Mozambique’s Arc of ProgressPosted: May 29, 2015
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.