This year, Mozambique will celebrate its fortieth year of independence and likely its first year of freedom from landmines. At one point, Mozambique was among the most mine-affected countries, the result of years of conflict. While early estimates of the numbers of mines proved exaggerated, landmines still pervaded the country, blocking movement and development and killed or injured a person a day in the first few years after the wars ended in 1992.
I think there are few things as powerful as the fear of a landmine.
-Douglas Griffiths, US Ambassador to Mozambique
Landmines are almost like an evil spiritual part of the landscape, like some kind of mythical ogre that’s under your bed when you’re a kid and you’re afraid to step down onto the floor at night.
-Bruce Cockburn, Musician
My people live in uncertainty and permanent fear.
-Joaquim Chissano, President of Mozambique
According to a Landmine Impact Survey conducted in 2000 and 2001, all but five of Mozambique’s 128 districts were contaminated by landmines and one and half million people’s lives were affected by landmines. The number of victims of landmines was in the thousands and the nation’s medical system was ill-equipped to respond.
Victims of mine accidents are most likely to be civilians, rural people who depend on a degree of physical fitness for their survival. The one-armed, badly scarred and blinded kid whose sister leads him around to beg from the foreigners at the riverfront cafe in Quelimane is representative: he hit a mine with his mattock while working his family’s machamba, or garden plot well after hostilities had ended.
There was quite a large number of injuries and because Beira hospital at that time was overwhelmed, they sent all these people [the landmine victims] down to Maputo to be treated. So we had an orthopedic ward that was just full of landmine survivors.
-Cameron Macauley, Center for International Stabilization and Recovery
The infrastructure of the country was devastated by years of war with a huge part of the population displaced and unable to return to their homes.
In the 90s, Maputo was kind of a huge refugee camp. Hundreds of thousands of people had fled other areas of the country and gone to Maputo which was relatively safe and they were camped out on the streets. You saw a lot of shanty towns and people sleeping on the sidewalks; there were a lot of beggars, some of them disabled.
Rusted husks of blown up trucks; Line the roadway north of town; Like passing through a sculpture gallery; War is the artist; But he’s sleeping now…
In 93 and 94 you basically couldn’t move between provincial capitals, provincial towns. Either the roads were in an appalling state or the roads had anti-tank mines on them. The few NGOs working in the northern provinces, their people were flying in Cessnas, flying in light aircraft from one provincial town to another. Because of the mines on the road and the mines around bridges, it was very, very dangerous.
-Guy Willoughby, Founder of the HALO Trust
I drove from Maputo to Beira shortly after the peace accord was signed in 1993. A number of people told me not to go, it was extremely dangerous. As I made the drive, which took several days, I passed a lot of wrecked, burnt out cars which were cars that hit landmines or had been assaulted by bandits.
A year after the war ended the economy was still in ruins. Notice that there are no vehicles on the road—gas was nearly impossible to buy.
The international community and Mozambique mobilized to respond to the needs. An army of deminers was deployed across the country to map and clear every landmine.
Initially, talk of demining Mozambique, seemed an unattainable dream.
-Rede para Assistência às Vítimas de Minas (RAVIM)
It will require approximately 160 years to clear all of them.
HALO’s deminers, include guys like Iqbal who’s been here 20 years and has singlehandedly cleared tens of thousands of mines… He is the man that will tell you about mine action in Mozambique… It’s Iqbal’s story to be told.
Iqbal is representative of a core group of deminers whose work has included the survey, excavation and destruction of thousands of mines among all of Mozambique’s 10 provinces including the Djacamba Minefields along the border with Tanzania, the Cordon Sanitaire (CORSAN) minefields along the border with Zimbabwe, as well as all of Mozambique’s major internal minefields around the Cahorra Bassa Hydroelectric Dam, the Maputo power line, the Beira power line and others. It is the dedication and hard work of these deminers that tells the story of a mine-free Mozambique.
-Olly Hyde-Smith, The HALO Trust
Some of the minefields that have been dealt with in Mozambique, such as the Cahorra Bassa Dam minefield that we finished midway through last year, some of these CORSAN minefields along the border with Zimbabwe, these powerlines in Maputo province and also in Manica and Sofala province – these are some of the most dense and technically challenging minefields in the world and include some of the most heavily mine-impacted communities in the world.
