In 2016 I traveled to Zimbabwe to take stock of mine clearance along the border with Mozambique and to document the availability and quality of victim assistance in the country. Short answers were that the clearance was going well while victim assistance services were deteriorating. To prepare for the trip I had read Peter Godwin’s The Fear about the violence that followed the contested 2008 elections and Heidi Holland’s Dinner with Mugabe, a psychological biography of the only leader Zimbabwe had ever known. Until a week ago. After a brief power struggle between Robert Mugabe’s two most-likely successors, the first lady Grace Mugabe and the general and former director of Zimbabwe’s interior security Emerson Mnangagwa, Mnangagwa found himself fired in early November and having to flee arrest. A few days later, leaders of the Zimbabwean army consulted with Chinese officials in Beijing and presumably secured their support for the non-coup that deposed Mugabe and replaced him with Mnangagwa after several days of negotiations. The transition has so far been peaceful, but let’s be clear: Mnangagwa is not the reformer that Morgan Tsangvirai would have been in 2008. Mnangagwa, nicknamed “the Crocodile,” led the pogroms against the Matabelele people in the 1980s, eliminating a key opposition group to Mugabe’s rule and allowing Mugabe to consolidate control. Then, in 2008, Mnangagwa masterminded the violence and repression which followed the Movement for Democracy and Change’s, Tsangvirai’s party, likely electoral victory. Until Grace Mugabe’s efforts to seize power in recent months, Mnangagwa had been seen as Mugabe’s likely successor.
I have heard from colleagues that the mine clearance is continuing in Zimbabwe and the general mood in the country is positive. I don’t hold any particular hope for a dramatic improvement in the quality and availability of victim assistance services, but I, for the most part, recall my time in Zimbabwe fondly. The people I met, much like the Bosnians, Rwandans and Vietnamese I have met in other travels, were remarkably resilient; despite the poor economy and the recent memories of violence, life continued.
We are consolidating two months’ worth of stories into this update.
Benghazi, despite its association with a non-scandal involving the Clinton State Department, should be seen as one of the most mine-affected cities in the world. In one month – July 2017 – at least 40 civilians were killed by mines with an unknown number injured and further unknown numbers of soldiers killed or wounded. The Islamic State made wide use of victim-activated booby traps and local activists have taken on the role of counting the casualties. The Libyan army is making some progress to clear the mines and booby traps, and 43 deminers have lost their lives to liberate the city from explosives. More support is needed from the international community to train and equip the deminers, but more options are also needed for the residents of Benghazi who fled their homes and now wish to return (D and C).
At least four people were killed and 9 injured by landmines in Benghazi in September (Libya Observer). In Sabri neighborhood, a teenager lost both legs in a landmine explosion while playing football near his home (Libyan Express). Also in Sabri, a father and his son were injured by the shrapnel from a mine (Libya Herald) and three men were killed by a booby trap near the entrance to a public building. A Chadian man also died from his injuries after stepping on a landmine near his home (Libya Observer).
Women activists from Libya met in Rome under the auspices of the Italian Foreign Ministry and called on the international community to provide more support to landmine clearance in Libya (Libya Herald).
Cement factories in Benghazi are expected to re-open for operations in the near future after landmine clearance supported by British experts. Local production of cement will aid in reconstruction (Libya Herald).
A UN peacekeeping convoy struck a landmine near Gao which touched off an ambush that killed three peacekeepers and injured five others in September (WTOP). In October, another ambush killed three peacekeepers and injured two more after a convoy hit a mine in Kidal (Punch Nigeria). The Al Qaeda affiliated Group for Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) claimed credit for the attack in Kidal and was also suspected of a landmine blast that injured two Malian soldiers (Long War Journal).
In Angola’s Zaire province, seven landmines were among the 89 pieces of unexploded ordnance (UXO) (All Africa). In Kwanza Norte almost 3 million square meters of land have been cleared of mines and and over 21 thousand people have been sensitized to the danger of landmines (Relief Web). 468 UXO cleared in Bengo province were destroyed (EIN News).
Having earlier cleared the last known minefield, Algeria destroyed the last 5,970 landmines stockpiled by the country (Middle East Online).
The Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West Africa States (ECOWAS) ruled against the government of Nigeria for failure to clear landmines from the 1960s Biafra War. The ruling requires the government to begin removing stockpiles of unexploded and abandoned ordnance (Sahara Reporters).
Two vehicles in northern Nigeria struck separate landmines attributed to Boko Haram, killing two people and injuring many others (Independent). Near Maidugari Boko Haram launched an ambush after an army convoy struck a landmine; four Nigerian soldiers were killed and five were injured in the attack (All Africa).
