Angola Avante: The Survivor Population

Angola has one of the highest populations of landmine survivors in the world but the exact number has never been known.  The Landmine Monitor, the best source of data for survivor figures has simply said “Unknown; many thousands” (The Monitor).  The Government of Angola has tried to survey the population and register the survivors to be able to provide programming in response to the needs.  Some provinces were surveyed, but that process was discontinued after 2014 due to a lack of funds.  Between 2010 and 2014, 9,165 survivors were identified in nine of Angola’s 18 provinces.



A new publication provides the best indication of the number of landmine survivors in Angola.  In 2014, the government of Angola conducted its first national census since before independence (BBC News).  In addition to being able to confirm the national population at just under 26 million (Reuters), the government has managed to produce a count of the landmine survivors in the country.  According to the census, there are 88,716 landmine survivors in Angola (as of May 2014) (Instituto Nacional de Estatistica de Angola).  The census also documents the number of persons with disabilities by types of disability which will provide the best source of data for programmatic needs for the community.

Let’s pause there. 88,716 landmine survivors.  That does not include all of the people killed by landmines in Angola or the people who were injured and passed away before May 2014. Afghanistan has some 20,000 survivors and Cambodia has a little over 64,000 survivors which would make Angola’s survivor population the largest in the world.

This is Wembley Stadium in London.  Wembley

You could fill almost every seat with Angola’s 88,716 landmine survivors.

Back to the discussion:

According to the census, almost half of the survivors life in three provinces: Luanda (23,839), Huila (10,233) and Huambo (8,588) and every province has at least a thousand survivors.  Moxico province has the highest per capita population of survivors with 456 survivors for every 100,000 residents.


In terms of service provision, there are 28 rehabilitation centers in Angola, nine in Luanda alone. Nationally, there is one rehabilitation center per 3,169 survivors.  Cunene, Zaire and Lunda Norte have no rehabilitation centers and while Zaire and Lunda Norte have some of the (relative to Angola) lowest concentrations of survivors, Cunene has the second highest prevalence.  Huila (5,117 survivors per rehabilitation center) and Cuanza Sul (6,430 survivors per center) would also benefit from greater investment in rehabilitation infrastructure.

The census also addressed disability more generally, documenting 656,258 persons with disability in Angola, representing 2.5% of the population (global estimates of disability are 15% of the population so the Angolan figures are likely under-counting).  Cunene and Moxico have the highest incidence of disability at over 3.1% of the provincial populations (see below figure, and remember that Cunene has no rehabilitation facilities).

Disability by Province in Angola

In addition to landmines, the census identified other causes of disability including congenital, disease and other types of accidents.

Disability by Cause in Angola

The total of all causes (1,195,819) is double the number of persons with a disability so some double counting may be happening. Possible methodological problems aside, the 2014 Angola census represents the best estimate of Angola’s landmine survivor population and the disability community.

Michael P. Moore

March 29, 2016

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org





The Month in Mines, February 2016

I think it’s the little touches in landmine stories that really get to me.  In this month’s news, the fact that the reporter felt the need to confirm that when two herders were killed by a piece of unexploded ordnance, “their animals did not survive the explosion either.”   In Morocco the fact that a young man’s “kicking” of a landmine set it off, provides a visual.  Or in Zimbabwe, a young survivor and his girlfriend cannot marry because he lacks the money to pay for the wedding.  These small flourishes show the humanity and the human tragedy of landmines.



In response to the Boko Haram insurgency, several vigilante groups emerged from the local populations in northeastern Nigeria to support the Nigerian army in the campaign against the Islamist group.  In February, five members of the one vigilante group, euphemistically called the Civilian Joint Task Force (CJTF), were killed and another four injured when their truck struck a landmine left by Boko Haram (All Africa).  Four Nigerian soldiers were also injured in a separate incident (All Africa).  Cameroonian soldiers are also active against Boko Haram and while Cameroon’s forces have been clearing mined roads and dismantling suspected bomb-making facilities, one Cameroonian soldier was killed and another eight injured when their truck struck a mine on patrol in Nigeria (All Africa).



In 2015 the HALO Trust cleared and destroyed more than 4,000 mines and 25,000 pieces of unexploded ordnance (UXO) in the southern town of Cuito Cuanavale (All Africa). In Bie Province, landmine clearance is preparing some 250 hectares of land for industrial development and economic diversification (All Africa). In Cuando Cubango, the deputy governor witnessed the destruction of several explosive devices and noted how demining enables agricultural expansion and market access (All Africa).



