Landmines and the 2012 Famine in East Africa

Famines are the confluence of environmental and political factors.  Insufficient rainfall or poor harvests aren’t enough; political actors have to actively prevent the delivery of food assistance to those who need it.  Often food assistance is deliberately withheld: one is starving the opposition, with a criminally-broad definition of who the opposition is.  Landmines assist in the withholding of assistance; either by deliberately seeking to interfere with travel and transit or by disrupting refugee movements.

The situation as of November 2011:

In 2011, tens of thousands of people in East Africa died as a result of famine.  Famine conditions continue in Somalia as of this writing due to the lack of rainfall in October – December 2010 and lower-than-average rainfall in April-June 2011 and due to the lack of an adequate humanitarian response.  The needed humanitarian response was constrained by a lack of urgency from donor countries to provide food and financial aid to international relief agencies and the restrictions on access to famine-stricken areas by Al Shabab, the major rebel force in Somalia.  FEWS Net (the Famine Early Warning System Network) predicts that Famine conditions (defined as “Catastrophe” on the IPC Food Insecurity Scale here: http://www.fews.net/ml/en/info/pages/scale.aspx) will lift by the new year although 250,000 people still face imminent starvation and child mortality rates will remain high due to outbreaks of infectious diseases.  So while the “famine” will end, “emergency” conditions will continue for the foreseeable future, if conditions remain unchanged (FEWS Net, pdf).

An emerging hunger crisis – a “food security alert” – is occurring in Sudan along the border with newly independent South Sudan. More than 3 million Sudanese are facing food insecurity and “harvest prospects are significantly lower than last year and the five-year average, and an early start to the lean season is expected in March / April instead of May / June” (FEWS Net, pdf). Just as in Somalia, central Sudan has seen irregular rainfall patterns that have constrained the harvest and FEWS Net is expecting food security to worsen to “Crisis” levels, based solely on availability of food.

Unfortunately for both Sudan and Somalia, the climate is not the only factor to worry about.  While for Somalia, FEWS Net reported a general improvement in the situation, that improvement was based upon the ability of humanitarian agencies to provide assistance after the withdrawal of Al Shabab from Mogadishu and other parts of Somalia in August.  In Sudan, the rainfall shortages have been accompanied by an outbreak of violence between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the rebel group, the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army / Movement – North (SPLM/A – N). 

Why things will get worse:

On November 28th, Al Shabab banned 16 aid agencies from operating in central and southern Somalia, the areas hardest hit by the 2011 famine and those still facing famine conditions (The Independent).  This news followed several weeks of positive news about the lifting of the famine and the success international organizations had been having in delivering food assistance (The Independent; IRIN News; Voice of America).  Al Shabab’s actions were in response to the invasions of Somalia by Kenyan (IRIN News) and Ethiopian (Al Jazeera) armed forces.  Al Shabab claimed that it was banning the aid agencies as a result of “illicit activities and misconducts” but others believe Al Shabab’s decision was based on the “belief that aid groups are serving as spies for outside countries or as vehicles to undermine support for al-Shabaab’s harsh and strict interpretation of Islam” (The Independent). 

Since the ban has been in place, “Humanitarian activities in the parts of the country left by the banned aid agencies have been reduced to ‘almost nothing’… [and] critical services such as food, water, health and nutrition had been suspended” (IRIN News).  To enforce the ban, Al Shabab has changed its tactics employing “suicide bombers, improvised explosive devices, hit-and-run guerrilla tactics, ambushes and even frontal attacks against soft targets” (IRIN News).  Recent news reports have shown that Al Shabab is using landmines and improvised explosive devices to sow fear in the refugee camps and disrupt travel by Kenyan armed forces across the Kenya – Somalia border.  Therefore landmines are actively being used to prevent humanitarian assistance from reaching famine-stricken regions of Somalia. 

The United Nations has issued a $1.5 billion request for humanitarian aid for Somalia for 2012  While the rains have returned to Somalia, ending the 2011 famine, the humanitarian crisis is far from over.  Thousands of Somalis are still in displacement camps, having originally sought refuge from the drought, now they seek refuge from the expanding war, and so have not planted their fields for the next harvest (CBS News).  “The drought in Southern Somalia is over but no one is going home” (The Independent).