It’s given Mozambicans access to their farms and their markets in a way that they never did. They’re not fearful of their children playing in the yard.
In addition to the efforts to clear the mines, Mozambique and national and international organizations tried to address the needs of landmine survivors. Prosthetic limbs and economic support enabled many, but not all survivors to become independent.
With the clearance of landmines, vast tracts of land have been reclaimed for farming and the demand for more land is palpable.
The communities in Tete, on the border with Zimbabwe are currently producing around 25% of Mozambique’s cotton and they’re very keen to be able to increase their production. As we clear the mines, farmers are literally tripping the back of deminers heels to expand their plots and get more cotton to the market.
The infrastructure of the country – roads and railways – have been rebuilt.
You can drive from the north to the south; from the border with South Africa to the border with Tanzania and you don’t have to worry about dangers of any kind.
You drive on a well-maintained highway and you can stop to get stuff to eat and get gas anywhere. It’s a comfortable, fast ride. This is the image they [Mozambicans] are trying to cultivate.
There’s no doubt that the mines leaving has definitely seen the business and foreign investment arriving; it’s plain to see.
[Mozambique] doesn’t look like it was destroyed by war – which is what they really want. They want people to see Mozambique as a tourist destination.
In addition to resource extraction, the tourism industry has returned to Mozambique. Between 2006 and 2014, the tourism sector has tripled in value to Mozambique and is projected to double again over the next decade creating over a quarter million jobs and contributing billions of dollars to the economy.
We ended up going to Rio Savane, an estuary just north of Beira. It’s a small idyllic place with huts and one of most beautiful places I’ve seen in the world and it hasn’t been touched.
It’s got a lot to offer here. Putting the landmines behind without forgetting about the survivors, but putting the issue of landmines behind is a good step towards that sort of growth in a country that’s not going to define itself as still emerging from civil war.
-Ed Lajoie, The HALO Trust
In September, the water levels in Inhambane Province and on the Pungwe River will drop to the point where the last remaining minefields in Mozambique can be cleared. Clearance is expected to take no more than two months so that by the end of November, Mozambique will be able to declare itself landmine-free. As it does so, it must not forget the needs of the survivors.
A lot of Mozambicans today don’t even realize there are still mines because they’re out in the most remote areas now… They remember it, but a lot of them don’t feel like they’re a mine-impacted country.
Challenges will remain as a lethal legacy of conflict. In particular, landmine survivors will continue to require support for the rest of their lives while the country will still face a threat to civilians from other explosive remnants of war.
-United Nations Development Programme
RAVIM makes an urgent appeal to the Government, commercial companies, humanitarian organizations and cooperating partners who supported the demining process in the country to now embrace this noble task of assisting the victims.
Landmines continue to plague dozens of countries, but Mozambique can be an example to others.
Mozambique’s government and international donors alike deserve a huge amount of credit for really engaging with the problem and getting it done and I think it’s a great example of what you can achieve.
I think it’s a beautiful story of 20 years of the arc of progress in Mozambique.
Mozambique has come a long way, has gotten their shit together and the other countries haven’t. It’s just a matter of time, but there’s something that can be learned from here.
Twice a year, upon release of the annual Landmine Monitor report around December 1st and the annual celebration of International Day for Mine Action and Awareness on April 4th, countries and organizations take the opportunity to recommit themselves to mine action. Several of this month’s stories come from events commemorating Mine Action day, but entirely too many also come from the fact that landmines continue to plague Africa and the world, ten years after the first International day and almost 20 years after the signing of the Mine Ban Treaty. Landmine use appears to be on the increase, a sad way to increase awareness of the need for mine action.
Ten landmines were cleared from the road leading to Airport Road in Benghazi and a spokesperson for the army warned of the possibility of additional mines in the area from fighting earlier in the conflict (Al Wasat). In Ajdabiya, one soldier was killed and four others wounded by landmine (Al Wasat).
