This month marks the 20th anniversary of Princess Diana’s visit to Angola. During that visit she donned protective gear and walked through a recently cleared minefield and met with landmine victims at the Red Cross’s prosthetic clinic. At this time, negotiations on the Mine Ban Treaty were ongoing and Diana’s visit to the minefield and her subsequent advocacy helped galvanize public opinion against anti-personnel landmines.
In February 1997, BBC1 aired a special on Diana’s trip which is available in three parts on YouTube:
Diana’s visit was coordinated by the British Red Cross and the minefield aspects were last minute additions to the program. I have been told that the HALO Trust team received a call from the trip organizers one afternoon asking if Diana could visit a minefield the next day. Recognizing the opportunity, the Trust made the necessary arrangements. Looking at the photos and the video, I am struck by how terrifying the experience must have been for Diana. The civil war in Angola had only ended a couple of years before (and would re-ignite soon enough) and despite wearing protective gear, you will notice that no one is walking with her in the recently cleared minefield and humanitarian demining was still in its infancy. Every step she took she could see the warning signs and the white stakes you see mark where a landmine had been laid and removed.
And yet, she managed a smile for the cameras.
Since Diana’s death in August 1997, other members of royalty have stepped forward. Jordan’s Prince Mired bin Raad serves as the special envoy for universalization of the Mine Ban Treaty and has traveled to multiple countries including China, the United States, Tonga and Peru to encourage accession to the Treaty. Princess Astrid of Belgium serves in a similar role, promoting the Mine Ban Treaty and advocating for the rights of landmine survivors. Prince Harry, Diana’s younger son, has also carried on her mantle serving as the patron of the HALO Trust’s 25th anniversary appeal and traveling to Mozambique and Angola to personally witness the mine clearance work. The presence and interest of royalty in landmines helps keep the focus on the subject and ensures that public attention and support continues.
The 20th anniversary of Diana’s visit affords an opportunity to review what has been done over the last two decades. The results are astonishing. The below picture shows the comparison of what the minefield looked like during Diana’s visit and what it is now: a city street with no signs of its past as a minefield.
In addition to the progress on landmine clearance in Angola, the victim assistance situation in Angola and Bosnia which was a large focus of Diana’s advocacy can also be reviewed.
When the movie, Diana, came out a couple of years ago, the Daily Mail tracked down the survivor in the below photo and gave an update on her life since meeting Diana. The 20th anniversary is another opportunity to check in on Sandra and the other survivors Diana met.
In August of 1997, Diana made her last formal trip, visiting landmine survivors in Bosnia with the founders of Landmine Survivors Network. In the years following that trip, an annual sitting volleyball tournament was held in Diana’s honor, emphasizing her role in bringing attention to the issues in Bosnia. If the anniversary of Diana’s visit leads to a 20-year review of the progress in Bosnia, that would be a positive.
Michael P. Moore
January 4, 2017
moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
Recently I spoke with someone about the landmine issue and when he suggested that more awareness of the issue was needed, I disagreed, arguing that people are pretty aware of landmines and have a universal, negative reaction. When the movie, Diana, was released this month, a number of stories came out about Princess Diana’s landmine advocacy and whenever I have mentioned that I write a landmine-related blog, there is an instantaneous recognition of what I am talking about. I think we need to think about how to activate that awareness. Is there a simple action we, as landmine advocates, can ask for? I would welcome your thoughts as you review this month’s news.
The popular narrative for Somalia, even with the release of the movie Captain Phillips about Somali piracy, is one of an improving country with enhanced security. The withdrawal of Doctors without Borders from Somalia presented one challenge to that narrative and the attack on the Westgate Shopping Center in Nairobi, Kenya presented another. The continuing threat from Al Shabaab’s landmines and improvised explosive devices further undermines the narrative of security and safety, especially as it demonstrates the geographic reach of the Islamists and the limited range of federal security forces. In October, a landmine in Beledxaawo killed three and injured several others at a coffee shop frequented by police officers. In Kismayo, a landmine detonated in a residential area possibly targeting community elders. Government officials promised a strong response, but outside of those two towns, Al Shabaab holds sway and until the national army, with support from UN peacekeeping forces, can oust the remaining rebels, more attacks are likely (RBC Radio; RBC Radio)
The Algerian army reported finding and destroying almost 5,000 landmines, anti-personnel and anti-vehicle, dating from the French colonial period and the war of independence. These mines, part of extensive minefields laid by the French along the borders with Tunisia, Morocco and Libya (Kuwaiti News Agency), are not the only ones that Algeria must contend with. In October, a massive arms cache, including many landmines and the surface to air rockets (MANPADS) that the United States is so worried about, was found near the Libyan border. The Algerian government suspects that the cache belongs to Islamist groups allied with Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb which has been able to loot weapons from Libya after the fall of the Gaddhafi regime. In the 1990s, Algeria fought a brutal civil war with such Islamists and now the government fears the newly sourced weapons may spur another round of conflict (Voice of America).
Angola’s long-serving president, Jose Eduardo dos Santos, praised the mine clearance work underway in his country at the opening session of the Angolan Parliament. Dos Santos highlighted the efforts of deminers to clear roads and make space for electricity lines (All Africa). More specifically, mine clearance work in Angola is focusing on land reserves in Bié Province, in Cunene Province and the Okavango-Zambezi border park (All Africa; All Africa; All Africa). Recently completed work in Bengo Province will be used for cattle production (All Africa). In addition to clearance work, provincial vice governors have been trained on landmine issues to raise their awareness about demining and the opportunities brought to the provinces by landmine clearance (All Africa).