In Sudan the poor harvests in the states along the new border between Sudan and South Sudan have been exacerbated by the outbreak of hostilities between the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) and the rebel group, Sudanese People’s Liberation Army – North (SPLA-N), an offshoot of the Sudanese People’s Liberation Army that has become the government of South Sudan.  Refugees are streaming into South Sudan and Ethiopia and north to Khartoum.  Humanitarian agencies have been banned from the area by the various armed forces so food aid can’t get to anyone who has not been able to flee.  As for the refugees, those that flee into Unity State in South Sudan are at risk from the anti-tank mines that have been placed in the roadways by yet another rebel group fighting against the South Sudanese government (FEWS Net, pdf).  The United Nations has even been relocating displacement camps away from the mine-affected regions of Unity State (All Africa).

The situation in Sudan is worsening.  FEWS Net predicts that the denial of access for humanitarian aid will drive the region to the brink of what is officially defined as “famine,” by March of 2012 (FEWS Net, pdf).  Should the conflict deepen or become more entrenched, by the summer we will see the regions along the Sudan – South Sudan border facing full-fledged famine, just as we saw in Somalia this past summer. 

In both Sudan and Somalia, the problems arise from poor harvests due to drought or irregular rainfall, but it is the political conditions and the conflicts in the countries that make these famines.  By preventing humanitarian aid from reaching those who need it most, the rebels and governments in these countries are manufacturing famines.  They use landmines and IEDs to enforce the bans on humanitarian access; landmines aimed at the opponents have the same effect: by closing the roads to your opponents, you are also closing them to your allies and to humanitarian relief.

Once the droughts and conflicts are over, the presence of landmines will threaten the lives of returning refugees.  Existing minefields in Sudan (IRIN News) and South Sudan (All Africa) and Somalia (UNMAS, pdf) have killed and injured those who have fled violence and drought and when the rains and peace return, the mines will remain, waiting to kill and injure refugees when they try to come home.

UNMAS has issued an appeal for mine action support for 2012 as part of the consolidated UN appeal (CBS News).  In recognition of the increased risk from new mines and IEDs, UNMAS is seeking $7.4 million for 2012 (Mine Action, pdf) compared to the $4.6 million requested in 2011 (UNMAS).  A similar increase is probably needed to support mine action in Sudan, but in both countries, access is limited.  The kidnapping of Danish Demining Group staff in Somalia earlier this year (BBC News) demonstrates the ability of rebels and others to enforce bans on humanitarian agencies. 

As 2011 closes, the brief notes of hope that existed as South Sudan declared its independence and Al Shabab withdrew from Mogadishu have been eclipsed by renewed violence and continuing hunger.  The famine in Somalia in 2011 was the worst in 20 years; it has not ended and now a new crisis emerges in eastern Sudan.  Violence and landmines combine with drought to breed famine.  The 2012 starving season will be upon us very soon; let’s hope the international community responds quicker next year than they did this year.

 Michael P. Moore, December 16, 2011

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Why new use of landmines in Sudan is a greater tragedy than new use in Libya

In early 2005, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed between the Government of Sudan in Khartoum and the Sudan Peoples Liberation Movement / Army brought an end to a 20-year civil war that had killed millions of Sudanese.  Against the backdrop of worsening conditions in Darfur, the CPA was a moment of hope for Sudan and represented the culmination of years of external mediation, led by the United States among others.  Shortly after the CPA was signed, John Garang, the leader of the SPLM/A and President of South Sudan was killed in a helicopter crash, but the commitment to the CPA by both parties was strong enough to overcome this test. 

One of the provisions of the CPA was a referendum on independence for South Sudan, a referendum that passed with near universal support in January 2011; the referendum’s outcome ensured the South Sudan would become an independent nation in July 2011.  Between the referendum and the independence date, violence flared in a number of locations in Sudan and South Sudan, including Abyei, South Kordofan and the Blue Nile regions.  Abyei is a region whose status (whether to be part of Sudan or South Sudan) was supposed to be settled by a referendum which was never held and so sovereignty over Abyei is contested, mostly because of the potential oil revenues available from Abyei.  South Kordofan and the Blue Nile regions were allied with the SPLM/A at times during the civil war but are part of Sudan under the CPA so the former rebels in those regions are threatening to resume war and have been subject to reprisals from Khartoum.

Prior to the outbreaks of violence, hopes were high for a long-lasting peace in Sudan and South Sudan.  Investment in development activities, peacekeeping and humanitarian aid was very high with aid amounts increasing twelve-fold from 2000 to 2008, from $130 million to $1.75 billion.  Funding for mine action experienced similar increases, from a low of $140,607 in 2000 to almost $100 million in 2007 according to UNOCHA.  All the attention and funding for Sudan allowed the United Nations Mine Action Office in Sudan to declare in 2010 that they expected to clear all landmines and unexploded ordnance from the country by June 2011.

