The Month in Mines, October 2015

We have tended not to cover cluster munitions as a specific topic here at Landmines in Africa. That decision has been based on the fact that cluster munitions have historically been less of an issue in Africa than elsewhere (e.g., Lebanon, Kosovo, Laos and too many other places).  However, cluster bombs have been recently used in Libya, Sudan and South Sudan and as you will see in the stories below, possibly in Nigeria.  Further in the past, cluster munitions contamination in Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe dates back to the liberation wars and civil wars in those countries.  In Somalia this month, the government acceded to the Convention on Cluster Munitions which bans these weapons, becoming the 97th country to do so (Horseed Media).  African nations played a key role in the negotiation of the Convention on Cluster Munitions and we’ll be keeping a closer eye on these weapons going forward.

 

Angola

In Luanda Angolan authorities seized 14 landmines in the course of a series of arrests as the capital city witnessed a spasm of violent crime (All Africa). In Cuando Cubango, authorities collected another three landmines from citizens as part of a voluntary disarmament program (All Africa).  In Bie Province, almost nine thousand people have received mine risk awareness messages since the start of the year (All Africa).  To address the country’s mine clearance needs, 36 deminers have been trained and deployed to Cunene province where at least one mine incident occurred in June (All Africa) and 18 security and police personnel participated in a course on the management of humanitarian disarmament activities (All Africa).

Landmines also feature in Angola’s foreign affairs. Botswana’s president, Seretse Khama, traveled to Angola and discussed with Angolan officials the development of a trans frontier park for wildlife and the care of many Angolan elephants who migrated to Botswana to escape the landmines planted during Angola’s wars (All Africa).  During a visit to Japan, Angola’s minister of Welfare and Social Reintegration met with leaders from the Japanese Mine Action Service which clears landmines in Bengo province (All Africa).

 

Somalia

A landmine killed one soldier and wounded another in Afgoye Town’s animal market (All Africa).

 

Nigeria

The Nigerian army discovered several caches of cluster bombs in Adamawa State as the military continued its pursuit of Boko Haram.  The army then warned residents to be on the lookout for other caches (All Africa).  Later analysis of the cluster bombs confirmed that the Nigerian army had found French-made BLG-66 (“Beluga”) munitions which can only be used from aircraft which Boko Haram does not possess.  In fact, the Cluster Munition Coalition suggests that the found cluster munitions had originated with the Nigerian army and had somehow found their way into Boko Haram’s hands.  Boko Haram could use the bomblets as part of an improvised explosive device, but evidence points to the weapons’ origin as being with the national army (All Africa).  If such is the case, then the Nigerian army needs to explain how its own weapons could be found in areas controlled by Boko Haram.

Also, outside of the Boko Haram conflict zone in northeastern Nigeria, the army is operating in central Plateau State where a simmering conflict between the Berom and Fulani ethnic groups is spreading.  The army discovered several landmines in a road near the village of Gyambus (All Africa).

Abandoned and unexploded ordnance dating back to the Biafra War of the 1960s continues to plague Nigeria.  The government just settled a case brought by several individuals who sued the government, alleging that the government had failed to clear landmines and abandoned caches of explosives from residential areas.  Specifically, the suit sought to have the abandoned stockpile in a residential neighborhood of Owerri in Imo State violated the human rights of the persons living there.  The final settlement of the case will be made in January 2016 (All Africa).

 

Egypt

During an illegal hunting trip in a natural reserve in Egypt’s Red Sea governorate, a car drove over a landmine likely dating to the late 1960s killing one hunter and wounding another.  The men intended to use falcons to hunt in the area which is popular for the activities despite its being banned.  According to the director of the Cairo-based landmines struggle center, landmine clearance only takes place in Egypt if there is a significant financial incentive to do.  No word on the conditions of the falcon (Cairo Post; All Africa).

 

Democratic Republic of Congo

The Safe Schools Declaration seeks commitments from nations and their armies to avoid using schools for any military activities.  In one school in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), the army had occupied the school’s buildings for a period and then dumped unused explosives into the latrines which had to be cleared by demining teams before the school could be re-opened for its intended purpose (All Africa).

