The Month in Mines, May 2015

Nigeria’s campaign against Boko Haram continues this month and with it numerous stories accusing the Islamists of landmine use.  The fighting in Mali and Somalia also continues with reports of injuries and usage by rebel groups.  In more positive news, Mozambique continues its progress towards mine-free status and Zambia’s president personally acquainted himself with the situation faced by survivors.  And in a classic piece of bad news / good news, Egypt announced new support for mine clearance in the northwestern deserts while also announcing new use by its army in the Sinai peninsula.


Let’s start with the following premise: I do not trust Nigeria’s military spokesman, Maj Gen Chris Olukolade.  Olukolade’s official pronouncements dismiss Boko Haram’s fighting prowess and consistent accuse them of human rights violations.  Yes, Boko Haram are awful and have committed many abuses, but if they are so bad and so weak, why has it taken so long for the Nigerian government to move against them and why are Chadian, Nigerien and Cameroonian soldiers needed to assist Nigeria’s troops, both the formal army and the informal vigilante groups?  As such, I’ve paid more attention to articles and reports that cite other sources when it comes to landmine use in northeastern Nigeria and the neighboring countries.

The Sambisa forest campaign stalled early in the month when three members of the local vigilante force were killed by a landmine.  After the blast, all Nigerian forces withdrew in advance of a more coordinated assault that would include Chadian forces (All Africa).  With the assault underway, allied forces were able to liberate many of the women and girls who had been captured by Boko Haram.  Unfortunately, the logistics of that liberation failed several of the women as some were crushed by military vehicles and three were killed by a landmine as they walked out of Sambisa and as many as 15 others were injured by mines (All Africa; New York Daily News).  As the offensive in Sambisa continued, a Nigerian soldier was killed and two others injured by a landmine (All Africa).  Meanwhile, in Cameroon, villagers spotted Boko Haram members plant homemade landmines in the roadways (Cam-Pedia).


Mines placed near the New Dawn School in Sirte, Libya were cleared by the 166 battalion (Al Wasat) and in Benghazi, mines were cleared from a local chocolate factory (Al Wasat).  In Derna, one of the front lines in a war that whose actors continues to increase, two landmine blasts killed four people.  Two civilians triggered the initial explosion and then two soldiers triggered the second when they investigated the initial blast (KUNA).


In Mukumbura, the HALO Trust and government of Japan celebrated the conclusion of the mine clearance project in Mashonaland Central Province.  The project cleared a thousand landmines from 180,000 square meters and will allow free movement across the border with Zimbabwe and increased agricultural production (HALO Trust; News Day).


The government of Sudan declared itself short of financial resources and announced that US $91 million would be needed to clear all of the landmines that remain in the country (KUNA).


President Edgar Lungu announced that his government was developing a strategic plan to assist landmine survivors in the country.  As part of that effort, Lungu called on the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to conduct a survey of survivors to identify those who might be supported by the plan (ZNBC).  These remarks were made during Lungu’s visit to Ikeleng’I where he met many survivors and talked with them about their needs.  Lungu re-affirmed that all known landmines have been cleared in Zambia, but also noted that other explosive remnants of war may remain from areas used by various liberation forces during their wars against the colonial powers of Angola, Mozambique and Zimbabwe.  Assistance for survivors will include prosthetics and income-generating activities (Daily Mail).


Since 2002, Angola has cleared and destroyed over 400,000 anti-personnel landmines and nearly 200,000 anti-tank landmines and over 3 million other explosive remnants of war (All Africa).  In Bie Province, almost 10,000 mines have been cleared over that period, 80% of which were anti-personnel mines (All Africa).  Near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, Norwegian Peoples Aid has cleared 43,000 square meters of land in Zaire province and another 450,000 meters are expected to be cleared by the end of the year (All Africa).  In southern Cunene province, the National Demining Institute destroyed over a thousand pieces of unexploded ordnance including landmines (All Africa).  Mine clearance in Huambo province has doubled in in 2015 from the pace seen in 2014 as over 81,000 square meters have been cleared since January compared to less than 39,000 over the same period in 2014 (All Africa).

To support its demining efforts, Angola trained 23 individuals to serve as quality management / quality assurance experts (All Africa).