According to United Nations Mine Action Team data compiled in the World Bank’s Landmine Contamination, Casualty and Clearance Dataset (LC3 Dataset), the majority of mine action funding for 2005 to 2009 in Africa went to Sudan (see the below chart). 

 

Source: LC3 Dataset, Downloaded May 20, 2011 

This high-level of funding led to the clearance of thousands of kilometers of roads and the destruction of tens of thousands of explosive remnants of war.  However, in the same time period, Sudan did not have the majority of reported landmine and UXO casualties (451 out of 2,328 reported casualties).  The high level of investment did lead to a marked decline in the number of casualties in Sudan (from 140 in 2006 to 43 in 2009), but a similar decline was seen throughout Africa (from 752 in 2006 to 141 in 2009, see chart below). 

 

Source: LC3 Dataset, Downloaded May 20, 2011 

I would argue that the mine action investment in Sudan was reflective not of the need (as evidenced by the number of casualties), but of the hope that a permanent peace had been achieved in Sudan.  The violence in Unity State alone crushes some of those hopes. 

In April, a militia commanded by a former SPLA commander, Peter Gadet (also written as “Gatdet” in some articles), launched a rebellion against the South Sudan government in Unity State.  Gadet’s forces used landmines to close roads within Unity; at least six separate landmine incidents were reported in the first half of May and I could identify at least 11 casualties (five killed and six injured) from newspaper articles (found by searching for “landmine” and “Sudan” on http://allafrica.com/) about one of the incidents in early May and three others from April, late May and June.  This is in contrast to UNMAS’s reported figure of 14 landmine and UXO casualties in Unity State for the period 2005-2009.  The UN Mine Action Office in Sudan believed that these incidents were due to new laying of landmines based upon anecdotal evidence and the fact that no minefields had been identified in Unity State as of 2009.  In other words, 11 casualties is the absolute minimum for landmine casualties in Unity State as a result of the new landmines laid by Gadet’s rebels; the real figure is probably much higher and represents a significant increase in the number of landmine casualties and a reversal of the historical trend. 

The developing civil war in Libya, pitting ragtag rebels against Moammar Ghaddafi’s regime, also saw significant new use of landmines by the regime.  The rebels in Libya pledged not to use landmines and many stories, like this one, circulated about the volunteer deminers among the rebels. But Libya never signed the Mine Ban Treaty, maintaining a stockpile of an unknown number landmines, and has supported terrorist organizations in the past as evidenced by the Lockerbie bombing.  In recent years, Ghaddafi sought a thaw in relations with the West and dismantled his weapons of mass destruction programs (providing information about Pakistan’s A.Q. Khan in the process), but I don’t think anyone really thought he was a good guy or that his regime would morph into a democracy.  NATO’s willingness to act under the “Responsibility to Protect” doctrine in Libya was definitely conditioned by the fact that Ghaddafi is an unrelenting tyrant who just happens to be sitting on massive petroleum wealth which would be made available to Europe should the rebels succeed.  The fact that Ghaddafi’s forces used landmines should not be a surprise; had he not given up his WMD I’m sure he would have contemplated their use as well. 

Sudan, on the other hand, is a party to Mine Ban Treaty and destroyed its stockpile of landmines in 2008, as well as destroying found stockpiles that had previously been in rebel hands.  In 2009, the Government of Sudan declared that less than 2,000 landmines had been retained for training purposes (an allowable action under the Mine Ban Treaty).  South Sudan did not retain any mines separately from those controlled by the officials in Khartoum.  So, the Sudanese people, in Unity State and elsewhere, had a reasonable expectation that no new landmines would be laid, an expectation the rebels in Libya could not have.  This is the real tragedy: Sudan was approaching a mine-free (or at least mine-safe) status that has been undermined by the new usage of landmine.  A further question that needs to be resolved is the provenance of the landmines laid by Gadet’s rebels.  Human Rights Watch has used the fact that Libya’s mines were manufactured by Brazil and Belgium, signatories to the Mine Ban Treaty, to shame the producers and leading Brazil to launch an investigation into how its mines came to be in Libyan stockpiles.  To the best of my knowledge, similar inquiries have not been made into the origin of Gadet’s landmines. Either they came from the stocks retained for training or they came from undeclared stockpiles or they were obtained from a third party, all of which are illegal under the Mine Ban Treaty and if such behavior goes unpunished, other nations and rebels could follow suit, deepening the tragedy.