 

Zimbabwe

While Zimbabwe’s president, Robert Mugabe, was in India, the acting president, Phelekeleza Mphoko, visited the Gonakudzingwa Restriction Camp in Gonarezhou National Park.  The Camp had been used by the Rhodesian government to isolate nationalist leaders like Joshua Nkomo during the liberation war.  The area around the Camp, like much of Gonarezhou, is contaminated with landmines which limits access to the site.  Mphoko called for clearance of the mines and restoration of the Camp as a museum (All Africa).

 

Mali

A civilian convoy was attacked by “terrorists” who used rocket launchers and small arms to kill six people and would at least two.  The convoy was under the protection of security forces and the attack began when one of the vehicles struck a landmine planted in the road (Press TV).  In another incident, three civilians were killed when their vehicle struck a landmine and two of the United Nations peacekeepers who arrived on the scene were injured by a second mine.  The mines were located near the United Nations base at Tessalit near Kidal (Reuters).  In a third incident, three French special forces operators were injured in an unspecified area of northern Mali (Agence France Presse).

 

Uganda

The Orthopedic Workshop at Gulu Regional Referral Hospital, originally set up to respond to the needs of landmine survivors in northern Uganda, is unable to meet the demands of its clients.  Each month 30 patients come to the Workshop seeking prosthetic limbs and orthotic appliances but no one has received any items since June when the Workshop’s funding ran out.  Supported by the Italian NGO AVSI, the Workshop does not appear to receive any funds from the government and the cost of prosthetics and orthotics is prohibitive to its clients (Uganda Radio Network).  The Ugandan government must step in and provide the support it has committed to give under the Mine Ban Treaty and other agreements.

 

Mozambique

In 2007 an explosion ripped through an ammunition depot in Mozambique’s capitol Maputo setting off a chain reaction of explosions that killed more than a hundred people and injured another 500.  Ordnance remains at the depot even today, but plans are in place to clear the unexploded ordnance and create a public park on the site.  APOPO and the HALO Trust will work together to make the site safe for its transformation into a multifunction space that includes a zoo, a water park and camp ground (US News and World Report).

 

Somaliland

The German Deputy Ambassador to Somalia visited the semi-autonomous region of Somaliland and observed the German-funded work of the HALO Trust which is clearing minefields near the Ethiopian border.  The Deputy Ambassador also met with trainees who will soon be conducting the first comprehensive survey of Somaliland’s minefields as well as other German-funded development initiatives in the region (Somaliland Press).

 

Cameroon

The US Army Africa Command (AFRICOM) is providing a number of landmine-detecting vehicles to the Cameroon army in response to the threat of mines placed by Boko Haram.  The vehicles would also protect soldiers from explosions should the vehicles miss a mine (Voice of America).

 

Libya

The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) and United Nations Support Mission in Libya have trained 15 Libyans (14 men and one woman) in non-technical survey to enhance the capacity of Libya to assess the contamination of the country from landmines and explosive remnants of war.  The ongoing civil war in the country will limit the extent to which this training can be used (UNSMIL).

 

South Sudan

The UNMAS chief in South Sudan told reporters that 12 million square meters of land in South Sudan has been cleared of mines and explosive remnants of war.  Despite the ongoing conflict, some 2,800 villages have been surveyed and the residents educated on risk awareness.  He did note that there is the possibility of some residual contamination in Juba and other areas that have been cleared and South Sudanese should report any items they discover (The Niles).

 

Algeria

15 anti-personnel landmines were seized by the Algerian army along with a number of other items from smuggling groups that had been trafficking people and contraband (All Africa).

 

China in Africa

China has committed to providing US $100 million in military aid to the African Union standby force and will provide support to 10 landmine clearance programs in Africa.  The exact countries to be supported were not announced, but will likely be in countries of strategic interest to China (News Day).

 

Michael P. Moore

November 20, 2015

moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org


Landmines are not the solution to any border problem

I monitor Twitter on a daily basis for news about landmines.  In the wake of Saturday’s massacre of 28 people riding a Nairboi-bound bus near the Kenyan border town of Mandera by members of the Al Shabaab militia (Reuters), I saw several posts on Twitter suggesting radical measures to close the border between Somalia and Kenya:

Kenya and

Kenya2 and

Kenya3  and

Kenya4.