Also in Angola, an expedition funded by the National Geographic Society launched to map and explore the headwaters of the Okavango River, the main river in the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area.  The Cuito river which feeds into the Okavango lies in southeastern Angola’s minefields which are only just being cleared.  However, as expedition leader Steve Boyes noted, as the HALO Trust clears land, Angolans used the newly cleared land for cassava cultivation which can damage the rivers’ ecology.  So while the landmines delayed development, there is now an urgency to put in place land use regulations and practices that would preserve the Okavango Delta (National Geographic).


A long time ago, I read a piece entitled, “Not everything that goes boom is a landmine.”  In Somalia this month several explosions were blamed on “landmines” but in reading the reports, I believe the explosives used were not mines.


A landmine exploded as a cattle herd entered a minefield in Kef, on the border with Algeria, where Tunisia has been battling Islamist militants. No injuries were reported and Tunisia troops helped the shepherd and his herd out of the minefield (All Africa).


Over the last 15 years, over 300 people have been killed or injured by landmines from the country’s Apartheid era, most in the Kvango region near the Angolan border.  In April two people were killed and two more injured by an explosive device.  In response, the national police have launched a mine awareness campaign (Namibian Sun).  The Namibian Defence Force also took part in an explosive ordnance disposal training hosted by the United States Navy (All Africa).


In Yumbis near the Somalia border, Al Shabaab forces staged an ambush using a landmine which injured four police officers and when other officers responded, a gun battle broke out.  Al Shabaab greatly exaggerated the impact of the assault claiming to have killed dozens of police, but none of the police were killed in the initial attacks (All Africa).  Within a couple of days, two of the officers injured in the mine blast succumbed to their injuries (Citizen News).


The UN peacekeeping mission in Mali is the deadliest current operation with 35 peacekeepers killed since the start of the mission in 2013, 15 of whom were killed by mines (Vice News).  Responding to the attacks in northern Mali, the US State Department updated its travel warning to include reports on landmines and other dangers (State Department).  Those attacks continued in May: two peacekeepers were injured by a landmine in the Mopti region (MINUSMA) and three more were wounded by a mine on the Teherdge – Timbuktu road (Vice News).  Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb claimed responsibility for the second attack (News 24).


The government of Japan donated demining equipment to help build residual explosive detection capacity in the country’s police force.  Once Mozambique declares itself mine-free later this year, the country will no longer need international mine action operators for mine clearance, but other explosive remnants of war may remain in the country so the ability of the police to respond to reports will be welcome (All Africa).

South Sudan

The government of South Sudan accused rebels loyal to ousted Vice President Riek Machar of using landmines to prevent the army from attacking Machar’s home town of Leer (The Insider).  South Sudan’s regional mine risk officer reported at least five landmine incidents in Central, Eastern and Western Equatoria States (Radio Easter).


The US State Department issued a new travel warning for Guinea-Bissau describing “thousands of landmines” across the country, highlighting the risk in rural areas north of Bissau (State Department).  Guinea-Bissau has declared itself free of anti-personnel landmines so these mines could be anti-tank mines.


3,000 landmines, 90% anti-personnel, were cleared from Algeria’s borders in April. These mines date back to the liberation war with the French (APS).

Western Sahara

A family traveling near the city of Smara struck a landmine killing the mother and injuring the father and two children.  The father and son were sent to one hospital, the daughter another for their treatment (Adala UK).


The government of Egypt, the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the US Agency for International Development (USAID) announced millions of dollars in new money to support clearance of the 17 million landmines that pollute Egypt’s northwestern desert, site of the World War II battle of El Alamein.  Since 1982, those mines have killed or injured more than 8,000 people and hinder all development of the region.  The clearance and investment will save lives and enable the construction of thousands of houses to reduce over-crowding in Cairo (Daily News Egypt).  Already the government has cleared 95 thousand acres of the El Alamein battlefield (Egypt Independent) and the government is procuring equipment to clear additional mines.  With these investments, Egypt could complete its landmine clearance in the northwestern desert in three years (All Africa).  Egyptian military sources also released a report documenting arms and explosives, including landmines, seized from militant rebels (Defense Ministry) and blamed the death of four Bedouins in Sinai province from an anti-tank landmine on those same militants (Washington Post).  And yet, in almost the same breath, the Egyptian army announced a new plan to “entrap” militants in Sinai using newly laid landmines around military checkpoints.  The plan has already claimed the lives of two militants who tried to attack a post in Sheikh Zuwayed city (Cairo Post).  Donors to Egypt’s demining activities should take a strong stance against any new mine usage in Egypt before they are asked to help clear those mines too.