Michael P. Moore, August 12, 2011


Landmines and the Famine in East Africa

Much of the Horn of Africa is polluted by landmines and explosive remants of war.  Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia and Somaliland all have extensive minefields and ERW contamination from wars dating back to the Italian invasion in the 1930s.  The recent war (1998) between Eritrea and Ethiopia placed more mines and ordnance along the countries’ borders and the near-permanent state of civil war in Somalia has meant that two decades’ worth of explosive material litters the areas around Mogadishu and 10% of the communities in Bakol (or Bakool) have landmines and ERW.  Surveys in Somalia have been limited, but according to the Landmine Monitor, in 2009 Somalia had 126 landmine and ERW casualties on top of the 116 in 2008.  Ethiopia saw 21 casualties over the same years, Eritrea 102, Somaliland 81 and zero for Djibouti.  The Horn of Africa represented 40% of all landmine casualties in Africa in 2009 and the Monitor believes the numbers are under-reported, suggesting many more incidents went undocumented.

As a result, I expected to find significant reporting on the plight of landmine victims as a vulnerable population within the famine-affected region.  Instead, I’ve seen no mention of landmine accidents or reports from mine action organizations (specifically the HALO Trust, Mines Advisory Group and Handicap International) about how their work has been constrained by the famine.  The civil war in Libya has dominated headlines about landmines in Africa along with the deaths of four United Nations peacekeepers in Abyei in Sudan.  The one report I could find described how landmines had closed a road to Dolo, one of the towns in Somalia’s declared famine zone. 

The below graphic, compiled by the BBC from information from UNOCHA, UNHCR, USAID and the Famine Early Warning System Network, shows the famine-affected areas including the mine-affected regions of Bakool and Mogadishu:

 

The Guardian and the Christian Science Monitor both wrote about the difficulties in providing famine relief to Somalia.  Both papers blamed Al-Shabaab, the Al Qaeda-linked Islamist rebel movement, and the lack of funding for the World Food Programme in general and for famine relief in Somalia in particular.  The Christian Science Monitor also points out that violence is on-going in Mogadishu and elsewhere in Somalia and that the country as a whole lacks a government; the Transitional Federal Government, the UN-recognized authority in Somalia, only controls the small amount of land protected by Ugandan and Burundian peace-keeping forces.  The Guardian lays some of the blame on the United States’s anti-terrorism laws which are designed to prevent assistance from reaching groups like Al-Shabaab.  These laws create a reporting and due diligence burden that aid agencies and organizations have difficulty understanding.

I could take this lack of information as a positive sign: no news is good news; if there are no reports of injuries from landmines amongst the tens of thousands of refugees fleeing the famine, then maybe there aren’t any such injuries or only just a few.  Alternatively, as the Landmine Monitor has suggested, reports of landmine casualties may be under-reported and simply lost in the thousands of refugees and displaced persons arriving in camps every day.  According to Handicap International, of the 400,000 refugees in Dabaab camp just across the Somali border in Kenya, at least 20,000 have some form of disability, but the registration and identification of services needed for those persons is woefully inadequate.  Of the estimated 8,000 refugees with disabilities who arrived in the camp in July 2011, only 500 have been registered and only two (2!?) wheelchairs were issued.  Therefore I think it is likely that a great many landmine victims may be living in Dabaab and other camps without their situation being known and without access to rehabilitation services.  In an area where access to the necessities of life – water, food, vaccines – is limited, access to rehabilitation services may be impossible, compounding the vulnerability of landmine victims.

In addition to the landmine victims in the camps, many landmine victims may not have been able to make the trip or suffered from injuries along the way.  From a study in Uganda, 61% of deaths due to landmine injury were immediate and the majority of the other deaths occurred during transit to the hospital.   Refugees arriving at Dabaab camp traveled as far as 249 miles across landmine and ERW-affected regions; if someone stepped on a landmine, it is unlikely that they would have been able to finish the trip and their death would be unrecorded. 

There is another side to the impact of landmines in the East African famine: what happens when refugees and displaced persons return home?  In Angola after the civil wars there, returnee families would settle on land that was heavily mined, sometimes with the knowledge of the presence of mines, sometimes not.  In Bosnia, I was told that the months with the highest numbers of landmine victims were not during the war years, but afterwards when people returned to their homes, not knowing that their land had been mined.   These injuries took place before mine-risk education programs could be implemented and before any minefield surveys were conducted.  Thus, the risk from landmine contamination for people affected by the famine in East Africa could last long after the famine concludes.  When refugees and displaced persons leave the camps and return to their homes, they will have to pass once more through mine-affected areas and may find their homes are now mine-affected when before they were not. 

