All-too-brief visit with MAG in the Democratic Republic of Congo

I’ve enjoyed a strong relationship with MAG over the years having been there at the creation of MAG America and had many chances to interact with their staff in Washington, DC and Manchester, UK.  I’ve also visited MAG’s project office in Vietnam a decade or so ago.  I’ve written pieces for MAG America on Angola and Mine Risk Education, but Friday was my first time visiting a MAG project in Africa.  My day job had sent me to Kinshasa and because the work day ends early on Friday, I was able to meet with MAG-DRC’s Operations Manager, JP Botha, and learn about MAG’s programs in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

MAG has been here in the Congo for more than a decade, starting out with humanitarian mine action work in the aftermath of Congo’s brutal civil wars that ended in 2002.  Over time, MAG has been able to broaden its scope of work in the country to include addressing small arms and light weapons and helping to secure arms depots.

The humanitarian mine action work continues and with the 2013 – 2014 landmine and explosive remnants of war (ERW) contamination survey completed, the tasks can be focused.  MAG contributed information on Equateur and Kasai provinces to the survey; other organizations provided information on other regions. MAG’s multi-task team in Equateur province are now working to clear the landmines and ERW (especially cluster munitions) identified in the survey. Another multi-task team is operating in Katanga province to clear cluster munitions strikes and battle area clearance.  MAG would like to see additional teams in the field if funds allow as the extent of contamination is very great as can be seen in the map below.  Multi-task teams are capable of clearing all explosive remnants of war and in DRC the contamination from cluster bombs, mortars and other pieces of unexploded ordnance is much greater than the landmine contamination.

From the 2013-2014 survey, landmine and ERW contamination in the Democratic Republic of Congo

From the 2013-2014 survey, landmine and ERW contamination in the Democratic Republic of Congo

MAG also conducts landmine and ERW risk education through its community liaison teams and in partnership with the Congolese Red Cross.  Using visual materials like the poster below and information sessions, the community liaison teams work to reduce the behaviors that lead to casualties, especially tampering with unexploded ordnance (the poster, designed for use in DRC, shows a mortar bomb).

Mine Risk Education Poster used in DRC.

Mine Risk Education Poster used in DRC.

The small arms and arms management tasks aim to reduce hazards to civilians from poorly kept ammunition and explosives and the proliferation of small arms that occurred during the wars in the country.  In the capital, Kinshasa, MAG installed a cutting machine designed to cut small arms rendering them useless as weapons.  Capable of cutting up to a thousand arms a month, the machine is the only large scale facility of its type in the country; other smaller machines exist, but cannot do large numbers of weapons in a short period of time.

MAG is the only organization in the country authorized by the government to conduct bulk demolition of unexploded and abandoned ordnance.  The week before I arrived MAG destroyed 15 tons of explosives near Kinshasa.  Two teams, one in Kanaga in Western Kasai and the other in Goma, North Kivu, have a target of destroying 250 tons of explosives in a twelve month period.  They completed 80% and Mr. Botha is confident they will complete the rest before the end of August when the current support for the activity concludes.  And while 250 tons is an awful lot of explosives to destroy, the need is much greater and MAG is seeking support to place a third team in the field to increase capacity.

In addition to destroying excess or unstable weapons, MAG is working with the Congolese army to build and refurbish ammunition depots to prevent explosions like the March 2012 blast at an arms dump in Brazzaville, just across the river from Kinshasa, which killed more than 200 people and injured another 2,000.  There are MAG-built armories in Kisangani and Bukavu and MAG has also created mobile armories using specially-designed shipping containers. MAG is looking at the possibility of building another depot in Lubumbashi.

Thanks to the team at MAG America for arranging the visit and to JP Botha for showing so much hospitality on such short notice.  If the opportunity comes up again, I hope to visit some of field work.

To learn more about MAG’s work in DRC, please visit their website.

Michael P. Moore

July 17, 2015

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

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