Slightly Off-Topic: The Gates Foundation’s 2015 Letter

In the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s 2015 Letter, they make a “big bet” that Africa can feed itself through innovations in agriculture.  The Foundation presents statistics about current crop yields and the potential yields if the Foundation’s innovations are accepted and work.  But then the Letter gets to the real problem, almost as an aside:

There are other limitations besides productivity that keep Africa from feeding itself. The lack of infrastructure across the continent, for example, means that it’s almost impossible to move food to the places it needs to go. (The most extreme case: The Democratic Republic of the Congo is the size of Western Europe, with a population of more than 60 million, but it has fewer than 2,000 miles of paved roads—the same amount as any middle-sized Western European town.) Trading within the region can be so difficult that it’s often easier to fly food in from other continents than to drive it a couple hundred miles.

Africa can feed itself.  It just can’t get food and agricultural products from the producers to the consumers because the infrastructure is insufficient and where roads and transport networks exist, they are for export (or impeded by landmines and illegal checkpoints).  I can very easily get Ethiopian coffee, but many Ethiopians cannot get food from their countrymen.

Famine in Africa is not a function of agricultural output; it is the result of deliberate political and development decisions.  Lack of access to markets due to poor infrastructure and absence of markets due to cheaply available food aid prevents agricultural markets in Africa from working efficiently.  The proposed changes in the US Government’s food aid program, which would reduce the amount of food imported from the United States and buy food locally to be distributed locally would create the markets to incentivize increased agricultural production.  This is the kind of change that Africa needs to be able to feed itself.  Would the Foundation’s proposals make a difference?  Yes, but access to markets and consumers would make a bigger difference and likely encourage many of the activities the Foundation is backing.  The answer isn’t more “innovation” but since “innovation” is what the Gates Foundation does, that’s what it will promote.  The answer is much simpler: African farmers need to be able to sell what they grow; if they can do that, Africa will feed itself.

Michael P. Moore

January 22, 2015

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

The Month in Mines, December 2014

2014 had many high points and low points in the world of mine action.  Among the highs were the pledge by States Parties at the Third Review Conference to complete landmine clearance by 2025, the US announcements that it will no longer procure anti-personnel landmines and restrict use of existing mines to the Korean Peninsula, and the record low number of recorded casualties.  Some low points included the new use of landmines in the Libyan civil war, the decline in funding for mine action and the continuing obstacles faced by landmine survivors.  On the whole, the positive progress continues and there is hope as we move into a new year.  Before we close the door on 2014, let’s review what happened in December:



Two stories this month, including one by United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) administrator, Helen Clark, provide a lot of context to the landmine situation in Angola.  Clark’s piece details the history of landmine use and mine action in the country describing the scale of landmines’ impact in the country, the number of casualties and the efforts to reduce the risk through mine-risk education and clearance.  The second article describes the competition between the United States and China for access to Angola’s markets and petroleum reserves, noting how the US’s support for demining is part of America’s investment in the country.  The article also reference’s the US’s past support for the rebel movement UNITA which was responsible for much of the landmine use in the country, many of which UNITA received from the United States (World Folio; World Folio).

As Helen Clark mentions, Angola is one of the most heavily mine-affected countries and the news from Angola in December shows the steady progress in the country towards changing that title.  Almost 600 explosive devices, including landmines were cleared from 50 kilometers of road in Bie Province (All Africa; All Africa), while some 9,000 residents of the province participated in mine-risk awareness sessions (All Africa).  200 hectares of Kwanza Norte (All Africa) and 1.4 million square meters of Cunene province were cleared of mines (All Africa); 10 kilometers of roads in Cabinda province were cleared (All Africa); and 900 explosive devices were cleared in Zaire province (All Africa).  This clearance work will increase agricultural outputs in affected areas (All Africa) and means that landmines and other explosive remnants of war are no longer the leading cause of disability, road accidents are.  The Health Minister, José Van-Dúnem, opened a new rehabilitation centre in Luanda, and said “there is a gigantic effort in demining so that landmines stop being a problem and we can just focus on the need to support those who got some disability due to the war” (All Africa) which suggests that survivor assistance has not received the same prioritization as landmine clearance historically, but as more and more mines are cleared, the needs of survivors will be addressed.