The anger of the writers and posters is understandable: many of their fellow Kenyans have been killed by a militia that is based in another country.  The use of landmines to secure the border is an easy-sounding solution, but one that will result in many more civilian casualties and not protect Kenyans.  As examples, the French and Rhodesian governments placed “cordon sanitaires” on the borders which, despite multiple layers of minefields, barbed-wire, machine gun emplacements and electronic monitoring, completely failed to prevent incursions by rebel groups which seized power in Algeria and Zimbabwe.  Two modern minefields, on the Korean Peninsula and in Western Sahara, also fail to prevent people from crossing the borders or provide a lasting solution to the conflict between the peoples on either side.

Kenyans are not the only ones to suggest using landmines to protect borders.  Others I have seen recently include Indians:

India

Finns:

Finland

Ukrainians:

Ukraine

And Americans:

USA.

I doubt that those recommending the use of landmines are representative of their fellow citizens, but I do find it troubling to see any proposals to secure borders with landmines.  Landmines are not the solution to any border issue. Civilians are inevitably the victims of these minefields and if anything, active minefields harden the conflict and make finding a permanent resolution more difficult (again, see Korea and Western Sahara).  Fences and minefields do not make good neighbors. Communication and understanding make good neighbors while minefields make enemies.

Michael P. Moore

November 24, 2014

Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org


China’s Investment in Demining Africa

There is a lot of hand-wringing in the international community about the Chinese involvement in Africa.  To be sure, China’s investments often appear to be very self-serving, especially the oil and mineral extraction activities.  But China has also learned the important lesson of soft power and has made investments that, unlike the oil wells, roads and gifts to leaders, don’t have an immediate return.  China has paid for the building of many hospitals in Africa, sent its doctors to treat malaria patients across the continent and offered Chinese language instruction to Africans.  From a glamor perspective, the Chinese have also built or re-furbished a spectacular number of football stadiums and not just those used for international tournaments, along with opera houses and other cultural venues.  But even more important from my particular point of view: the Chinese have provided a lot of assistance for mine clearance.

Chinese foreign aid is conditioned on eight principles, two of which (“China provides quality equipment and materials manufactured in China at international market prices” and “China will help recipient countries master the techniques of any technical assistance”) apply to demining (The Guardian).  The result has been gifts of demining equipment and training sessions for deminers to landmine-affected countries in Africa.  From 2000 to 2011, according to the AidData project, China provided some US $2 million in demining equipment to Angola (AidData), Eritrea (AidData), Ethiopia (AidData) and Mozambique (AidData).  On its own and through the United Nations Mine Action Service, China has provided demining training to over 100 deminers from Eritrea (AidData), Angola, Ethiopia, Mozambique, Rwanda (AidData), Chad, Burundi, Guinea-Bissau (AidData), Sudan and South Sudan (AidData).  Not included in the AidData figures were donations of mine detectors and equipment to Egypt and a demining team from China that participated in the UN Peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (The Monitor).

The amount of mine action assistance that China provides is far below that of the United States, Norway and many others, but it is not insignificant either.  In many ways, China’s demining assistance mirrors the mine action assistance of another entity whose presence in Africa raises eyebrows: the United States’s Africa Command (AFRICOM).

Michael P. Moore

May 2, 2013


The Month in Mines, October 2012, by Landmines in Africa

If I were to tell you that the two African countries with the most landmine-related stories in October were Somalia and Angola, would you be surprised?  October was the 20th anniversary of the founding of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL).  As a sign of how much progress has been made, Somalia become 160th country for whom the Mine Ban Treaty has entered into force; as a sign of how much still needs to be done, at least five landmine blasts occurred in Somalia.

Somalia

The Mine Ban Treaty entered into force for the 160th State Party on October 1, 2012.  With Somalia’s accession, all of Sub-Saharan Africa is now under the Treaty’s regime.  Somalia faces significant logistical hurdles to become compliant with the Treaty, from stockpile destruction (the current, recognized government of Somalia does not control all of its territory, let alone the arms and weapons in the state) to landmine clearance to victim assistance.  However, by acceding to the Treaty, Somalia can access significant resources to assist in this process while also making a statement about the kind of nation it wants to be: one that is at peace with itself and looks after its own people (All Africa).

The last Al Shabaab stronghold, Kismayo, was re-captured by AMISOM and allied forces in September, but Al Shabaab’s insurgency campaign continues throughout Somalia.  Landmine attacks were reported in Kismayo (All Africa), Wanlaweyn (RBC Radio), Baidaba (RBC Radio), Beledweyne (All Africa), and Sool (BBC News) killing at least six civilians and injuring 13 more; military casualties were not reported even though four of the blasts targeted military and government officials.  Additionally, AMISOM troops discovered a cache of landmines and other explosive materials during a sweep of Kismayo (All Africa).