So, the silence about landmines in the midst of the East African famine is probably just that, silence.  With the possibility of thousands if not millions of deaths due to starvation, landmines and landmine injuries are a small concern, but not one that should be forgotten.

Michael P. Moore. August 5, 2011


Until Every Step Is Safe.

Welcome to the Landmines in Africa Blog! Okay, so that exclamation point is probably as cheery as we’re going to get about the subject, the continuing use and danger of landmines on the African continent.  According to Project Ploughshares there were, as of May 20, 2011, nine active conflicts in eight nations in Africa.  A tenth can be added with the eruption of civil war in Libya.  Therefore nearly 20% of all African states have experienced conflict in this year alone and in at least five of those conflicts, landmines have been used causing indiscriminate harm.

Let’s start with a few definitions.  It’s always good to know what one is saying whilst he is saying it. When I talk about landmines I am using the definition of an anti-personnel mine from the 1997 Ottawa Treaty banning the use, production and transfer of landmines which is “a [munition designed to be placed under, on or near the ground or other surface area and to be exploded by the presence, proximity or contact of a person or a vehicle] designed to be exploded by the presence, proximity or contact of a person that will incapacitate, injure or kill one or more persons.” See also ICBL’s discussion here.

When I talk about Africa I mean the entire continent and the nations that are members of the African Union and are eligible to participate in the Confédération Africaine du Football’s Cup of Nations tournament.  Some commentators may say “Africa” when they really mean “Sub-Saharan Africa” and are excluding the North African states from Morocco to Egypt.  If I mean to say “Sub-Saharan Africa,” I will try to do so. 

When I talk about landmine victims, I am referring to all persons injured or killed by landmines and unexploded ordnance, their families and communities.  More broadly, I am also referring to those persons whose lives are constrained by landmines, “those who, either individually or collectively, have suffered physical, emotional and psychological injury, economic loss or substantial impairment of their fundamental rights through acts or omissions related to mine utilization.” I include victims of unexploded ordnance (sometimes referred to as “explosive remnants of war”) because the injuries sustained from many kinds of explosive material are similar and by the time the injuries occur, the exact weapon is immaterial.  Again, please see the ICBL’s discussion here.

I am not yet sure how this blog will play out.  I have several things I want to accomplish and I will try to touch on all of these but how I shall do so is still to be determined.  Of interest are:

Updates on mine action: For example reporting about victims, notable achievements and government actions (positive and negative).

In-depth discussions of the landmine situation in particular countries: While the annual Landmine Monitor is (and should be for everyone) the primary source of information about mine action in individual countries, I see a need for slightly more work, especially challenging claims made by governments and providing commentary rather than strict reporting. 

Descriptions of organizations doing mine action in Africa: In particular my interest is in the national and local organizations rather than the international organizations (which are able to produce their own publicity).  If you know of any organization that deserves a shout-out, please let me know and I will try to write about them here.

Lastly, who am I?  I am an organization development professional with more than a dozen years of experience working with not-for-profit and non-governmental organizations around the world.  Five of those years were spent working for Landmine Survivors Network (LSN, later Survivor Corps).  My time with LSN was the most personally rewarding period of my worklife, but also the most heart-wrenching.  Every day I would hear stories about persons affected by landmines, some inspiring but all too many tragic.  This blog is my meager way of keeping focus on the issue of landmines, particularly as they affect Africa.  Nearly every state in Africa has banned landmines but still people are being killed or injured by these weapons.  Until every step is safe, we must keep up the work.

Feel free to contact me via Twitter (@minesinafrica) or by commenting on any of my posts. 

Michael P. Moore, August 1, 2011


So, are landmines in Africa really that big a deal? (Manifesto, Part 2)

In my last post I presented a very brief picture of the current landmine situation in Africa, but that did not provide any context for the severity of the problem.  534 Africans were killed or injured by landmines in 2009, but compared to the millions who died from HIV / AIDS, infectious disease or even injury, 534 is a very small number.  Landmines make up less than a tenth of one-percent of all deaths due to injury (auto accidents are the number one killer with 167,869 fatalities).  Of deaths due to war and conflict, landmines make up less than 2% of the total deaths (WHO 2008 Death and Regional Injury Estimates).  Compared to malaria (almost 112,000 deaths in Africa in 2009 out of more than 69 million cases; WHO World Malaria Report 2010) and HIV / AIDS (1.3 million deaths in 2009 out of 22 million persons infected; http://www.avert.org/), landmine casualties are not even a rounding error.  So no, in the grand scheme of things, landmines would not appear to be a very big problem in Africa, especially in light of poverty, inequality, poor governance and a host of other issues facing the continent.  But for the 534 Africans killed or injured by landmines, their families and their communities, I think landmines remain an important issue and the fact that the potential exists for others to be killed or injured by landmines makes them a viable subject for action and attention.