A convoy belonging to Avocet, a mining company, struck a mine north of Burkina Faso’s capitol, Ougadougou, killing two and injuring two more. The mine was attributed to a new jihadist group, Ansaroul Islam (Reuters).
Two Cameroonian soldiers were killed by a Boko Haram-attributed landmine near the Nigerian border (Anadolu Agency).
Landmines and UXO from the Lord’s Resistance Army insurgency in northern Uganda continue to be found and threaten lives and livelihood. The region suffers from food insecurity due to an inability to fully use the agricultural lands due to fears of explosives (All Africa).
A minibus struck a landmine in Lower Shabelle killing the two women and four men riding in it. Two other landmines were discovered and cleared in a Mogadishu suburb (Voice of America).
Sixty square kilometers of minefields remain in Zimbabwe as the country scrambles to meet the global target of a landmine-free world in 2025. The HALO Trust covers the areas of Mount Darwin and Mukumbura and report that while human casualties have mercifully been reduced, livestock continue to suffer with 19 cattle lost to landmines in just two months in Mukumbura. Near Mount Darwin, plans for emergency clinics to respond to landmine injuries have been delayed or shelved due to lack of funds. Demining continues to receive international support with a recent contribution of US $2 million from the Japanese government (News Day). That support has helped to clear five square kilometers of land and over 40,000 mines out of the estimated 29 square kilometers of minefields in Mashonaland Central and Mashonaland East where Mukumbura is (News Day).
In addition to herding, farming and general transit across Zimbabwe’s minefields, a continuing lure for people to enter the minefields is the myth of Red Mercury. A belief persists that landmines contain Red Mercury, a nonexistent substance thought to be more valuable than gold, so people try to open mines to obtain the substance with disastrous consequences. The HALO Trust and local legislators have been working to combat this myth and save lives (News Day).
Also in Zimbabwe, a new mine-risk education program was launched by Happy Readers and the HALO Trust. The program combines a literacy program with a fact-based story about the dangers of landmines.
Over 2,600 square kilometers of Egypt’s northwestern desert, site of the World War II battle of El Alamein, remain contaminated with landmines. The Egyptian government and then United Nations have led awareness campaigns while mine clearance is led by a division in the Egyptian army. The work is paying off as there has only been one reported landmine casualty to date in 2017, but the continuing presence hinders development of the region (The National).
Sudan’s Kassala State will likely be declared free of landmines by the end of the year. So far 90% of the known hazards have been cleared (All Africa).
Folks still want to prove to me the Red Mercury exists and while I knew about the rumors linking Singer sewing machines and landmines to the hoax substance, John from Uganda wrote to me to let me know about another possible source. John says:
Red Mercury exists 100%; I know someone with a stove of German made in 1914 by King Keizer it does wonders like changing water into red, changing blue pen to red, etc.
Well. My curiosity was piqued. What the hell is a King Keizer (Kaiser?) stove and why would anyone believe it contains Red Mercury? And why doesn’t my kitchen stove have such wonderful magic powers?
First, this is bullshit and yet another means of liberating the gullible from their money. In Kenya, two conmen were arrested trying to sell a German stove that they said was made of gold for 3 million Kenyan shillings (about US $30,000) (Standard Media). But that’s somewhat believable: I mean a solid gold stove probably would be worth a few bucks on Antiques Roadshow, but no one, and I mean no one, makes a stove out of a soft metal like gold. No, better to claim that the Germans had imbued their cookware with mystical powers, such as those John mentions. Of course, John’s stove only changed the color of things. According to the sales folks at this site, German Duss Stoves are also magnetic, disrupt mobile phone signals, and – best of all – “Turns warm then hot when shaken”. Because, old German stoves are so easy to pick up and shake, right?
Now then, not just any magnetic stove than warms up when shaken will do. No, you must look for the following, specific markings:
- Two upright standing lions with a palm tree in between the lions.
- The palm tree MUST have exactly five leaves on top.
- A human portrait or wrist fists clenched on the other side
A very popular design, I’m sure.
So, here is another angle on the Red Mercury scam: the same properties ascribed to the hoax substance can be found in a very specific type of German stove made and sold prior to World War I. Great.
But as ever: Red Mercury does not exist; anyone who tries to sell you some is a liar and con artist and should be reported to the proper authorities.