Like Angola, Mozambique is polluted by landmines from its liberation war with Portugal and then a long civil war after independence.  Since the end of the civil war in 1992, Mozambique has been steadily clearing the landmines and this month, Tete province on the Zimbabwean border was declared landmine-free, the eighth province to be cleared of mines.  Tete had been the most mined province in the country with 85% of all landmines in Mozambique in Tete.  Only five districts (out of 128 nationwide) in two provinces are still suspected of having landmines and the National Demining Institute anticipates all of Mozambique will be landmine-free by April 1, 2015 (All Africa).  Two challenges will remain for Mozambique after the last mine is cleared.  Thousands of Mozambicans have been disabled by landmines and many, including former soldiers, receive little or no support from the country despite the government’s obligations to its citizens (Al Jazeera).  The other challenge will be to find employment for the hundreds of deminers who have been working to free their country of landmines.  Some 200 deminers (out of 1,000 in total) are women, including former liberation war soldiers (like former Mozambican First Lady, Graca Machel), who have few employment alternatives once the demining is complete.  Demining is skilled labor and the humanitarian demining organizations have invested a tremendous about of time training and educating the demining teams and while some have received job re-training, more will need job placement assistance very soon.



Three children from a shepherding family were killed and their mother injured by a landmine south of Burao in the semi-autonomous region of Somaliland.  The mine, detonated by one of the family’s animals, was likely a remnant of Somalia’s civil wars of the 1990s (Somaliland Sun).

From the ongoing campaign to eliminate Al Shabaab, a number of attacks occurred as part of the asymmetrical tactics adopted by the Islamist group.  In the other semi-autonomous region of Puntland, three soldiers were killed and another four injured, two critically, by a landmine as Puntland forces drove Al Shabaab from its stronghold in the Gal-gala mountains (Somali Current). Elsewhere, landmine attacks targeted government forces in Barawe injuring five (Radio Goobjoog, no link), the Deputy Governor of Mudug region and his bodyguard were injured by a mine in Galkayo (Sabahi), and in Kismayo an unknown number of casualties were caused by a mine targeting Jubbaland forces (Kobciye).



In Sudan an estimate 50,000 people have been disabled by conflict, many due to bombings and landmines, and prosthetic services are not always available where the amputees live.  In South Kordofan state, where the conflict between the government of Sudan and rebel forces is ongoing, there is only one fully functioning hospital, Mother of Mercy, and prosthetic services are provided by Ugandan doctors who travel to the hospital to take measurements and then produce the artificial limbs back in Uganda.  The Ugandan doctors then bring the prosthetics to Sudan for final fittings (Voice of America).



Peacekeepers with the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) suffered two landmine incidents.  Both occurred near the MINUSMA base in Aguelhok in northern Mali and injured Chadian peacekeepers; three peacekeepers were injured in each incident.  Two men, found in possession of small arms and landmines, were arrested after the second incident (MINUSMA; MINUSMA).

The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) has been active in the MINUSMA mission and provided mine-risk awareness sessions for the residents of Gao.  The awareness sessions focused on drivers who transport goods in and around northern Mali (MINUSMA).



Kenyan security forces arrested two men, accusing them of trying to plant bombs in the road in Mandera town near the Dadaab refugee camps on the border with Somalia (Sabahi).



Algeria’s mine action center and armed forces continue to clear the French-laid landmines from the eastern and western borders of the country.  In November almost 3,500 mines were cleared (All Africa).