Michael P. Moore

Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org

June 14, 2015

The Month in Mines, September 2014

Possible new use of landmines accompany the continuing conflicts in Mali, Libya and Somalia.  Elsewhere on the continent, landmines claimed lives in Egypt, Western Sahara and Guinea-Bissau.  Landmine survivors in Uganda are participating in economic development programs while Zimbabwe confesses to insufficient funds to aid its survivors.  Plus ça change…



North Sinai is, for one of the most restive areas in the world, surprisingly absent from conversations about current conflicts.  According to the Egyptian government, almost one thousand people have been killed in “terrorism acts” in Egypt since 2011 with a significant number of those deaths occurring in the Sinai Peninsula.  Used as a smuggling route and training ground for Islamist groups, Sinai is relatively lawless except for a few government controlled posts and the border region with Israel and the Gaza Strip.  In September, a landmine killed eleven Egyptian soldiers and wounded two others.  Blaming Islamists for the attack, Egyptian security forces struck back killing, injuring and arresting “extremists” in a series of retaliatory raids (All Africa; All Africa).



In some very unwelcome news, Angola announced the discovery of 42 new suspected minefields in the eastern areas of the country (All Africa).  That announcement offset the positive news that demining is progressing in the Kavango-Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area which will boost tourism (All Africa); the destruction of almost 3 million pieces of ordnance including landmines since the start of calendar year (All Africa); and a 20 million euro grant grant from the European Union to support landmine clearance in 11 provinces (All Africa).



According to the Ministry of Defence, lack of policy prevents the government from providing compensation to victims of landmines from the liberation war.  The Defence Minister stated that most funding for landmine issues are “earmarked for clearing” and that a “policy decision” would be required to set the amounts of compensation depending upon the severity of the injury (Southern Eye).  Neither the Defence Minister, nor the Senator who raised the question, addressed the fact that even if a policy on compensation existed, there is absolutely no funding for such a program.



Mali witnessed multiple landmine attacks in September.  Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb exploited the confusion surrounding the military coup and Tuareg uprising in northern Mali in 2012 to establish a harsh Islamic rule.  French soldiers ousted the Islamists and a United Nations peacekeeping mission, MINUSMA, was established to consolidate the peace and return security to the region.  Since the start of the conflict over 170 people have been killed or injured by landmines.

On September 1st, four civilian contractors were injured when their vehicle drove over a landmine.  On the 2nd, four peacekeepers were killed and another 15 injured from the Chadian contingent when they struck a mine shortly after leaving their base in Aguelhok (which had been subject to mortar fire the day before) (BBC; The Star).  On September 6th, again near Aguelhok, a landmine killed one civilian and injured several others (Star Africa).  A week later, on the 14th and again near Aguelhok, another Chadian peacekeeper was killed and four more injured.  The United Nations Security Council condemned the attack but a Malian official noted that the Islamic insurgents “have a whole supply line of mines and they find out which roads the MINUSMA vehicles use” in order to deliberately attack the peacekeepers (Naharnet). The Security Council’s condemnation was ineffective as four days later, another MINUSMA vehicle struck a landmine near Aguelhok killing five more Chadian peacekeepers and injuring three (All Africa). This incident led the Chadian government to threaten to withdraw its support for MINUSMA – Chad has the third-largest contingent of peacekeepers in Mali with over 1,000 soldiers – prompting the UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, to call Idriss Deby, President of Chad, and express gratitude to Chad for the work of its peacekeepers.  Ban and Deby also discussed ways to better protect the peacekeepers (Swiss Info).  That conversation led to the delivery of a fleet of mine-resistant vehicles in Mali for MINUSMA and mine risk education sessions for peacekeepers. The efforts to protect peacekeepers did not extend to civilians and the day after Ban and Deby’s call, two shepherds were killed by a mine near Aguelhok (Ahram).  That makes a total of 13 killed and at least 29 injured in September alone.