On October 1st, Libya’s Ambassador to the United Nations was elected as the chair of the UN General Assembly’s First Committee on Disarmament and International Security. Human Rights Watch took advantage of Ambassador Dabbashi’s election to raise the issue of threat of landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) in Libya and around the world. In its very short history, the new government of Libya has pledged not to use any landmines, anti-personnel or anti-vehicle, a determined break from the Gaddhafi regime which used landmines in its attempt to hold onto power (Human Rights Watch). In another break with the past regime, Libya voted in favor of the First Committee resolution on the Mine Ban Treaty for the first time ever this year which may signal Libya’s possible accession to the Treaty.
The nascent Libyan government is facing many issues, including illegal immigration from neighboring countries including Egypt. In October, several dozen Egyptians were suspected of entering Libya, of whom two dies and three needed hospitalization. Of the injured, one had stepped on a landmine and lost his right leg in the blast (Daily News Egypt).
In the capitol, Juba, four children and an adult were killed and three other people injured by a landmine. Officials believed that the adult who died was a Uganda scrap metal collector who recruited children to collect pieces of scrap (All Africa). In response to this and other recent incidents where children have been injured tampering with landmines and ERW, a Sudanese organization, Home of Grace and Strength, conducted mine risk education for 24 schools in Unity State. Flooding in South Sudan has delayed demining work this year, making the mine risk education (All Africa).
Landmines in Africa has documented the quality and availability of survivor assistance in Mozambique (After the last mine is cleared). In order to access high quality assistance services, one survivor got a sponsorship from a family in Florida. Kay Jones started the Mozambique Orphanage Fund and paid for Anuario Ngungulo, who lost his left leg to a mine after losing his mother a couple of years earlier. With the support of Jones and the Fund, Anuario will receive a titanium prosthetic leg and then return to Mozambique (Northwest Florida Daily News).
Initial caveat, I have neither seen the movie, “Diana,” or read any of the Bridget Jones books.
In October, a biopic of Princess Diana, focusing on the last two years of her life, was released and included re-enactments of Diana’s walk through an Angolan minefield. The movie suggests that Diana adopted the landmine cause after her lover, Hasnat Khan, recommends she find a cause which she can support with her celebrity (Boston Herald). Also in October, Helen Fielding released the third installment of the Bridget Jones series. In “Mad About the Boy,” to get Bridget back to a single life, Fielding kills off Bridget’s husband, Darcy, with a landmine in Sudan before the events of the book take place (New York Times). Both pieces could have helped to raise the profile of the landmine issue, but the poor reviews (especially for “Diana”) dilutes the message and loses the opportunity. So to other writers and filmmakers who would use landmines as a plot device: please make a decent product and don’t just use landmines as a cheap hook.
Michael P. Moore
November 13, 2013
August started and ended with an anniversary. August 1st marked the one-year anniversary of the entry into force of the Convention on Cluster Munitions (Cluster Munition Coalition). The day had a sports theme and was marked in Sierra Leone by an amputee football match hosted by teams from the Sierra Leone Single Leg Amputee Sport Club (August 1) among other events. August 31st marked the 14th anniversary of the death of Princess Diana (MSNBC), one of highest profile supporters of campaign to ban landmines in the 1990s. The anniversary recalled her visit to Angola in early 1997 and Bosnia later that year to raise awareness of the plight of landmine victims (YouTube, part 1 of 3).
In Sudan, four United Nations peacekeepers were killed and several others wounded when their vehicle drove over a landmine in the disputed region of Abyei (BBC News). Only one of the peacekeepers died immediately, the other three died from their injuries whilst waiting for evacuation, an evacuation delayed by threats from the Sudanese army to shoot down the medevac helicopter (US State Department).
In South Sudan’s Unity state, an oil-rich region on the border of Sudan and the new nation of South Sudan, landmines continue to kill and injure as rebel groups seek to disrupt communication and travel (Sudan Tribune).
In Somalia, the Al Qaeda-linked Al Shabab rebels withdrew from Mogadishu allowing humanitarian aid to be delivered into the famine-struck city (All Africa). With the withdrawal, Mogadishu residents are now seeking assistance to clear the landmines and explosive remnants of war left in the city from decades of fighting (All Africa).
The rebellion in Libya reached a critical phase (off-topic: at what point do we stop referring to the rebels in Libya as “rebels”?) as NATO-backed rebels seized control of much of Tripoli (BBC News). After numerous reports of the use of new landmines by both sides – but the vast majority of landmines were laid by forces loyal to Gaddhafi, volunteers from the rebel forces conducted demining activities to clear roads at great personal risk (CNTV).
In southern Africa, the Kavango-Zambezi Peace Park was confirmed during the SADC meeting in Luanda, Angola (National Geographic). The park, the size of California and encompassing parts of five countries – Angola, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe – contains mine-affected areas in the Okavango River basin in Angola, the demining of which was declared a priority at Angola’s Third National Meeting in Luanda in early August (All Africa).
Lastly, Angelina Jolie, actress and UN High Commission for Refugees Goodwill Ambassador, visited the headquarters of the HALO Trust in Scotland (HALO Trust). The HALO Trust has ongoing demining activities in Angola, Mozambique and Somaliland, but Jolie’s interests were reported as focusing more on Asia than Africa.
Michael P. Moore
September 2, 2011