Boko Haram in Nigeria is the worst conflict that no one is doing anything about.  According to a report by the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data (ACLED) Project, Nigeria is the second deadliest (Somalia is the most) conflict from explosives in Africa in 2014 (ACLED). Thousands of people have been killed, a mini-caliphate in northeastern Nigeria declared, hundreds of girls abducted.  Nothing. Next month Nigeria will hold presidential elections and neither the incumbent seeking re-election, Goodluck Jonathan, or his opponent seem willing to address this crisis.  Instead we hear the occasional report of an atrocity or receive a video from Boko Haram’s leader making threats against the government and the West.  Certainly Boko Haram is well armed (and this report from the Leadership newspaper suggests that Boko Haram are using landmines to defend their territory and has been in possession of heavy weaponry) and has established a very secure stronghold in near the Cameroonian border, but the Nigerian government and military has allowed this Islamist group to fester and consolidate power.  Probably a multi-national effort, including Cameroon and Chad which also borders on Boko Haram’s self-declared caliphate, will be needed to dislodge this threat.  The question is: when will the Nigerian government have the will to do so?



Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office changed its travel advice for Zambia, removing any mention of landmines and instead referred to explosive remnants of war.  This reflects the fact that Zambia has cleared all known landmines from its territory in compliance with the Mine Ban Treaty but some risk from unexploded ordnance might remain along Zambia’s borders with Angola, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo (Foreign and Commonwealth Office).


South Sudan

Mine action teams have been active in South Sudan clearing roads and suspected hazardous areas in Unity, Upper Nile and Lakes States.  Four landmines were cleared from a community just west of the capital, Juba but insecurity in Jonglei, Unity and Upper Nile States prevents a full mobilization (Relief Web).



One soldier was killed and another injured by a landmine in the Kasserine region near the Algerian border.  Islamists hiding out in the Kasserine mountains were blamed for the mine’s placement (Global Post).


Western Sahara

There is renewed concern that the conflict between the Sahrawi people and Morocco over the Western Sahara territory could restart after nearly 25 years.  In 1991, a ceasefire was brokered by the United Nations, one of the conditions of which was a referendum on self-determination for the people of Western Sahara, the Sahrawi.  Morocco has not allowed the referendum to take place for fear that the Sahrawis will confirm their desire for independence.  Instead, Morocco has occupied the region and divided it with a wall, over a thousand kilometers long with millions of landmines to prevent Sahrawi refugees from returning to their homes from the camps in Algeria. Today, more than half the population of the camps are youths, born since the 1991 ceasefire and a growing number of these young men and women are willing to fight for their independence, rather than continue to wait for the referendum (Washington Post).

The leadership of the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR), the nominal government-in-exile of the Sahrawi people in the Algerian camps is not reflective of its population. Mohamed Abdelaziz, SADR’s president, has been in power since 1976 and is the second-longest serving head of state (second only to Cameroon’s Paul Biya) and the only four men have served as prime minister of SADR during Abdelaziz’s rule, the latest in the post since 2003.  In any other country, this situation would be viewed as a dictatorship and the willingness to return to conflict with Morocco may reflect not only the sincere desire of the refugees to return to their homeland, but also disaffection with their long-serving leaders.

Michael P. Moore

January 13, 2015

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

Who to support at AFCON2015?

*Warning – the following might contain actual footballing information*

The 2015 African Cup of Nations Tournament kicks off in next week and despite Morocco’s withdrawal as host (and subsequent ban from participation) due to fears of Ebola, the Tournament will go forward with Equatorial Guinea hosting and taking Morocco’s spot.  Of the 16 teams participating, five – Algeria, Senegal, Tunisia, Mali and the Democratic Republic of Congo – are affected by landmines. This year’s tournament may be the most open as traditional powers, (and winners of four of the last five tournaments) Nigeria and Egypt, did not qualify and as many as ten of the 16 teams have a realistic chance of winning.  In terms of the draw, Group A (Equatorial Guinea, Burkina Faso, Gabon and Congo-Brazzaville) looks to the easiest and Groups C and D will compete for the title of “Group of Death” with Ghana, Algeria, South Africa and Senegal in Group C and Ivory Coast, Mali, Cameroon and Guinea in Group D.  Group B (Zambia, Tunisia, Cape Verde and the Democratic Republic of Congo) is no slouch, though.