Two members of the Islamist group, Ansar Dine, were killed when they drove over a landmine planted by other members of the group.  The vehicle was headed towards Kidal and had four pieces of ordnance in the back which might have contributed to the deaths of the occupants (Mali Web). In northeastern Mali, Malian soldiers were victims of a landmine and firearms attack which killed four – it is not clear from the report how many casualties are attributable to either the mine or the guns (The Chronicle). In Mopti in central Mali, three Malian soldiers were killed and two more wounded by a landmine (BBC). Near Gao, another Islamist was killed by the mine he was trying to plant with the intention of attacking a Malian army convoy (Mali Actu).



Five people were injured, one seriously, when a Moroccan man kicked a landmine in the southern city of Laayoune (Morocco World News).



The Gulu Landmine Survivors Association (GLSA) in Northern Uganda has petitioned the government for victim assistance support.  Most survivors are living in poverty and prosthetics are prohibitively expensive.  Monica Pilloy, the chair of the GLSA, notes that Ugandan soldiers are entitled to pensions and compensatyion for injuries, but civilian victims of the Lord’s Resistance Army, despite the international attention and support for reconstruction, have received little (Uganda Radio Network).

In western Kasese district, the Kayondo Landmine Survivors Association called on the government for amendments to national legislation to reflect the provisions of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities which Uganda has ratified (Crooze).

One child was killed and eight others injured when they played with a piece of unexploded ordnance in Kampala.  The football pitch where the boys were playing is opposite an old military barracks (News 24).



The 426 kilometer stretch of Zimbabwe’s northwestern border with Mozambique, from Mukumbura to Rwenya, is labelled as “minefield # 2.”  130 kilometers have been cleared, removing over 162,000 anti-personnel landmines.  The balance remains to be cleared with the HALO Trust and Zimbabwe’s National Mine Clearance Squadron splitting the duties (Zimbabwe Nation).  The presence of the landmines means that the Zimbabwe-Mozambique border hasn’t been formally fixed and efforts by the African Union Border Commission have been stymied (The Chronicle). The HALO Trust’s work is supported, in part, but the Japanese government and during a visit to the minefield, the Japanese ambassador to Zimbabwe called for more awareness of the landmine problem in Zimbabwe and more support from the donor community. Literally putting his money where his mouth is, the ambassador also announced an additional US $635,281 for the project (News Day).  The Zimbabwean parliament has recognized that demining is underfunded and the committee responsible for defense activities has called for additional funds.  With only US $100,000 provided by the government, some members of parliament have suggested taking up a collection among themselves to support the work (News Day).

“Minefield # 1” is near Victoria Falls in the northeast of the country and the National Mine Clearance Squadron had sole responsibility for its clearance.  Declared clear in 2015, over 26 thousand mines were destroyed (Harare 24). The third major minefield (not sure if it is formally known as “Minefield # 3”) is along the southern border, near Sango Border Post, where Zimbabwe, Mozambique and South Africa share a border.  One area of the minefield, Gwaivhi community, is a place “where you can hardly find a family that has not been affected in one way or the other by the landmines. Some families lost their members while others have been maimed. Other families lost their livestock. The area is not suitable for human habitation and therefore has no settlements but those on the periphery of the area have been affected.”  Zimbabwe army engineers are clearing the minefield and in 2015 the Defence Minister provided 15 artificial limbs to survivors from the community (Sunday News). 



The US Army’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) sent two US Navy explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) trainers and a corpsman to work with and train Tanzanian soldiers on EOD techniques as part of the regional command’s capacity building program (AFRICOM).


South Africa

A South African man was seriously injured by a piece of unexploded ordnance that he had somehow acquired from an army training ground near his home.  The range is well marked and fenced, but still poses a danger to local residents (Defence Web).



The Libyan army has liberated areas of Benghazi and has warned local residents about the possibility of landmines and other explosive devices.  The army’s engineering teams were sweeping the Laithi neighborhood and asked residents to accompany engineers in order to access homes and secure personal possessions (Al Wasat).  The dangers from ERW were made clear when one soldier was killed and two others injured by a landmine in Benghazi, the second such incident in less than a week (Arabs Today).



Two herders were killed along with five of their camels by a piece of unexploded ordnance in Darfur’s East Jebel Marra (Radio Dabanga).

To combat landmines and ERW elsewhere in Sudan, the government of Italy donated 250,000 euros to the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) program in Sudan.  the funds will be used to clear 900,000 square meters in Kassala state and provide mine risk education to 5,000 people (United Nations).


Burundi / Rwanda

Both Burundi and Rwanda have declared themselves to be anti-personnel landmine free after completing clearance.  Neither army should have these weapons in their arsenal, but allegations that surfaced this month should raise questions about their use.  Some Burundian rebels were interviewed by United Nations monitors in the South Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo.  The rebels claimed that they had been trained in the use of anti-personnel and anti-tank mines by Rwandan army regulars to be able to overthrow the government of Pierre Nkurunziza, the Burundian president who recently ran for a third term in violation of the constitution (Voice of America).