Michael P. Moore
Moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
September 20, 2017
Twice a year, upon release of the annual Landmine Monitor report around December 1st and the annual celebration of International Day for Mine Action and Awareness on April 4th, countries and organizations take the opportunity to recommit themselves to mine action. Several of this month’s stories come from events commemorating Mine Action day, but entirely too many also come from the fact that landmines continue to plague Africa and the world, ten years after the first International day and almost 20 years after the signing of the Mine Ban Treaty. Landmine use appears to be on the increase, a sad way to increase awareness of the need for mine action.
Ten landmines were cleared from the road leading to Airport Road in Benghazi and a spokesperson for the army warned of the possibility of additional mines in the area from fighting earlier in the conflict (Al Wasat). In Ajdabiya, one soldier was killed and four others wounded by landmine (Al Wasat).
Despite the insecurity in the country, the United Nations Mission in Libya and the Libyan Mine Action Centre hosted an event for International Mine Action Day (UNSMIL).
Democratic Republic of Congo
The head of the United Nations Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO), Martin Kobler, called achieving landmine-free Congo “a duty.” Kobler noted that there were almost 30 landmine casualties in the DRC and over 2,500 survivors. One-eighth of the mine-affected land in DRC was cleared in 2014 with over 15,000 explosive remnants of war (ERW), including landmines, destroyed (MONUSCO). The contamination in DRC is concentrated in a few regions. According to the group, Africa for Mine Action, 40% of Ituri Province is contaminated with landmines and after years of work, only three provinces in the entire country have been declared landmine-free (Radio Okapi).
Three deminers with the South-African firm, Mechem, were kidnapped from near the eastern city of Goma. While some reports erroneously labelled the deminers as United Nations peacekeepers, the three men, two Congolese and one from abroad, were released after about a week. The kidnappings occurred as tensions between DRC and Rwanda were high with a Congolese soldier injured in an exchange with Rwandan troops and the re-emergence of the Allied Democratic Force, a rebel group committed to overthrowing the Ugandan government and responsible for brutal attacks in the 1990s and early 2000s (World Bulletin; Agence France Presse; News 24). The men were kidnapped while looking into reports of an anti-tank landmine and in total, three such mines were discovered near Goma the same week as the abductions. The mines appear to be new ones and would represent the first new usage of mines in DRC since 1999 (State Department; Radio Okapi).
Central African Republic
During an April 4th event, the head of the United Nations mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA) confirmed that there were “no real threats of landmines” in the country. MINUSCA teams has recovered landmines from “public places” and displacement camps, but these mines were in stockpiles and not deployed (All Africa).
During the recent conflict in the Central African Republic, Seleka rebels had attacked members of the Ba’aka ethnic group in the belief that Ba’aka members had mythical Red Mercury. The Ba’aka village is now under the fulltime protection of government soldiers (Mint Press News).
Making quick and steady progress in Bie Province, Angola and the HALO Trust announced the clearance of three minefields covering 10.5 hectares (All Africa). This clearance and other projects across the country facilitate rapid development such as the National Urbanisation and Housing Programme which seeks to build one million new houses in the country. To date, over 80,000 have been built and the Minister of Urbanisation and Housing called for more landmine clearance to allow more houses to be cleared (All Africa).
In the capitol, Mogadishu, three men were caught trying to bury a landmine in Howlwadag district. The mine was cleared and the road made safe (Warar Media).
In commemoration of International Mine Action Day, the UNAMID peacekeeping mission in Darfur and its partner The Development Initiative (TDI) hosted an awareness session. In 2014, TDI completed assessments of 217 villages, cleared 183 dangerous areas and destroyed over 3,000 pieced of unexploded ordnance. TDI and its local partners have provided mine risk education to over 600,000 people in Darfur, a necessary act in a region which has seen at least 150 ERW incidents which have killed 105 people and injured 215, many of them children (All Africa).
In South Kordofan state where the government is fighting a rebel group, a landmine detonated during the national election day killing three people and injuring another three (Radio Tamazuj).
That conflict in South Kordofan has been associated with many accusations of human rights violations and war crimes. In April, Human Rights Watch reported on confirmed evidence of cluster munitions use by the government, identifying the remnants of six cluster bombs. This is the second accusation of cluster munition use by Sudan, the first was in 2012, and monitors suspect that Sudan both stockpiles and produces the weapon. Both times, the targets of the cluster munition use appear to be civilians which would be a war crime (Sudan Tribune). Of course, the Sudanese government has rejected the reports, calling them “fabricated and baseless” and the fight against the rebels in South Kordofan “does not need such bombs” (Anadolu Agency).