Here at Landmines in Africa, we restrict our rooting interests to landmine-affected countries.  Zambia recently finished landmine clearance and Ivory Coast destroyed a newly discovered stockpile of mines, acts which we applaud heartily but also disqualify them from our support.  So, here are the arguments for and against supporting the five mine-affected countries (in descending order of their odds of winning the tournament as supplied by on January 9, 2015):

Democratic Republic of Congo, Leopards (34 to 1): The Democratic Republic of Congo has been surveying and trying to determine the full extent of landmine contamination in the country.  In most places, the density of contamination is very low so large areas are reported as landmine-contaminated, but the actual number to be cleared is small.  For the DRC, the biggest problem has been stability and security to allow the survey and clearance work to go forward as most contamination is in the eastern parts of the country which have been subject to numerous conflicts since the 1990s.  DRC recently received a six-year extension to clear its remaining minefields which it will do at 0.21 km2 per year and a total cost of US $20 million.

The Democratic Republic of Congo was the third-best team in Cup qualifying behind Cameroon and the Ivory Coast.  They have one of the best home-grown squads and should be good enough to get out their group, but “should” doesn’t always equal “will.”


Mali, Eagles (15 to 1): Mali’s landmine situation is worsening.  For years the country had minimal contamination from internal conflicts, until the 2012 Tuareg uprising and seizure of northern Mali by Islamist forces which has sparked a highly unstable insurgency.  French forces defeated the Islamists and brought the Tuaregs back onside, but the subsequent United Nations peacekeeping mission has been targeted for numerous attacks.  Rumors suggest that Islamist forces are monitoring peacekeepers’ movements and placing mines in the roads before UN vehicles.  The conflict and landmine contamination is confined to the northern regions of the country, but as a recent attack shows, the Islamists are willing and able to strike at government installations nearer the capital of Bamako.

Football-wise, Mali was a semifinalist in each of the last two Cup of Nations tournaments and has the potential to upset some of the favorites.  Having said that, a third straight semi-final appearance is unlikely with leading striker Cheick Diabate of Bordeaux ruled out for injury and the presence of Ivory Coast and Cameroon in the Group.


Senegal, Teranga Lions (13 to 1): Senegal has a great football pedigree and some of the best strikers in the world.  They will be without West Ham United star Diafra Sakho but will content themselves by re-uniting former Newcastle teammates Demba Ba and Papiss Cisse supported by Sadio Mane of Southampton and Dame N’Doye of Locomotiv Moscow.  They will look to outscore the other teams in this Group of Death and should be able to advance and a semi-final appearance is not out of the question.

As for the landmines, Senegal’s recent history is not so good.  Most demining has completely halted and the government shows little ambition to re-start the program in earnest.  In terms of contamination, Senegal has very few landmines and the technical resources exist in the country to quickly and efficiently address the issue.  What Senegal lacks is the political will to do so, citing the ongoing low-level insurgency in the Casamance region.  If we talking strictly about football, Senegal would be a fun choice to follow, but we’re talking landmines and Senegal has not been a leader there.


Tunisia, Carthage Eagles (9 to 1): As recently as 2012, Tunisia was able to call itself landmine-free.  The country had, with very little external assistance, cleared all known minefields dating back to World War II and the Algerian liberation war.  Then, in the aftermath of the Arab Spring (and Tunisia remains the success story from those movements), Islamists groups took root in the Kasserine region dominated by Mount Chaambi along the border with Algeria.  These Islamist have used landmines to protect their hideouts in the mountains and interrupt military patrols.  While most of the victims of these mines have been security forces, some civilians have also been injured.  Despite these mines and the radical forces that have used them, Tunisia has kept itself on a path towards democratic reform as seen in last month’s elections.

Tunisia is a surprisingly strong football nation, having won the Cup when they hosted in 2004 and runners-up in 1965 and 1996, and semifinalists in 1962, 1978 and 2000; a similar record to this year’s favorites, Algeria who were winners in 1990 (as hosts), runners up in 1980 and semifinalists in 1982, 1984, 1988 and 2010.  Look to the Tunisians to advance out of their group and make a very strong run to the final.  They were undefeated in qualifying and will see this year as a good one to make some noise.


