On June 3rd, Oscar Scafidi and Alfred Weston will embark on 1,100 kilometer kayaking expedition along Angola’s Kwanza River from almost the center of the country to the capitol, Luanda on the Atlantic Ocean. This will be the first source-to-mouth expedition of the Kwanza and Oscar and Alfred will be using the trip to raise awareness about Angola generally and support the HALO Trust specifically.
Oscar is a travel writer whose Bradt Angola guide I will be leaning heavily on during my own trip to Angola. Alfred works for a company that provides specialized services to the oil and gas sector.
After hearing about their trip and reading of their relationship with the HALO Trust (see Oscar’s post here about his visit to HALO’s work site), I reached out to them to learn more:
1. Why did you choose the Kwanza as the river for your trip?
I (Oscar) lived and worked in Angola for five years between 2009 and 2014, and in 2013 wrote the Bradt Travel Guide to Angola (Second Edition). Alfy (Alfred Weston) has been in Angola for the past two and a half years. Angola seems like the natural choice, and the Kwanza is Angola’s longest river! Also, this is a charity expedition to raise money for The HALO Trust’s demining work, and Angola is one of the most mine-affected countries in Africa.
2. What is the state of eco- and adventure tourism in Angola?
Angola has a great deal of unrealised potential in the eco and adventure tourism sector. The country has a huge Atlantic coastline with excellent surf and fishing opportunities as well as a diverse interior of tropical forests, mountains, desert and bush. The government is also keen to promote growth in the tourism sector, to help diversify the economy away from oil-dependence. However, change is coming quite slowly. It is still a difficult country to get a tourism visa for, and prices are high once you arrive. Despite this, there are a few excellent independent operators such as Eco-Tur and Angolan Adventure Safaris who can help you put together an amazing experience.
3. Where does “Getting eaten by crocodile” rank in your list of concerns about this trip?
To be honest, “getting eaten by a crocodile” is quite low on our list of worries.
What are your biggest concerns?
Safety is the number one priority. Our main aim is to finish the 1,100km journey safely. To this end we have spoken to a number of experts who have worked in this type of environment, including the National Geographic Okavango Wilderness Project, who have explored over 1,500 miles of river systems in southern Africa. The main concern in the early stretches is hippos, who can be very aggressive and territorial if surprised. The logistics of accessing medical assistance in such remote locations have also been a challenge, and we are very grateful for the support of the Bié Provincial Authorities as well as International SOS in this regard. Although hippos and crocodiles sound a lot more exciting, I think statistically the biggest risk to the trip is of one of us contracting malaria or another insect-borne disease, so we have to avoid bites wherever possible and be sure to take our anti-malarials!
4. Your preparations (sponsors, equipment, training, website) has been extensive: What has been the most challenging? What has been the most rewarding?
Getting the kit list together and persuading sponsors to hand over equipment has been very difficult, but I think the most challenging thing has to have been the physical training. Kayaking is a very demanding sport, and we have undertaken a pretty intensive schedule to make sure we are ready in June. Hiking with a 20kg rucksack has also been no fun! Having said this, it is great to be able to measure our progress, both in term of kayaking ability and donations to the cause!
5. Had you always intended to use this trip to support a charity?
Yes, we thought that this was such a unique experience that it would be a waste not to use it to benefit a charity. And what better charity than The HALO Trust, who are already busy working in many of the remote areas of Angola that we plan to kayak through?
6. What is the link between your trip and your support for the HALO Trust?
In 2012 I travelled all over Angola to write the second edition of the Bradt Travel Guide to Angola. I had to visit all 18 provinces, and during my time in Bié and Cuando Cubango provinces I was able to see for myself what a huge problem land mines cause for the local communities. It was then that I decided that it was important to support charities working on landmine removal in Angola.
7. What has been the most important contribution from the HALO Trust to your trip?
The HALO Trust has proven invaluable in our preparations for the trip. They have offered everything from transportation and accommodation in-country as well as route advice and other logistics support. I think their help and advice on emergency medical evacuation has probably been the most important contribution, as we would not feel comfortable undertaking the journey without a proper support network in place.