The campaign against Boko Haram in northeastern Nigeria continued with fighting focused around Borno State and the Sambisa Forest where Boko Haram is believed to be based. Boko Haram appears to have used landmines extensively to prevent any direct assault upon its position. Seven Nigerians, six soldiers and one “civilian vigilante” were injured by a landmine placed by Boko Haram near the town of Baga (All Africa). When Nigerian forces launched an attack on Sambisa Forest, one soldier and three vigilantes were killed by a mine and the Nigerian soldiers retreated to a point, just five kilometers from Boko Haram’s main camp in the forest (All Africa). After these two incidents, the Nigerian army brought out mechanized minesweepers to help clear roads and paths for further attacks against Boko Haram (All Africa). This begs the question, if Nigeria had such equipment already, why did they wait until several soldiers had been killed or injured by mines before using them? Especially since Boko Haram has long been rumored to be using landmines as part of its defense.
Eleven landmines were cleared by Tunisian forces during a recent operation on Mount Salloum in the Kasserine region on the Algerian border. A twelfth mine detonated without causing an injuries (All Africa).
Mali continues to be in the midst of a terrible landmine epidemic as a result of continuing conflict there that has shattered most of the northern region of the country. Since 2013 more than 325 people have been killed or injured by landmines in Mali (MINUSMA). Two incidents targeted peacekeepers with the United Nations Mission, MINUSMA. The first injured two peacekeepers and the second another seven; both incidents occurred as peacekeepers were escorting convoys near Kidal (Global Post; MINUSMA). Two Malian soldiers were injured by a landmine near the town of Diabaly which is the further south a landmine attack has been recorded in the course of the current conflict (Reuters). In Aguelhok, MINUSMA peacekeepers arrested three men who were accused of planting landmines (MINUSMA). Near the town of Gossi, two civilian women were killed by a mine (Defence Web), but that incident was dwarfed by one on the road from Gossi to Gao. Two men on a motorcycle placed a mine in the road and a bus carrying people to people to the weekly market hit the mine, killing at least three people and injuring another 28 (Agence France Presse; Global Post).
In an April 4th event for International Mine Action Day, the South Sudan Vice President called landmines “one of the biggest obstacles to development in the country.” At the same event, the head of the South Sudan Demining Commission accused the rebel Sudanese People Liberation Movement in Opposition (SPLM/IO) of using landmines in the current conflict (Radio Tamazuj). In response the SPLM/IO’s Mine Action Program denied using landmines and in turn accused the government of South Sudan of using mines, reporting at least 60 separate incidents of landmine use by the government (Radio Tamazuj). So the government denied the SPLM/IO’s accusations and reported discovering nine mines placed by the SPLM/IO, two of which destroyed vehicles (Citizen News).
This has been the pattern of the conflict in South Sudan since violence broke out in December 2013. The two sides have traded accusations of war crimes and treaty violations when in fact, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, a regional body of governments of East Africa, has documented violations by both sides in roughly equal numbers. The government of South Sudan, the SPLM/IO and the many, many militias associated with each are all complicit in the continuation and escalation of the conflict. In the end, it is the people of South Sudan who are made to suffer by their leaders’ callous indifference.
The Algerian People’s National Army has cleared over 720,000 landmines from seven provinces. 72 municipalities had been contaminated by mines and 46 have been cleared so far with demining crews active in four (Ennahar).
The United States government has been increasing its investment in demining of Zimbabwe. In FY2013, the US provided $500,000, in FY 2014 $750,000 and this year, $1 million. The landmine contamination in Zimbabwe prevents agricultural development and has injured more than two thousand people since the war ended in 1980 (US Embassy in Harare). With US government support, the HALO Trust has already cleared 5,000 mines, but with an estimate 1.5 million to go, a lot of work remains (HALO Trust).
Handicap International recently sent a team to the Moyen-Chari region of Chad to conduct some initial surveys and do some community liaison activities including mine risk education. During the trip, the team found multiple areas where munitions were abandoned after the wars in the 1980s. The mines in this part of the country have impeded road works and agricultural development and injured dozens of people (Handicap International).
And last, one of the countries at the forefront of the fight against landmines and cluster munitions continues to support those affected by landmines, even after the last mine has been cleared. The government of Zambia re-affirmed its commitment to support landmine survivors. According to the Foreign Minister, Zambia will conduct a needs assessment and then come up with a suitable and sustainable victim assistance program (Daily Mail Zambia).
Michael P. Moore
moe (at) landminesinafrica (dot) org
May 20, 2015