Algeria, Fennec Foxes (5.5 to 1): After a great World Cup appearance last year, Algeria are the team to beat at this year’s AFCON.  Yacine Brahimi, the Porto-based midfielder, was just named “Most Promising Talent” by the Confederation of African Football, and will serve as the team’s anchor. However, Algeria are also in a very tough group and the stadium they will be playing in is in Mongomo on the far eastern border.  Mongomo is the hometown of Equatorial Guinea’s dictators, Francisco Macias Nguema and Teodoro Obian Nguema (the current “president”), and the stadium seats all of 4,000 people and was not used in 2012 when Equatorial Guinea co-hosted the Cup with Gabon.  The pitch was bare earth until sod was recently laid by a Spanish firm in order to prepare it for the tournament.  Call me cynical, but I expect the state of the pitch will be a frequent source of complaints by the players and managers.  Having said that, Algeria should make it out of the group and fulfill their promise as tournament favorites.

Algeria, like Tunisia, has landmine contamination dating back to World War II, but also saw millions of mines laid by the French during the liberation war of the 1950s and 1960s.  At one point, Algeria was one of the most landmine-contaminated countries with over 11 million mines.  Since clearance began in the 1990s (after the end of the civil war in Algeria), nine million mines have been cleared and every month more mines are cleared and Algeria anticipates completing clearance in 2017.  In addition, Norwegian People’s Aid recently called Algeria’s mine action program the best in the world, especially since Algeria relies on almost no external assistance.

So, Algeria is a tournament favorite and a great model for landmine clearance, so that’s our pick, right?  No.  Landmines in Africa will be backing Tunisia in the 2015 African Cup of Nations.  Why?  Because Tunisia continues on a path of democracy while other Arab Spring states have descended into civil war (Libya, Syria, Yemen) or hardening dictatorship (Egypt, Bahrain).  Tunisia has completed its landmine clearance obligations once before, it will do so again.  Because some things are more important than football (despite the protestations of Bill Shankly), we’re supporting Tunisia this year.  We love what Algeria has accomplished in mine action, but we admire Tunisia political transition in addition to its mine action program.  Plus, Carthage Eagles is a great team name.

Michael P. Moore

January 9, 2015

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

Persons with disability might be losing out in the SDG Framework

The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) will be formalized later this year and serve as the guiding framework for development through 2030.  United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki Moon has made the SDGs a cornerstone of his legacy and a tremendous amount of effort has gone into the drafting and design of the Goals.  At present, there are 17 proposed Goals and some 169 indicators and Ban’s recent Synthesis report of the SDG process has re-affirmed the proposed goals and indicators (although Ban did try to simplify the presentation of the Goals by aligning them under six themes).  The next major milestones in the SDG process are the High level thematic debate on implementation next month and the financing meeting in the Ethiopia capital, Addis Ababa, in July.  After the Addis meeting, the Goals will likely be finalized and approved in September at the meeting of the United Nations General Assembly.

I have written previously about the opportunity that the Sustainable Development Goals posed for mine action and specifically landmine survivor assistance.  With the stated aim of leaving no one behind, the Goals and indicators offer a framework for ensuring that everyone benefits from development.  However, because the Goals are so broad, I fear that leaving some behind will be very possible.  At this point in the negotiations, the Goals and indicators are relatively final, but the means to achieve the Goals are still to be decided; the Addis financing meeting should resolve much of the uncertainty.

One of the major criticisms of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs, which are the predecessor of the SDGs) was the absence of any mention of disability.  Since 2000 when the MDGs went into effect, the international community negotiated the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the participants in the creation of the SDGs recognized the importance of specifically including disability and persons with disabilities in the SDG framework.  Disability is mentioned in all three major documents released in the SDG process, the report of the High Level Panel of Eminent Persons (May 2013), the Open Working Group’s proposed Goals and indicators (August 2014), and the Secretary General’s Synthesis report (December 2014). A special session of the United Nations General Assembly also discussed the inclusion of persons with disability in development and made recommendations to the SDG process.