According to the World Health Organization’s publication, “World Health Statistics 2010,” there were more cases of polio in Africa in 2009 (841) than landmine injuries, but I think polio may be a reasonable starting point for this discussion.  I, like many Americans, thought that polio had been eradicated; until I had to get vaccinated for polio before my first trip to Africa in 2004.  The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, possibly the biggest private development organization in the world, was started because Bill Gates was horrified by the fact that people could still be killed or crippled by polio forty years after the last reported case in the United States.  Yet the re-emergence of polio remains a very real possibility.  From those few hundred cases a year, a worldwide pandemic could ensue, causing major damage to the billions of unvaccinated people.  And one of the biggest consequences of a re-emergence of polio would be widespread fear.

In his book, “Polio, An American Story,” David Oshinsky talks about how fears of a polio outbreak affected people’s lives.  Public pools would be closed, movie theaters empty, schools unattended.  Children who suffered from polio (or were merely sick with a cold or flu during a polio outbreak) would be ostracized, forever marked by the leg braces and wheelchairs they depended upon for mobility.  Landmines have the ability to strike fear in people: when coupled with ongoing conflict or memory of conflict, that fear is compounded.  I was told of a hundred-mile highway in Angola that was cleared by a demining team.  In the course of the entire highway, only three landmines were found, but the knowledge that any mines were on the highway shut the entire road, limiting travel, trade and mobility.  Landmine victims are marked by their absent limbs and in many African countries, persons with disabilities are hidden from sight, unable to participate in community or society. 

Beginning in the 1940s with the March of Dimes and the sponsorship of President Roosevelt, great strides were made to eliminate polio.  The Salk and Sabin vaccines were made widely available, but still the disease lingers in various corners of the globe.  In the 1990s, the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, its visibility raised by the actions of Princess Diana, initiated the global ban on landmines, but still landmines litter the borders of nations and mark old battlegrounds.  Earlier this year, the Libyan government became only the second government in three years to actively emplace landmines, but 50 other countries still retain the right to use landmines and between them they possess tens of millions of weapons. 

The poverty, conflict, disease burden and corruption present in Africa today makes eradication of landmines harder there than it might be in other places.  So landmines are not just an issue unto themselves, but bound up within a web of other issues that need to be addressed simultaneously.  As some have pointed out (see http://www.gichd.org/), there is a link between mine action and development and mine action can help states achieve their Millennium Development Goals (we can discuss later or elsewhere the validity and utility of the MDGs).  By focusing on the eradication of landmines, we can work on issues of poverty, governance and conflict, reducing the immediate impact of landmines in Africa whilst also beginning to tackle some of the larger, intertwined issues.

We have made great strides to eliminate these horrific things, but we cannot be complacent and we must continue the work.  As the Gates Foundation adopted the eradication of polio as its first signature campaign, landmine activists must continue to work to rid the world of the remaining landmines.  So no, landmines may not be the biggest deal in Africa or elsewhere in the world, but every 18 hours in Africa in 2009, a person was killed or injured by a landmine and that’s just plain wrong.  Much as we can eliminate polio, we can eliminate landmines.  Unfortunately, the trend lines may be reversing.  Annual polio cases are increasing and two African conflicts, in Libya and in the Southern Kordofan state of Sudan, saw new use of landmines in 2011 and increased casualties.  2011 may be the first year since the Mine Ban Treaty was signed in which landmine casualties will increase from the previous year, making landmines a bigger deal. 