8. How can others support the HALO Trust?
The best way to support The HALO Trust is to make a donation online, via our JustGiving page. Also, you can help to spread the word about our expedition by following us on Twitter, sharing our content on Facebook and reading our blog posts on WordPress.
Good luck to Oscar and Alfy!
Michael P. Moore
May 22, 2016
moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
April 4th is the International Day of Mine Action and Mine Awareness and there were many celebrations and observances of the day. The United Nations Mine Action Service has compiled stories and photos here and they are worth checking out. Some of the stories below came out because of the April 4th observance and the extra attention that day provides to mine action, but all too many stories also reflect the fact that landmines continue to threaten lives and limbs across the Continent.
Three French soldiers serving in Mali as part of a stabilization mission were killed by a landmine in the northern part of the country. One soldier died immediately while the other two succumbed to their injuries after a day. The soldiers were traveling in a convoy of vehicles from the town of Gao when their vehicle struck a mine (BBC News).
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) continued its support of the Zimbabwe Mine Action Centre (ZIMAC) through the donation of protective equipment, metal detectors and mine risk education materials. Since 2012, the ICRC has been the primary sponsor and support of ZIMAC which is responsible for clearing landmines from Zimbabwe’s national park lands; the HALO Trust and Norwegian Peoples Aid (NPA) are clearing other parts of the country. The government of Zimbabwe intends to expand the demining capacity in the country with the addition of two more clearance organizations (one of which will be APOPO with its Hero Rats) and a second demining squadron from the national army. Some 62 million square meters of minefield remain in Zimbabwe and 35 cattle have been killed along with 250 wild animals in the most recent rainy season. No mention was made of human casualties (All Africa; All Africa).
In Huambo Province, landmine clearance by the National Demining Institute continues. So far this year, a dozen landmines and other pieces of unexploded ordnance have been cleared and destroyed (All Africa).
The Lord’s Resistance Army continues to impact northern Uganda a decade after the group was forced out of the country. Over 85 hand grenades have been discovered in hidden caches and authorities have called on residents to report any suspicious items they might find (All Africa).
Nigeria & Cameroon
An operation launched against Boko Haram led to the arrests of over 300 rebels and the liberation of 2,000 hostages. The operation destroyed Boko Haram infrastructure, but without some costs. At least six Cameroonian soldiers were injured by a landmine (Voice of America). Following the operation, former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo visited northeastern Nigeria to observe the progress. Obasanjo said that the local governor intends to return all internally displaced people to their homes by the end of the year and the government will provide returnees with livestock. Obasanjo also said of the region, “Fortunately, there are no land mines in the fields,” so returnees will be able to farm their lands (Voice of America). Obasanjo’s words proved be wrong as landmines killed five farmers in Yobe state and injured nine others as they were clearing their fields for planting. The blasts occurred less than two weeks after the farmers had returned to their homes (Y Naija). In response to the blast, the Nigerian military spokesperson warned the general public that Boko Haram had mined the farm fields, cutting short Mr. Obasanjo’s message of hope (All Africa).
The trial of four former employees of the National Demining Institute began in Maputo. Over the course of two years beginning in 2009, the employees, all members of the Administration and Finance Department, defrauded the government of about 250,000 meticais (~US $5,000) by issuing airline tickets to their family members (All Africa).
Three members of the Popular Defense Forces (PDF), a paramilitary group affiliated with the national army, were killed and several others injured by a landmine at a checkpoint in South Kordofan state. Fighting in South Kordofan between the government and rebels has intensified recently (Radio Tamazuj).
In Darfur, members of a UN Security Council monitoring group reported the presence of RBK-500 cluster bombs at one of the government’s air bases. Sudan had previously declared that it did not possess any cluster munitions, but the group’s findings dispute that (Reuters).