As a side note, the reporting from within Somalia continues to be excellent despite the fact that 16 Somali journalists have been killed this, with Al Shabaab claiming credit for at least ten of those assassinations.  Other journalists have been attacked or threatened with attack.  One journalist, Ahmed Farah Ilyas, was killed by gunmen outside his home while investigating a landmine blast (BBC News).  I applaud these brave men and women without whom we would know so much less about that is happening in this critical corner of the world.

Angola

Angola continues to clear landmines as it develops its internal capacity.  Demining authorities announced the destruction of hundreds of explosive remnants of war, including landmines in Kwanza Norte Province (All Africa) and Huila Province (All Africa).  Cleared land will be returned to productive use such as agriculture and other development initiatives.  Capacity building activities include training on demining and information management led by the national mine action authority, CNIDAH, for staff from several ministries, such as Social Welfare, Education and Agriculture (All Africa).

A much larger project, a national database of all Angolan landmine victims was also launched in October.  This database will give the service providers and relevant government ministries and agencies a complete census of landmine victims and other persons with disabilities in the country to, hopefully, better serve their needs as they recover and reintegrate into society.  In 2005 the number of landmine victims in Angola was estimated at almost 130,000 (All Africa) while other published estimates range from 23,000 to 80,000 (The Monitor).  A crucial step in the development of this database will be to ensure that the necessary services are provided to landmine victims.  The majority of Angolans live on less than US $2 per day and knowing who and where the landmine victims are is useless information if the services are not available for socio-economic reintegration.

Egypt

This month saw the 70th anniversary of the Battle of El Alamein between the tank divisions of Britain’s Bernard Montgomery and Germany’s Erwin Rommel.  The battlefield itself was known at the time and continues to be referred to as the “Devil’s Garden” in reference to the 16 million shells and landmines in Egypt’s deserts.  In 2012, 17 people have been injured by unexploded ordnance and a conservative estimate places the total number of casualties at 8,000 civilians, with 725 known survivors since the battle itself.  The Bedouin community is particularly hit hard as they migrate through the deserts.

In recent years, the United Nations Development Programme with funding from Britain and Germany has supported victim assistance and demining programs, but the scale of the problem has dwarfed the funds made available.  A new demining initiative was launched this past April, but funding from the European Union has been withheld due to fears of corruption.  Funding could be made available through sales of leases for the oil and natural gas reserves that lie under the Devil’s Garden and could be exploited if the region were demined.

Despite the battles over money, landmine accidents continue to occur and new victims will need assistance.  Abdullah Salah, a Bedouin survivor himself, has set up an NGO to support other landmine victims but the services that Salah’s NGO is able to provide were not specified and the transitory nature of the Bedouin population would suggest that a comprehensive recovery and re-integration program is not currently available (The Independent).

Greek President Papoulias visited Egypt in October to renew and strengthen economic ties.  Despite the continuing financial crisis in Greece, Greek investments in Egypt are worth 1.5 billion euros with plans to increase to more than 5 billion euros.  In addition to these economic ties, Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi’s spokesman announced that “Greece will help Egypt in removing landmines implanted during World War II” (All Africa).

 

China

The Greeks are not the only Western nation bearing demining gifts to Africa.  A South Sudanese army captain who had completed a one-month training course in China on humanitarian demining declared, “China’s demining teachers are great, China’s demining technologies are great, China’s demining devices are great, and the Chinese people’s friendship with the South Sudanese people is great” (People’s Daily Online).

The United States

The XM7 Spider Munitions system, one of the US Army’s alternatives to anti-personnel landmines, seems to be a little closer to full utilization.  The initial evaluation of the system took place in 2010 and this month saw the “Network Integration Evaluation” during field maneuvers at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico.  The Spider has tripwires to alert the operator who must deliberately activate the associated explosives (DVIDS Hub).  Earlier this year, a $58 million award was issued to Alliant Techsystems Operations and Textron Defense Systems to upgrade the Spider’s operating system and purchase spare parts to ensure that the Spider would be ready for field use this year (Solicitation # W15QKN-12-T-B003).

Michael P. Moore, November 7, 2012