According to one report, the landmines are being laid in northern Mali by the Al Qaeda-linked group, Ansar Dine led by Iyad Ag Gahly, which has created a special unit to mine the roads of the region.  Children and young men are trained to disguise the presence of the mines and have been using motorcycles to quickly place mines in the roadway ahead of vehicles (Sahelian).



Zambia re-affirmed its status as a landmine-free country, reporting that no new cases of landmine incidents had been reported in five years.  However, the declarations are a little worrying, saying that “on-the-spot” destruction of mines continues and “most of the areas of Zambia are now free of landmines” and “several reports” of landmines have been received by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  Zambia’s Foreign Minister, Harry Kalaba, asked Zambians to “go about their daily lives normally byt with caution.”  Mine risk education programs continue in the country and Mr. Kalaba said the “Government would work tireless [sic] to ensure that [landmine survivors] were reintegrated in society” (Lusaka Voice).


Western Sahara

A Sahrawi border guard patrol stuck one of the 7 million landmines in Western Sahara near the Bukerba area.  One of the guards was killed and four others injured and sent to an Algerian hospital in Tindouf for treatment (All Africa



The Somalia National Army (SNA) and African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) launched an offensive to oust the remnants of Al Shabaab from the country.  Considering the fact that Al Shabaab controls more than half of the country, the campaign will take some time but Somalia’s president has pledged to eradicate Al Shabaab by the end of 2015.  In Lower Shabelle, SNA and AMISOM soldiers secured Kunturwaarey town without a fight as Al Shabaab withdrew before the allied forces arrived.  Kunturwaarey is the fourth town liberated in the current campaign.  Allied forces began demining exercises in the town in expectation of finding landmines and booby traps left by Al Shabaab (Mareeg).

In Kismayo, AMISOM soldiers traveling in a convoy struck a landmine. While the Burundian soldiers escaped harm, at least eight bystanders were injured in the explosion (Garowe Online).

To respond to the landmine threat in Somalia, a number of initiatives are underway.  The German government donated US $1.9 million to the HALO Trust to clear landmines in northern Somalia and to survey minefields along the border with Ethiopia (Sabahi). The United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) has deployed 20 mine risk education teams across the south and central Somalia to provide training and support to the areas liberated by the current offensive against Al Shabaab (Shanghai Daily).  The National Union of Somali Journalists has incorporated landmine risk awareness into its training for local journalists who have been operating in one of the most dangerous countries for journalists (Somali Current).



At the foot of the Ruwenzori Mountains, Uganda’s Kasese District was the site of several attacks from the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF, which were neither Allied, nor Democratic).  The ADF used landmines and dozens of Ugandans were injured over the years.  The survivors joined together and created the Kasese Landmine Survivors Association which has created a cooperative business to produce rope from the ubiquitous banana plant.  Bananas, one of Uganda’s staple crops using an eighth of the country arable land, also produce fibers that the survivors turn into rope for sale to customers like furniture makers.  To date, 136 survivors are affiliated with the cooperative and as the coordinator of the Anti-Mines Network reports, the survivors are able to provide each other with peer support in the process of earning an income (CNN).



During the liberation war of the 1970s and internal conflicts of the 1990s, landmines were spread throughout Guinea-Bissau, killing and injuring hundreds.  In 2012, the government of Guinea-Bissau declared that all anti-personnel landmines had been cleared from the country.  Unfortunately, anti-vehicle mines remain in the country and a minibus traveling to a funeral struck one such mine, tearing the vehicle in two and rendering most of the victims unrecognizable.  19 people were killed instantly, three others died shortly afterwards (BBC; ABC News).



Nigeria’s Army Chief of Staff, Lt. General KTJ Minimah has resisted pressure to move against suspected Boko Haram bases in the Sambisa forest for lack of mine-resistant vehicles.  The Nigerian army believes that Boko Haram has mined the forest and any approach on the forest without mine-resistant vehicles “would be suicidal.”  The army has also requested tanks, artillery and surface-to-air weaponry.  Think about that last one.  Why on earth does the Nigerian army need surface-to-air missiles to take on an insurgent force that has zero flight capacity?  (All Africa).