Eight million anti-personnel landmines laid by the French during the colonial era have been cleared by the Algerian army. This report was made in conjunction with the observance of the International Day for Mine Action and Awareness (KUNA). At another observance event, focusing on the victims of anti-personnel mines, a lawyer working with Algerian civil society called for the amendment of the Mine Ban Treaty to hold the countries that laid the mines responsible for their clearance (Ennahar). This argument is often used by Egypt as an excuse to remain outside of the Treaty because a significant number of the landmines in Egypt were laid by Britain and Germany during World War II. However, the Mine Ban Treaty’s cooperation clause responds to this very issue.
The civil war in South Sudan that erupted in December 2013 has set back demining activities in the country. When South Sudan acceded to the Mine Ban Treaty after independence 2011, the government believed it would be landmine free by 2020 and while substantial mine clearance has continued throughout the conflict, the use of new mines and the restrictions on access to mine affected areas means that more time will be needed to finish the job (Shanghai Daily).
South Sudan’s war has been very dangerous for humanitarian workers. In Yei state, seven employees of the Danish Demining Group were ambushed on their way to the minefields that they were clearing. Two local employees were shot and killed during the ambush and the other five managed to escape. The killers remain at large. In response to the attack, Danish Demining Group has suspended all operations in Yei indefinitely (Copenhagen Post; Copenhagen Post).
Between 1975 and 2012, 831 people were killed and 1705 people injured by landmines in Morocco. These figures were released by Moroccan authorities. In addition to the human casualties, livestock and native species, like the fennec fox, have been killed (Moroccan Times).
As part of the local observance of the International Day of Mine Action and Mine Awareness, leaders in Western Sahara called for the removal of the Moroccan-built berm which divides the territory and includes millions of landmines. Awareness raising activities also took place and representatives from the Chahid Cherif center noted that 151 survivors of landmines were receiving assistance at the center (All Africa).
Derna Shura fighters are using landmines to fight against Islamic State militants in the eastern Libyan city (Libya Observer). In Benghazi, three Libyan soldiers were killed and eight others wounded by a landmine attributed to Islamic State (Arabs Today).
In Marka town, a landmine placed in the center of the town claimed one life and injured another when a car drove over the mine in the middle of the night (Goobjoog News, no link). In the central region of Galgaduud, three children found a piece of unexploded ordnance and started to play with it. All three were injured when the item exploded (Goobjoog News, no link).
Michael P. Moore
Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
May 6, 2016
As of March 20, 2016, all landmine clearance activities in Western Sahara have halted. Earlier in the month, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon traveled to Western Sahara visiting the refugee camps on the east side of the berm and observing various activities of the United Nations mission there, MINURSO, include landmine clearing activities. During his visit, Ban referred to the “occupation” of Western Sahara by Morocco a term that the Moroccan government took “strong exception to.” The government of Morocco demanded the withdrawal of 84 civilian members of MINURSO from Morocco on March 16, including the staff of the United Nations Mine Action Services (UNMAS) which oversees the demining activities. By March 20, all UNMAS staff had complied with Morocco’s order and the landmine clearance activities were halted indefinitely.
Landmine clearance in Western Sahara is urgently needed, on both sides of the berm. In the last year 17 landmine incidents were reported resulting in 37 casualties. MINURSO’s landmine clearance teams were responsible for activities on the east side of the berm and some 42 minefields and 52 cluster munitions strikes remain to be cleared. If mine clearance activities do not resume soon, then minefield markings can be lost and the landmines and unexploded cluster munitions will continue to threaten lives and limbs.
Western Sahara desperately needs a political solution: I get that. I also know that landmine clearance on either side of the berm will protect lives and can be a confidence-building measure. Indeed, MINURSO’s Mine Action Coordination Centre worked with both sides of the dispute to coordinate and document landmine clearance by the UNMAS-supported teams and by the Royal Moroccan Army. I also know that as soon as I post this I will be reminded that the mines on the east side of the berm were placed by the Polisario Front and Algerian forces, which I do not dispute. But I DO NOT CARE. The origin of a landmine does not diminish the injustice of its injury.
I sincerely hope that the UNMAS teams will be allowed to return to MINURSO and that landmine clearance will resume soon. After all, of the 37 casualties mentioned above, 32 happened on the west side of the berm, in areas controlled by Morocco, not Polisario.
Michael P. Moore
May 2, 2016
moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org