS) that the United States is so worried about, was found near the Libyan border. The Algerian government suspects that the cache belongs to Islamist groups allied with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb which has been able to loot weapons from Libya after the fall of the Gaddhafi regime. In the 1990s, Algeria fought a brutal civil war with such Islamists and now the government fears the newly sourced weapons may spur another round of conflict (Voice of America).
Angola’s long-serving president, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, praised the mine clearance work underway in his country at the opening session of the Angolan Parliament. Dos Santos highlighted the efforts of deminers to clear roads and make space for electricity lines (All Africa). More specifically, mine clearance work in Angola is focusing on land reserves in Bié Province, in Cunene Province and the Okavango-Zambezi border park (All Africa; All Africa; All Africa). Recently completed work in Bengo Province will be used for cattle production (All Africa). In addition to clearance work, provincial vice governors have been trained on landmine issues to raise their awareness about demining and the opportunities brought to the provinces by landmine clearance (All Africa).
On October 1st, Libya’s Ambassador to the United Nations was elected as the chair of the UN General Assembly’s First Committee on Disarmament and International Security. Human Rights Watch took advantage of Ambassador Dabbashi’s election to raise the issue of threat of landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) in Libya and around the world. In its very short history, the new government of Libya has pledged not to use any landmines, anti-personnel or anti-vehicle, a determined break from the Gaddhafi regime which used landmines in its attempt to hold onto power (Human Rights Watch). In another break with the past regime, Libya voted in favor of the First Committee resolution on the Mine Ban Treaty for the first time ever this year which may signal Libya’s possible accession to the Treaty.
The nascent Libyan government is facing many issues, including illegal immigration from neighboring countries including Egypt. In October, several dozen Egyptians were suspected of entering Libya, of whom two dies and three needed hospitalization. Of the injured, one had stepped on a landmine and lost his right leg in the blast (Daily News Egypt).
In the capitol, Juba, four children and an adult were killed and three other people injured by a landmine. Officials believed that the adult who died was a Uganda scrap metal collector who recruited children to collect pieces of scrap (All Africa). In response to this and other recent incidents where children have been injured tampering with landmines and ERW, a Sudanese organization, Home of Grace and Strength, conducted mine risk education for 24 schools in Unity State. Flooding in South Sudan has delayed demining work this year, making the mine risk education (All Africa).
Landmines in Africa has documented the quality and availability of survivor assistance in Mozambique (After the last mine is cleared). In order to access high quality assistance services, one survivor got a sponsorship from a family in Florida. Kay Jones started the Mozambique Orphanage Fund and paid for Anuario Ngungulo, who lost his left leg to a mine after losing his mother a couple of years earlier. With the support of Jones and the Fund, Anuario will receive a titanium prosthetic leg and then return to Mozambique (Northwest Florida Daily News).
Initial caveat, I have neither seen the movie, “Diana,” or read any of the Bridget Jones books.
In October, a biopic of Princess Diana, focusing on the last two years of her life, was released and included re-enactments of Diana’s walk through an Angolan minefield. The movie suggests that Diana adopted the landmine cause after her lover, Hasnat Khan, recommends she find a cause which she can support with her celebrity (Boston Herald). Also in October, Helen Fielding released the third installment of the Bridget Jones series. In “Mad About the Boy,” to get Bridget back to a single life, Fielding kills off Bridget’s husband, Darcy, with a landmine in Sudan before the events of the book take place (New York Times). Both pieces could have helped to raise the profile of the landmine issue, but the poor reviews (especially for “Diana”) dilutes the message and loses the opportunity. So to other writers and filmmakers who would use landmines as a plot device: please make a decent product and don’t just use landmines as a cheap hook.
Michael P. Moore
November 13, 2013