Despite the insecurity in the country, the United Nations Mission in Libya and the Libyan Mine Action Centre hosted an event for International Mine Action Day (UNSMIL).
Democratic Republic of Congo
The head of the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO), Martin Kobler, called achieving landmine-free Congo “a duty.” Kobler noted that there were almost 30 landmine casualties in the DRC and over 2,500 survivors. One-eighth of the mine-affected land in DRC was cleared in 2014 with over 15,000 explosive remnants of war (ERW), including landmines, destroyed (MONUSCO). The contamination in DRC is concentrated in a few regions. According to the group, Africa for Mine Action, 40% of Ituri Province is contaminated with landmines and after years of work, only three provinces in the entire country have been declared landmine-free (Radio Okapi).
Three deminers with the South-African firm, Mechem, were kidnapped from near the eastern city of Goma. While some reports erroneously labelled the deminers as United Nations peacekeepers, the three men, two Congolese and one from abroad, were released after about a week. The kidnappings occurred as tensions between DRC and Rwanda were high with a Congolese soldier injured in an exchange with Rwandan troops and the re-emergence of the Allied Democratic Force, a rebel group committed to overthrowing the Ugandan government and responsible for brutal attacks in the 1990s and early 2000s (World Bulletin; Agence France Presse; News 24). The men were kidnapped while looking into reports of an anti-tank landmine and in total, three such mines were discovered near Goma the same week as the abductions. The mines appear to be new ones and would represent the first new usage of mines in DRC since 1999 (State Department; Radio Okapi).
Central African Republic
During an April 4th event, the head of the United Nations mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) confirmed that there were “no real threats of landmines” in the country. MINUSCA teams has recovered landmines from “public places” and displacement camps, but these mines were in stockpiles and not deployed (All Africa).
During the recent conflict in the Central African Republic, Seleka rebels had attacked members of the Ba’aka ethnic group in the belief that Ba’aka members had mythical Red Mercury. The Ba’aka village is now under the fulltime protection of government soldiers (Mint Press News).
Making quick and steady progress in Bie Province, Angola and the HALO Trust announced the clearance of three minefields covering 10.5 hectares (All Africa). This clearance and other projects across the country facilitate rapid development such as the National Urbanisation and Housing Programme which seeks to build one million new houses in the country. To date, over 80,000 have been built and the Minister of Urbanisation and Housing called for more landmine clearance to allow more houses to be cleared (All Africa).
In the capitol, Mogadishu, three men were caught trying to bury a landmine in Howlwadag district. The mine was cleared and the road made safe (Warar Media).
In commemoration of International Mine Action Day, the UNAMID peacekeeping mission in Darfur and its partner The Development Initiative (TDI) hosted an awareness session. In 2014, TDI completed assessments of 217 villages, cleared 183 dangerous areas and destroyed over 3,000 pieced of unexploded ordnance. TDI and its local partners have provided mine risk education to over 600,000 people in Darfur, a necessary act in a region which has seen at least 150 ERW incidents which have killed 105 people and injured 215, many of them children (All Africa).
In South Kordofan state where the government is fighting a rebel group, a landmine detonated during the national election day killing three people and injuring another three (Radio Tamazuj).
That conflict in South Kordofan has been associated with many accusations of human rights violations and war crimes. In April, Human Rights Watch reported on confirmed evidence of cluster munitions use by the government, identifying the remnants of six cluster bombs. This is the second accusation of cluster munition use by Sudan, the first was in 2012, and monitors suspect that Sudan both stockpiles and produces the weapon. Both times, the targets of the cluster munition use appear to be civilians which would be a war crime (Sudan Tribune). Of course, the Sudanese government has rejected the reports, calling them “fabricated and baseless” and the fight against the rebels in South Kordofan “does not need such bombs” (Anadolu Agency).
