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Landmines: Africa’s most deadly source of pollution

5th September 2012

By: In On Africa IOA


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The legacies that African civil wars leave for future generations may hold various positive connotations in terms of liberation or ethnic group struggles; however, the realities that the civil wars leave behind are increasingly disastrous. At present, Africa is the most landmine-plagued continent. Approximately 37 million mines are embedded in 19 African countries.(2)

These anti-personnel landmines are designed to be indiscriminate weapons, which have the most devastating effects on civilians, not only when conflict is occurring, but also once conflict has subsided.(3) Moreover, it is overwhelming when comparing production, costs and distribution statistics. The simplest landmine costs from US$ 3 to manufacture, but US$ 1,000 to remove, and thousands may be distributed in a matter of minutes, but requires one day to clear 25 to 50m2.(4)


This paper shall explore the effects of landmines in conflict and post-conflict African zones, and provide an explanation of the feasibility of the suggestions offered thus far.

Status of landmine activity in Africa


The aftermath of many civil wars and other conflicts that have ended, continue to maim and kill numerous civilians annually. By 2000, it was estimated that there were approximately 44.8 billion landmines that litter African countries, most of which are concentrated in Angola with an estimated 15 million mines still active, Chad with 70,000 active mines, Egypt with 23 million, Eritrea with 1 million, Ethiopia with 500,000, Liberia with 18,000, Mozambique with 3 million active mines, Namibia with 50,000, Rwanda with 250,000, Somalia with 1 million and Sudan with 1 million active mines.(5) Therefore, it may be necessary to raise awareness and discuss the situation that the following countries are experiencing in the present decade: Angola, Egypt, Libya, Mozambique and Sudan.


The memory of the 80,000 people maimed and killed by anti-personnel weapons since 1975, has given the Angolan Government reason to pursue programmes that promote the clearance of the Angolan territory.(6) This clearance has been deeply supported by the Italian, Swedish and Japanese Governments, as well as the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) that had committed to a five-year programme that pledged US$ 4.5 million to the Mine Action Capacity Development Project that ended in 2011.(7) Furthermore, the European Commission (EC) is one of the “largest donors in Angola. In 2010, the EC awarded contracts over a three-year period for US$ 26.5 million, of which US$ 21.2 million was for demining and the remaining US$ 5.3 million was for technical assistance.”(8) Recently, the Japanese Government has continued its support by committing US$ 1 million to the Angolan National Institute of Demining (ANID) and the Japan Mine Action Service (JMAS).(9)

Since 2008, 870 million square metres have been cleared, of which 297,000 anti-personnel weapons, 9,508 anti-tank mines and 491,767 other unexploded ordnance devices such as artillery, mortar shells, rockets and bombs were found. The areas cleared are close to major cities such as Luanda, Menongue airport, Lobito railways and Catembula, a residential area.(10)

Although Angola still experiences occasional landmine incidents, it can be considered a general success or at least a positive step towards human security. For example, Angola is in accordance with the most landmine treaties and agreements, except for the Convention on Conventional Weapons. Furthermore, Angola “destroyed 81,045 mines between October and December 2006, in addition to 7,072 antipersonnel mines apparently destroyed in 2003” before the 2007 deadline. The only use of anti-personnel weapons is for military training. Angola has taken proactive decisions; however, much work is still needed and this is hindered by the lack of human resources and funding. (11)

Egypt and Libya

In 2010, Egypt was noted to have 22% of the world’s landmines in its most fertile soil. These weapons were concentrated in the northern coast and West Desert and the Alamein region, in particular.(12) The realisation remains alarming that although Egypt acknowledges the staggering statistic, Egypt has failed to ratify or agree to the major landmine agreements because the Government had claimed that the anti-personnel mines were used to secure its borders and “that responsibility for clearance is not assigned in the treaty to those who laid the mines in the past.” This prerogative is vital for Egypt, as it seems that although any specific party does not admit the use, both rebel and pro-Government forces made use of the weapons in the 2011 conflict when both sides accounted for stockpiles.(13)

Another recent conflict that gave rebel groups access to anti-personnel weapons also occurred in 2011, in Libya. Libya did not sign or ratify the major weapon treaties either, because of its security policies. Colonel Muammar Gaddafi had bolstered the weaponry in previous years; however, military supplies were raided in 2011, therefore placing various non-personnel weapons close to civilians. Although there have not been any incidents reported in previous years before the 2011 conflict and various actors have offered to monitor the situation, some stockpile amounts are still missing and pose potential threats to civilians because they were distributed in conflict zones.(14)