 Michael P. Moore, July 29, 2011


The Current Landmine Situation in Africa (July 2011)

Let’s start with a baseline: what is the current landmine situation in Africa?  According to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, Egypt, Libya and Somalia are the only African countries who have not signed or ratified the Mine Ban Treaty; of the three Libya is the only one without a participating member in the ICBL, Somalia has eight.  Since the early stages of the mine ban movement, African states and civil society have been major participants and responsible for much of the progress.  Ken Rutherford credits Nelson Mandela and South Africa’s leadership on the issue for bringing much-needed momentum to the mine ban treaty negotiations in the mid-1990s, especially since South Africa had been a significant producer and exporter of landmines under the Apartheid regime.  The first review conference of the Mine Ban Treaty took place in Nairobi in 2004 leading to a re-investment in victim assistance and identifying the 25 states with the greatest responsibility to act on behalf of landmine victims.  In addition to policy leadership, four African states that had been affected by landmines, Nigeria, Rwanda, Tunisia and Zambia, have declared themselves to be mine-free.  That’s the good news.

The bad news is that of those 25 countries with the greatest need and greatest responsibility, 11 (Angola, Burundi, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, Senegal, Sudan and Uganda) are in Africa and Egypt and Somalia would also have made the list had they been parties to the Mine Ban Treaty.  The enormous number of refugees and displaced persons on the continent mean that there is a constant flow of people to and from conflict areas and the continent remains mired in multiple conflicts.  In 2011, there have been reports of new use of landmines in Libya and Sudan.  30 African countries are still affected by landmines and other explosive remnants of war and 534 landmine casualties were reported in 19 African countries in 2009 (Somalia alone accounted for 126 of those casualties). 

One of the obligations of parties to the Mine Ban Treaty is to clear all known mined areas within 10 years of ratifying or acceding to the Treaty. This year Algeria, DRC and Eritrea requested additional time to meet that obligation whilst Chad, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Senegal, Uganda and Zimbabwe had previously had such requests approved and continue to try and meet those obligations.  The delay in clearing mines means the risk of injury and death from landmines continues in those nine countries and more and more countries are requesting extensions as their clearance deadlines approach. 

That’s the view from ten thousand feet.  A little closer to the ground and we see some positive signs and some negative ones:

In Angola, progress continues to clear the extant minefields from that country’s civil wars.  In 2010, over 5,000 landmines were removed, freeing more than 1,000 km of roads and 76 million square meters of land for use (Angola Press Agency, 11-MAR-2011).

Whilst Nigeria was able to declare itself as mine-free, some sources suggest that tens of thousands of pieces of unexploded ordnance remain in the ground from the Biafra War (Daily Champion, 16-MAR-2011).

One thousand Congolese were forced to re-settle on an improperly cleared minefield in Kisangani to allow space for economic development (UN IRIN, 4-APR-2011).

The Japanese government, despite the tsunami and nuclear disaster, pledged to continue its support to mine action in Mozambique; a pledge that keeps Mozambique on target for becoming mine-free in 2014 (Agencia de Informacao de Mocambique, 15-FEB-2011 / Agencia de Informacao de Mocambique, 5-APR-2011)

The rebels fighting the Gaddhafi regime in Libya pledged not to use landmines in their struggle (Human Rights Watch, 29-APR-2011).

The sanctions against Zimbabwe mean that minefields leftover from the civil war in the 1970s remain intact.  The government estimates that $100 million is required to clear the remaining landmines (Zimbabwe Independent, 23-JUN-2011).

290,000 Somalis were warned of the dangers posed by landmines through mine risk education despite the ongoing violence and humanitarian crisis there (UNDP 18-MAR-2011).

Humanitarian aid is undelivered to regions of South Sudan due to landmines being laid by militias along the roadways (UN IRIN 6-JUN-2011 / UN IRIN 13-JUN-2011).

Lastly, a school in Western Uganda was using an unexploded bomb as a bell.  The bomb was discovered when a mine risk education team came to the school to make a presentation and a teacher rang the “bell” by hitting it with a rock to call the students to order.  The bomb was removed immediately for demolition (The Daily Monitor, 3-JUL-2011).

So, the overall situation is a mixed one.  We see some successes and some failures, but the general trendline appears to be positive.  Good.  Let’s keep it that way.

Michael P. Moore, July 27, 2011.


Landmines in Africa Manifesto

The Washington Post on June 5, 2011 published the following story between brief pieces about the Pope’s visit to Croatia and a mayor in Mexico arrested for possession of illegal firearms:

Land mines return to southern Sudan, U.N. official says: A resurgence of military conflict in southern Sudan has resulted in the laying of new land mines, reversing the progress made to clear the south of mines after two decades of civil war, a U.N. mining expert said. The new mines are resulting in civil and military casualties and are preventing aid groups from helping populations in the greater Upper Nile region, where several rebel militias are battling the southern army.