The campaign against Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria continued with fighting focused around Borno State and the Sambisa Forest where Boko Haram is believed to be based. Boko Haram appears to have used landmines extensively to prevent any direct assault upon its position. Seven Nigerians, six soldiers and one “civilian vigilante” were injured by a landmine placed by Boko Haram near the town of Baga (All Africa). When Nigerian forces launched an attack on Sambisa Forest, one soldier and three vigilantes were killed by a mine and the Nigerian soldiers retreated to a point, just five kilometers from Boko Haram’s main camp in the forest (All Africa). After these two incidents, the Nigerian army brought out mechanized minesweepers to help clear roads and paths for further attacks against Boko Haram (All Africa). This begs the question, if Nigeria had such equipment already, why did they wait until several soldiers had been killed or injured by mines before using them? Especially since Boko Haram has long been rumored to be using landmines as part of its defense.
Eleven landmines were cleared by Tunisian forces during a recent operation on Mount Salloum in the Kasserine region on the Algerian border. A twelfth mine detonated without causing an injuries (All Africa).
Mali continues to be in the midst of a terrible landmine epidemic as a result of continuing conflict there that has shattered most of the northern region of the country. Since 2013 more than 325 people have been killed or injured by landmines in Mali (MINUSMA). Two incidents targeted peacekeepers with the United Nations Mission, MINUSMA. The first injured two peacekeepers and the second another seven; both incidents occurred as peacekeepers were escorting convoys near Kidal (Global Post; MINUSMA). Two Malian soldiers were injured by a landmine near the town of Diabaly which is the further south a landmine attack has been recorded in the course of the current conflict (Reuters). In Aguelhok, MINUSMA peacekeepers arrested three men who were accused of planting landmines (MINUSMA). Near the town of Gossi, two civilian women were killed by a mine (Defence Web), but that incident was dwarfed by one on the road from Gossi to Gao. Two men on a motorcycle placed a mine in the road and a bus carrying people to people to the weekly market hit the mine, killing at least three people and injuring another 28 (Agence France Presse; Global Post).
In an April 4th event for International Mine Action Day, the South Sudan Vice President called landmines “one of the biggest obstacles to development in the country.” At the same event, the head of the South Sudan Demining Commission accused the rebel Sudanese People Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM/IO) of using landmines in the current conflict (Radio Tamazuj). In response the SPLM/IO’s Mine Action Program denied using landmines and in turn accused the government of South Sudan of using mines, reporting at least 60 separate incidents of landmine use by the government (Radio Tamazuj). So the government denied the SPLM/IO’s accusations and reported discovering nine mines placed by the SPLM/IO, two of which destroyed vehicles (Citizen News).
This has been the pattern of the conflict in South Sudan since violence broke out in December 2013. The two sides have traded accusations of war crimes and treaty violations when in fact, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, a regional body of governments of East Africa, has documented violations by both sides in roughly equal numbers. The government of South Sudan, the SPLM/IO and the many, many militias associated with each are all complicit in the continuation and escalation of the conflict. In the end, it is the people of South Sudan who are made to suffer by their leaders’ callous indifference.
The Algerian People’s National Army has cleared over 720,000 landmines from seven provinces. 72 municipalities had been contaminated by mines and 46 have been cleared so far with demining crews active in four (Ennahar).
The United States government has been increasing its investment in demining of Zimbabwe. In FY2013, the US provided $500,000, in FY 2014 $750,000 and this year, $1 million. The landmine contamination in Zimbabwe prevents agricultural development and has injured more than two thousand people since the war ended in 1980 (US Embassy in Harare). With US government support, the HALO Trust has already cleared 5,000 mines, but with an estimate 1.5 million to go, a lot of work remains (HALO Trust).
Handicap International recently sent a team to the Moyen-Chari region of Chad to conduct some initial surveys and do some community liaison activities including mine risk education. During the trip, the team found multiple areas where munitions were abandoned after the wars in the 1980s. The mines in this part of the country have impeded road works and agricultural development and injured dozens of people (Handicap International).
And last, one of the countries at the forefront of the fight against landmines and cluster munitions continues to support those affected by landmines, even after the last mine has been cleared. The government of Zambia re-affirmed its commitment to support landmine survivors. According to the Foreign Minister, Zambia will conduct a needs assessment and then come up with a suitable and sustainable victim assistance program (Daily Mail Zambia).
Michael P. Moore
moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
May 20, 2015