In Somaliland, a young man who overcame the loss of both arms and his sight to a landmine explosion to attend college and complete his degree has resorted to asking for charity in a newspaper article (Somaliland Informer).


Western Sahara

Norwegian Peoples Aid (NPA), which has been conducting mine risk education programs in Western Sahara for many years, has recently commenced landmine clearance activities in the region.  With two teams now working in the country, NPA is hoping to contribute to a mine-free Western Sahara (NPA).



Two archaeologists were killed and third wounded at the Tel al-Dafna site near the Suez canal.  The area had been subject to extensive landmine use in the Egypt-Israel wars of 1956, 1967 and 1973 and the archaeologists apparently set off a mine during their excavations (Mada Masr).


Michael P. Moore

March 28, 2016

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

Angola Avante: The most mined area in Angola, Part 1

There are two sites in Angola that vie for the unenviable title of “most mined area.”  The first, which we consider today, is the town of Cuito Cuanavale in southern Angola.  The second, which will be discussed in a future post, is Moxico Province in the east of the country.

Without hyperbole, Cuito Cuanavale was the site of one of the most important battles of the Cold War and the largest tank battle in Africa after World War II.  In 1987 and 1988, Cuban and South African forces fought a months-long siege along the Cuito River in support of their respective clients, the MPLA-led Angolan government and the UNITA rebels. While Angolan forces comprised a significant portion of the combatants, the real powers were Cuban and South African regulars.  To this day, South African tanks remain on the field of battle, rusting reminders of the battle.  The defeat and withdrawal of the South African forces led to the independence of Namibia and the fall of the Apartheid government in Pretoria.  The collapse of the Soviet Union, and loss of support from Cuba and Soviet Bloc states, encourage the MPLA government to negotiate a treaty with UNITA which fell apart shortly after contested elections in 1992.

All parties to the battle used anti-tank and anti-personnel landmines.

Cuban and Angolan forces laid “over four hundred anti-vehicle booby traps mad with BM-21 rockets and MiG bombs for a total of over fifteen thousand mines.  Attempts were made to clear the extensive anti-tank and antipersonnel minefields around Cuito Cuanavale at various times to prepare for [South African] attacks.”

According to a deminer with the HALO Trust:

“One of the mine belts was laid by the South African Army over eight months, from April 1988. It is an extensive cordon that runs for several kilometers to the east of town, blocking land from cultivation and other useful purposes, and preventing safe transit. It continues to claim victims. Professionally laid by military engineers, it consists of minimum-metal mines which are very difficult to detect, and there is also evidence of booby traps and other unpleasant surprises.”

The South African minefields follow a predictable pattern of a “center row of antitank mines five meters apart protected by two antipersonnel mines nearby in the ten and two o’clock positions towards the likely approach.  The antitank mines were fitted with an antilifting device and two rows of antipersonnel mines a few meter on either side.  Some antipersonnel mines were connected by detonation cord to claymores that would explode and disperse numerous ball bearings for maximum havoc.”  Similar mine-laying patterns are in evidence in Zimbabwe where the Rhodesian forces laid mines along the border with Mozambique.

At least one of the South African tanks destroyed and left on the field of battle was the victim of a “boosted” mine, which is one that has either extra explosive packed into the mine or is laid on top of another explosive, like an artillery shell.  The resulting blast flipped the tank over.  Angolan forces would also link their mines to other explosives to kill or injure anyone trying to clear the mines.

In addition to landmines, the Cuban air force used cluster munitions.   500 and 1,000 pound cluster bomb packages would drop hundreds of sub-munitions, small enough to land in South Africans’ foxholes causing immense damage.  A cluster bomb package “could clear an area of about fifty meters with no vegetation left higher than knee level.”  The failure rates of these bombs is unknown, but many sub-munitions would not have exploded upon contact becoming landmines.

The density of the minefields around Cuito Cuanavale is staggering.  In 2015 alone, the HALO Trust cleared 2,943 antipersonnel mines, 1,175 anti-tank mines and another 25,000 unexploded ordnances from an area of less than 800,000 square meters (All Africa). In 2014, the government of Angola reported that 258 sites covering 25 million square meters in Cuando Cubango Province were confirmed to be contaminated with landmines (Government of Angola), representing a quarter of all confirmed minefields in the country. Certainly a contender for the most mine-affected area in Angola.

Michael P. Moore

March 15, 2016

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org


Most quotes taken from The Last Hot Battle of the Cold War by Peter Polack.