The Months in Mines, September and October 2017Posted: November 30, 2017
In 2016 I traveled to Zimbabwe to take stock of mine clearance along the border with Mozambique and to document the availability and quality of victim assistance in the country. Short answers were that the clearance was going well while victim assistance services were deteriorating. To prepare for the trip I had read Peter Godwin’s The Fear about the violence that followed the contested 2008 elections and Heidi Holland’s Dinner with Mugabe, a psychological biography of the only leader Zimbabwe had ever known. Until a week ago. After a brief power struggle between Robert Mugabe’s two most-likely successors, the first lady Grace Mugabe and the general and former director of Zimbabwe’s interior security Emerson Mnangagwa, Mnangagwa found himself fired in early November and having to flee arrest. A few days later, leaders of the Zimbabwean army consulted with Chinese officials in Beijing and presumably secured their support for the non-coup that deposed Mugabe and replaced him with Mnangagwa after several days of negotiations. The transition has so far been peaceful, but let’s be clear: Mnangagwa is not the reformer that Morgan Tsangvirai would have been in 2008. Mnangagwa, nicknamed “the Crocodile,” led the pogroms against the Matabelele people in the 1980s, eliminating a key opposition group to Mugabe’s rule and allowing Mugabe to consolidate control. Then, in 2008, Mnangagwa masterminded the violence and repression which followed the Movement for Democracy and Change’s, Tsangvirai’s party, likely electoral victory. Until Grace Mugabe’s efforts to seize power in recent months, Mnangagwa had been seen as Mugabe’s likely successor.
I have heard from colleagues that the mine clearance is continuing in Zimbabwe and the general mood in the country is positive. I don’t hold any particular hope for a dramatic improvement in the quality and availability of victim assistance services, but I, for the most part, recall my time in Zimbabwe fondly. The people I met, much like the Bosnians, Rwandans and Vietnamese I have met in other travels, were remarkably resilient; despite the poor economy and the recent memories of violence, life continued.
We are consolidating two months’ worth of stories into this update.
Benghazi, despite its association with a non-scandal involving the Clinton State Department, should be seen as one of the most mine-affected cities in the world. In one month – July 2017 – at least 40 civilians were killed by mines with an unknown number injured and further unknown numbers of soldiers killed or wounded. The Islamic State made wide use of victim-activated booby traps and local activists have taken on the role of counting the casualties. The Libyan army is making some progress to clear the mines and booby traps, and 43 deminers have lost their lives to liberate the city from explosives. More support is needed from the international community to train and equip the deminers, but more options are also needed for the residents of Benghazi who fled their homes and now wish to return (D and C).
At least four people were killed and 9 injured by landmines in Benghazi in September (Libya Observer). In Sabri neighborhood, a teenager lost both legs in a landmine explosion while playing football near his home (Libyan Express). Also in Sabri, a father and his son were injured by the shrapnel from a mine (Libya Herald) and three men were killed by a booby trap near the entrance to a public building. A Chadian man also died from his injuries after stepping on a landmine near his home (Libya Observer).
Women activists from Libya met in Rome under the auspices of the Italian Foreign Ministry and called on the international community to provide more support to landmine clearance in Libya (Libya Herald).
Cement factories in Benghazi are expected to re-open for operations in the near future after landmine clearance supported by British experts. Local production of cement will aid in reconstruction (Libya Herald).
A UN peacekeeping convoy struck a landmine near Gao which touched off an ambush that killed three peacekeepers and injured five others in September (WTOP). In October, another ambush killed three peacekeepers and injured two more after a convoy hit a mine in Kidal (Punch Nigeria). The Al Qaeda affiliated Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) claimed credit for the attack in Kidal and was also suspected of a landmine blast that injured two Malian soldiers (Long War Journal).
In Angola’s Zaire province, seven landmines were among the 89 pieces of unexploded ordnance (UXO) (All Africa). In Kwanza Norte almost 3 million square meters of land have been cleared of mines and and over 21 thousand people have been sensitized to the danger of landmines (Relief Web). 468 UXO cleared in Bengo province were destroyed (EIN News).
Having earlier cleared the last known minefield, Algeria destroyed the last 5,970 landmines stockpiled by the country (Middle East Online).
The Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) ruled against the government of Nigeria for failure to clear landmines from the 1960s Biafra War. The ruling requires the government to begin removing stockpiles of unexploded and abandoned ordnance (Sahara Reporters).
Two vehicles in northern Nigeria struck separate landmines attributed to Boko Haram, killing two people and injuring many others (Independent). Near Maidugari Boko Haram launched an ambush after an army convoy struck a landmine; four Nigerian soldiers were killed and five were injured in the attack (All Africa).
A convoy belonging to Avocet, a mining company, struck a mine north of Burkina Faso’s capitol, Ougadougou, killing two and injuring two more. The mine was attributed to a new jihadist group, Ansaroul Islam (Reuters).
Two Cameroonian soldiers were killed by a Boko Haram-attributed landmine near the Nigerian border (Anadolu Agency).
Landmines and UXO from the Lord’s Resistance Army insurgency in northern Uganda continue to be found and threaten lives and livelihood. The region suffers from food insecurity due to an inability to fully use the agricultural lands due to fears of explosives (All Africa).
A minibus struck a landmine in Lower Shabelle killing the two women and four men riding in it. Two other landmines were discovered and cleared in a Mogadishu suburb (Voice of America).
Sixty square kilometers of minefields remain in Zimbabwe as the country scrambles to meet the global target of a landmine-free world in 2025. The HALO Trust covers the areas of Mount Darwin and Mukumbura and report that while human casualties have mercifully been reduced, livestock continue to suffer with 19 cattle lost to landmines in just two months in Mukumbura. Near Mount Darwin, plans for emergency clinics to respond to landmine injuries have been delayed or shelved due to lack of funds. Demining continues to receive international support with a recent contribution of US $2 million from the Japanese government (News Day). That support has helped to clear five square kilometers of land and over 40,000 mines out of the estimated 29 square kilometers of minefields in Mashonaland Central and Mashonaland East where Mukumbura is (News Day).
In addition to herding, farming and general transit across Zimbabwe’s minefields, a continuing lure for people to enter the minefields is the myth of Red Mercury. A belief persists that landmines contain Red Mercury, a nonexistent substance thought to be more valuable than gold, so people try to open mines to obtain the substance with disastrous consequences. The HALO Trust and local legislators have been working to combat this myth and save lives (News Day).
Also in Zimbabwe, a new mine-risk education program was launched by Happy Readers and the HALO Trust. The program combines a literacy program with a fact-based story about the dangers of landmines.
Over 2,600 square kilometers of Egypt’s northwestern desert, site of the World War II battle of El Alamein, remain contaminated with landmines. The Egyptian government and then United Nations have led awareness campaigns while mine clearance is led by a division in the Egyptian army. The work is paying off as there has only been one reported landmine casualty to date in 2017, but the continuing presence hinders development of the region (The National).
Sudan’s Kassala State will likely be declared free of landmines by the end of the year. So far 90% of the known hazards have been cleared (All Africa).