However, in reading and re-reading these three key documents, I felt that the importance of disability inclusive development was being lost.  A content analysis of the documents suggests the same.  I reviewed all three documents for mentions of major groups that had been highlighted for inclusion in the SDGs: Women & Gender, Youth and Children, Persons with Disability, and other Vulnerable persons.  In the report of the High Level Panel of Eminent Persons, disability was mentioned once for every six mentions of women or gender.  This ratio improved in the Open Working Group’s proposal where disability was mentioned once for every three mentions of women or gender.  However, in the Synthesis report, disability is mentioned only once for nine mentions of women or gender.  A similar pattern is seen when comparing disability to youth and children: disability receives one mention for every 7.5 mentions of youth and children in the High Level Panel’s report; one mention for every three mentions in the Open Working Group’s proposal; and only one mention for every eight in the Synthesis report.  Persons in vulnerable situations consistently received a similar number of mentions as persons with disabilities.

Figure 1 shows the relative percentage of mentions of the four categories selected for content analysis in the three documents:

Disability in the SDGs Chart

The chart shows that while the Open Working Group’s proposed Goals and indicators recognized the needs of persons with disabilities and persons in vulnerable situations, the High Level Panel focused more attention on youth and children and the Secretary General has focused more attention on women and gender.

The diminishing focus on disability is not just a measure of the number of mentions, but also the content of those mentions.  The High Level Panel of Eminent Persons’ report, while featuring few mentions of disability, recognized the importance of disability in the proposed development framework and the Panel sought input from persons with disability, reporting:

People with disabilities also asked for an end to discrimination and for equal opportunity. They are looking for guarantees of minimum basic living standards.

The High Level Panel put persons with disability on the same level as gender and ethnicity when speaking about the importance of leaving no one behind:

The next development agenda must ensure that in the future neither income nor gender, nor ethnicity, nor disability, nor geography, will determine whether people live or die, whether a mother can give birth safely, or whether her child has a fair chance in life.

In contrast, Ban Ki Moon’s Synthesis report declared, “This is the century of women: we will not realize our full potential if half of humanity continues to be held back.”  Ban’s report then added a series of other groups whose full potential has not been met: “We also need to include the poor, children, adolescents, youth, and the aged, as well as the unemployed, rural populations, slum dwellers, persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples, migrants, refugees and displaced persons, vulnerable groups and minorities.”

Ban tasks the development framework to “remove obstacles to full participation by persons with disabilities” and states that:

[The] strength of an economy must be measured by the degree to which it meets the needs of people, and on how sustainably and equitably it does so. We need inclusive growth, built on decent jobs, livelihoods and rising real incomes for all and measured in ways that go beyond GDP and account for human well-being, sustainability and equity. Ensuring that all people, including women, persons with disabilities, youth, aged, and migrants have decent employment, social protection, and access to financial services, will be a hallmark of our economic success.

The High Level Panel gave agency to persons with disabilities, and called for the inclusion of disabled peoples organizations in civil society discussions.  The High Level Panel did not declare a “century of women.” Ban’s report focuses on women over other sectors of society, including persons with disability and talks about the role of the international community and the development framework for “removing obstacles” and “ensuring access” but did not discuss how to do so, especially in light of the discrimination persons with disability described to the High Level Panel.

The international community will meet in February and July to discuss the implementation and financing of the Sustainable Development Goals. However, with the Secretary General’s Synthesis report as the most recent overview document, the diminishing focus on disability worries me. There is a movement to create a Global Financing Facility for maternal and child health that will support the SDGs related to women’s and children’s health (World Bank) and the Addis financing meeting will presumably offer other financing mechanisms to achieve the Goals.  Advocacy and activism is important to ensure that implementation measures and financing schemes proposed in the next few months are inclusive of persons with disability. I fear that efforts on behalf of women and children will take precedence over those for persons with disability (and as the Secretary General’s Synthesis report shows, women have a very strong champion).  The disability community applauded the Open Working Group’s recommended goals and indicators for their inclusiveness, and now the community must mobilize to ensure that the financing and implementation measures agreed in Addis are similarly inclusive.

Michael P. Moore

January 5, 2015

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org