The Senegalese Association of Victims of Mines (ASVM) and Handicap International (HI) have launched a joint campaign to education school children and others at risk in the Casamance region of the dangers of landmines (Scoops de Ziguinchor).



The conflict between the Government of Sudan and rebels in South Kordofan and Blue Nile states has hindered any mine action programming there.  As the conflict abates in some parts of the region, refugees and displaced persons return to their homes, but as much of the region is contaminated with landmines and other explosive remnants of war, those returns are accompanied by severe risk.  No mine clearance has taken place in South Kordofan since 2011 and only limited mine risk education has been implemented since 2013; “school children, farmers and aid workers continue to be exposed to very preventable risks as they go about their daily lives.”  Humanitarian assistance cannot be provided until the combatants, the government and the rebels, come to an agreement about allowing delivery of assistance.  As many as one million people might be in need of such assistance (UNOCHA).


South Sudan

Officials in Leer County in South Sudan’s Unity State have warned residents to be aware of landmines, especially as residents burn grass in preparation of planting for crops.  Leer County has been affected by the conflict between the government of South Sudan and the rebel groups loyal to former vice president, Riek Machar, but Leer County lacks the equipment to conduct landmine clearance (Eye Radio).



In most of the countries covered by this news round-up, I rely on official media outlets for coverage.  In Libya, the only formal documentation regarding landmine use came from the United Nations Mission in Libya report (UNSMIL) which noted “Land mines reportedly used in the [Tripoli] airport area and unexploded ordnance are now a major hazard for civilians, especially children.”  On social media I saw many photos of landmine and UXO clearance work conducted by militias in and around the Tripoli airport, but no photos of landmines, only UXO.  I am fairly certain that landmines were placed by militias (please see my earlier post here), but do not have verifiable details to share here.  As demining and mine action organizations are able to re-launch their programs, the situation in Libya will merit close observation.


Michael P. Moore

October 9, 2014

Why do former Portuguese colonies in Africa have so many landmines?

Guinea-Bissau recently became the tenth country in Africa to be able to declare itself free of anti-personnel landmines after completing its demining obligations under Article 5 of the Mine Ban Treaty (AP Mine Ban Convention, pdf). The other African countries who have declared themselves to be mine-free, and whose declarations are unchallenged, are Burundi, Gambia, Malawi, Nigeria, Rwanda, Swaziland, Tunisia and Zambia (The Monitor).   Namibia has declared itself to have completed demining of it territory, but that claim is disputed by Landmine Monitor researchers (The Monitor); Djibouti has also declared itself landmine-free according to the AP Mine Ban Convention Implementation support unit but that claim is also contested by the Landmine Monitor (The Monitor).  If you are keeping track, that’s nine countries with an uncontested claim to being mine-free, of which only one – Guinea-Bissau – is a former Portuguese colony.

Portugal had five colonies in Africa, two of which are island states (Cape Verde and Sao Tome and Principe) and the other three (Angola, Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique) had significant landmine contamination.  For most countries in sub-Saharan Africa, landmine contamination followed de-colonization.  Exceptions include Italian possessions in East Africa (Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia) which resisted Italy’s invasion and where fighting took place between Italian and British forces during World War II.  In North Africa, landmine contamination dates back to World War II, but landmines were also used by the French in their attempts to contain Algerian independence in the 1960s.  For the former Portuguese colonies, independence did not come until 1974 when a revolution in Portugal, partly led by soldiers tired of fighting and dying to preserve Portugal’s overseas empire, brought a new government to power and independence was hurriedly granted to Angola, Guinea-Bissau and Mozambique. In Guinea-Bissau, the new country’s leadership coalesced quickly and the fighting ceased with independence.  In Angola and Mozambique, Marxist governments were established under the MPLA and FRELIMO parties, respectively.  In 1975, in the heights of the Cold War, the emergence of Marxist governments was not going to be tolerated by the West and via South Africa, the Angolan rebel group UNITA emerged, and via Rhodesia, the Mozambican rebel group RENAMO emerged. 