The dispersal of the anti-personnel weapons occurred during the Mozambican civil war, which pitted the FRELIMO Government and RENAMO opposition against one another. The Government explained that they wanted to defend their towns and provinces and vital infrastructure such as electricity lines, railway lines and airports, whereas the opposition aimed to close down roads and boarders and access to the Cahora Bassa Dam. At present, the Niassa, Cabo Delgado, Nampula and Zambezia provinces are mostly cleared by the HALO Trust and they are moving to clear the Tete, Manica and Maputo regions.(15) Mozambique has ratified and agreed to most treaties and has requested an extension to 2014, whereby Japan(16) and Norway(17) readily pledged their donations to the value of US$ 5.5 million. Mozambique feels optimistic that they can meet this 2014 deadline of demining the country; however, civilians’ mounting frustration is not easily quelled because the slow and never-ending work on clearing landmines prohibits many people from acquiring an improved standard of living.(18)


Sudan is the most pressing and active example of landmines in Africa. Since signing the 2004 Ottawa Treaty that advocates a cease in production and use, rehabilitation and clean up, as well as the destruction of stockpiles, Sudan had committed itself to a general clean up by 2014. However, the impetus of the North-South Sudanese border conflict has both rebels and the pro-Sudanese Government taking irrational steps and resorting to the use of anti-personnel weapons. Tim Horner, Deputy-Director for the United Nations (UN) mine action office in Sudan, explains that this delicate situation requires immediate attention because "We've seen an increase in mine incidents and mine accidents over the past six months or so and in many areas we think there are a lot alleged cases of re-mining. We can't prove this because we haven't seen but anecdotal evidence that these are newly laid, not old mines."(19)

Although these allegations of re-mining have not been proven, it is suspected that the Ottawa Treaty was breached and that the 2014 deadline is unattainable at this point. The regions under question where new landmines have been found are the Nuba mountain region (20) and the Abyei region.(21) Thus far, recommendations have been to refer this matter to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and the International Criminal Court (ICC), principally because UN peacekeeping forces from Ethiopia have been killed in the Abyei region in landmine-related incidents. Abyei has been declared a buffer zone because of the need to have a safe and intermediate zone for civilians and oil production.(22)

Unfortunately, the landmine situation is not likely to improve until the conflict is over, as conflict-ridden countries are less likely to prioritise funding. It is estimated that South Sudan needs another US$ 71 million before it can fill the funding gap.(23)

Concluding statements

It is important to remain optimistic that the efforts taken to counter the mass landmine proliferation in Africa will multiply and improve conditions. However, one cannot help but feel that the work done thus far is undone by 1) countries that have not ratified and implemented treaties that promote the wellbeing of people in conflict, 2) countries that continue to supply such weapons, and 3) the fact that anti-personnel weapons do not have an expiry date. In many areas, people thus avoid daily activities such as farming and fetching water because of the fear of coming across a landmine. While Governments and international organisations will continue to lobby for appropriate funding, it is recommended that communities educate one another about the dangers and to remain vigilant.(24)

Written by Arina Muresan (1)


(1) Contact Arina Muresan through Consultancy Africa Intelligence’s Conflict and Terrorism Unit ( .
(2) UNICEF website,
(3) Human Rights Watch website,
(4) Ibid.
(5) Ukabiala, J., ‘Impetus towards a mine-free world’, Africa Recovery, April 1999,
(6) Moore, M., ‘Month in Mines‘, Landmines in Africa, 6 July 2012,
(7) ‘Landmine clearing efforts help boost Angola’s recovery’, UNDP, 2 April 2011,
(8) ‘Angola profile’, The Monitor, 5 October 2011,
(9) Ibid.
(10) Ibid.
(11) Ibid.
(12) Yassine, M., ‘22% of world's landmines in Egypt’, Egyptian Independent, 9 June 2010,
(13) ‘Egypt Profile’, The Monitor, 18 July 2012,
(14) Walt, V., ‘Conflicting Priorities Imperil Effort to Gather Up Gaddafi's Discarded Arms’, Time Magazine, 15 November 2011,
(15) The HALO Trust website,
(16) Ibid.
(17) Rasmussen, H.L., ‘Mozambique looks to a landmine-free future’, Mail & Guardian Online, 23 April 2010,
(18) ‘Mozambique: Demining is not a never-ending story’, IRIN, 27 October 2009
(19) Fick, M., ‘Land Mines In Southern Sudan’, Huffington Post, 6 April 2011,
(20) Ibid.
(21) ‘Sudan: UN peacekeepers killed by Abyei landmine blast’, BBC News, 2 August 2011,
(22) Ibid.
(23) ‘Africa: Landmines Continue to Kill Or Maim More Than 4,000 People Yearly’, UNDP, 18 March 2011,
(24) ‘Mozambique: Continued Vigilance Against Land Mines Urged’, All Africa, 5 April 2012,


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