This item shows one of the biggest potential threats to the success of the campaign to ban anti-personnel landmines that resulted in the 1997 Ottawa Treaty, renewed conflict.  In the early 1990s when the threat of landmines became a global story and a cause célèbre, civil war and international war had erupted throughout the world as a result of the end of the Cold War.  Long-simmering rivalries and tensions that had been sublimated by the competing powers, the United States and the Soviet Union, were unleashed in Africa, Europe and Central Asia.  These conflicts followed the Central American civil wars in Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua and the South American wars in Colombia and Peru which had spread mines through the Western Hemisphere.  In this period an estimated 20,000 people were killed or injured by landmines every year; one new victim every 20 minutes. 

The 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction (Mine Ban Treaty) was a watershed moment: the first treaty to ban outright the usage of a weapon that had been used by dozens of armies and was possessed by half of the countries of the world.  The ban was justified on the basis of the immense humanitarian damage caused by landmines and their indiscriminate nature; their inability to distinguish between friend and foe, combatant or civilian.  The campaigners sought to deliberately stigmatize the use of the landmines and through this stigma, shame armies and nations to stop their use. 

And they were mostly successful.  Three-quarters of all states in the world have banned landmines and only one country’s army, Myanmar, still uses them.  But there may be a second factor at play in the decline in the use of landmines.  With the collapse of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Cold War came to an abrupt end.  Client states of both the United States and the Soviet Union suddenly lost their sponsors and a great many states – once seen as stable allies of one side of the Cold War – suffered spasms of violence.  In Europe and Central Asia new countries emerged from the ashes of former Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union whilst in Africa, rebel movements made advances against previously unassailable strong men. Civil wars became the new normal as dozens of countries plunged into conflict.  Driven by ethnic entrepreneurs and fueled by arms made available from Cold War stockpiles, these wars spilled into neighboring countries spreading violence and displacement across three continents. 

Since a high of 53 concurrent conflicts in 1992, the world has slowly become more peaceful with 36 concurrent conflicts reported in 2009 (2003 was the most “peaceful” year with only 29 conflicts globally).  The decrease in violence and conflict was accompanied by a decrease in the number of victims of landmines; according the Landmine Monitor, there were 3,956 reported landmine injuries in 2009 (534 in Africa).  My fear is this: that as conflict recurs, so too will the use of landmines.  They are cheap, easily made and effective.  For poorly resourced rebel armies, landmines (or as they are so often referred to in Iraq and Afghanistan, improvised explosive devices or IEDs) are an attractive weapon.  That’s why although only the Burmese army uses landmines, rebel forces in half a dozen countries use them.  I predict that if more rebel movements emerge, we will see an increase in the number of landmine victims. 

There are also indications that as other states become “pariah” states like Burma, their adherence to the landmine ban will end.  If a regime is willing to target and kill civilians to keep control (in blatant violation of the Geneva Conventions and any number of human rights treaties), what would stop that regime from using banned weapons if it possesses them? Humanitarian arguments will not prevent a threatened regime from using whatever means at its disposal to maintain power.  The Libyan army under Moammar Ghaddafi (or however you wish to spell it) used landmines against rebels based in Benghazi earlier this year.  The declared stockpiles of countries that are party to the Mine Ban Treaty total over 13.6 million and the estimated stockpiles of countries not party are at least ten times that; meaning that there are almost 200 million landmines available for use.  Until those stockpiles are destroyed, the risk is immediate.

In Africa, 4,750 square miles are affected by landmines (an area the size of Connecticut), effectively closing off that land for any productive purposes.  Since much of Africa is still dependent on household farming and Africa is the most food insecure continent, the continuing presence and threat of landmines there has a greater impact than it might elsewhere.  I recognize that of all the pressures facing the continent – HIV / AIDS, drought, corruption, political repression, civil rights abuses, rape, infectious disease, poverty, climate change, etc. – landmines may be a relatively low priority, but for the people who are victims or potential victims of landmines, they are a very real threat to life and livelihood. 

This blog will probably touch on a lot of issues related to landmines in Africa, because the landmine issue does not fit neatly into a single category.  Landmines are a part of conversations about conflict, development, human rights and governance.  Government and inter-government agencies focusing on landmines are cross-cutting and my coverage shall be as well.  I will try to champion those who are making a difference and highlight where I see failed policies and practices.  Every day, at least a dozen people are killed or injured by landmines, of those, one and a half are in Africa.  In my years of working with landmine victims in Africa and elsewhere, I met people who had overcome the most horrific experiences to try and do something as simple as survive.  My challenge will be to honor them. 

Michael P. Moore, July 25, 2011