The wars in Angola and Mozambique were some of the longest running conflicts of the Cold War.  Angola’s wars covered five decades, from the 1960s to the 2000s, ending only with the death of UNITA’s leader, Joseph Savimbi.  Mozambique’s wars lasted 30 years until 1992 and the end of the Cold War brought a halt to international support to the combatants.  I think the Cold War connection is the key to the extent of landmine contamination in these two countries.  The Cold War context provided participants in the wars with access to sources of arms and money, including landmines, and the sponsors of the participants had little to lose if their allies suffered from or caused massive casualties.  Neither the Soviets nor the Americans committed any troops to these conflicts and the arms buildup that began with the Vietnam War meant that the super powers had an awful lot of weapons that they could offer to allied forces.  Unlike post-Cold War conflicts, the participants in the wars in Angola and Mozambique did not have to finance their forces, the Soviets and Americans did that for them and the Soviets also provided front-line troops in the form of Cuban soldiers whilst South Africa provided US-funded forces. 

In many ways, the front line of the Cold War in the late 1970s was between the 15th and 18th parallels in southern Africa.  With the United States withdrawal from Vietnam in 1973 and the forcibly re-unification of that country in 1975, the guns, soldiers and money had to go somewhere.  In the 1980s, the battlefield would move to Central America, but in 1975-1980 the Cold War belonged to southern Africa.  The United States and South Africa supported UNITA, FRELIMO and Ian Smith’s Rhodesia against the MPLA, RENAMO and the Zimbabwean independence movement.  For the United States, this was an ideological war; for Apartheid-era South Africa, it was about survival as FRELIMO provided support and sanctuary to the African National Congress.  The Soviet Union had supported FRELIMO and the MPLA when they were fighting for independence against Portugal as part of a broader tendency to support anti-colonial movements.  Once in power, MPLA and FRELIMO were trying to install communist regimes with support from the Soviets.  Oil and diamonds were not yet a factor.

The wars in Angola and Mozambique in the 1970s and 1980s, like the wars in Cambodia and Afghanistan at the same time, represent a different kind of conflict from those that we see in the post-Cold War period.  In the post-Cold War era, the rebel movements seemed to get smaller and more focused on sources of revenue.  You begin to see a nexus of conflict resources and child soldiers after the Cold War and after the end of state sponsorship of rebel factions.  When the Soviet Union or the United States supported a rebel faction, that group had access to conventional weapons, military training and financing.  After the Cold War, every gun had to be bought, every soldier had to be paid (hence the shift to child soldiers who don’t expect to be paid), and fighters needed to be trained (again, child soldiers using AK-47s require very little training).  The role of conflict diamonds or other lootable resources becomes important as a source of finance for rebels who can no longer rely on wealthy patrons.  The targets of rebels changed as well.  Instead of directing attacks against government forces and installations, civilians become the targets; mostly because civilians lack the ability and means to fight back and the rebels lack the strength in numbers or force to fight pitched battles.  Symmetric warfare gives way to asymmetric warfare. 

In Angola, UNITA made the shift from Cold War freedom fighters to post-Cold War rebels thanks to conflict diamonds.  In Mozambique, RENAMO lost the support of South Africa with the end of Apartheid and the Cold War and changed tactics, trading bullets for the ballot box as a political party in a democratic state. Portugal’s former colonies got caught in the Cold War trap as a quirk of timing.  They weren’t destined to be two of the most landmine-affected countries in the world, but as home to civil wars in which neither side cared about anything other than winning, the indiscriminate use of landmines was an acceptable tactic for wars’ sponsors.  Landmine use would not be as widespread in conflicts after these.  Instead, landmines and minefields became more targeted against roads and to protect the vital conflict resources. 

Guinea-Bissau escaped Mozambique and Angola’s fate and that’s why it is now free of anti-personnel landmines and why Portugal’s other former colonies face decades of continued threat from landmines.

Michael P. Moore, February 3, 2012


Author’s note: I’ve not sourced this post as well I’ve sourced others.  Most of my information comes from past readings of Martin Meredith’s “The Fate of Africa” and Christopher Cramer’s “Violence in Developing Countries” and many other sources too numerous to count or recall.  Please do feel free to correct me.