Why UK must show leadership on landmine clearance in Angola
London, March 24, 2018 (AltAfrika)-It is the 30th anniversary this week of the largest conventional armed battle in Africa since the second world war, between the Angola government and Cuban forces against the apartheid South African Defence Force and its rebel allies at Cuito Cuanavale in southern Angola. This was a watershed battle unlocking a political process that included the withdrawal of Cuban troops from Angola; the independence of Namibia; and a stimulus that quickened the end of apartheid in South Africa.
Yet, 30 years on, Cuito Cuanavale is one of the most landmine-contaminated locations in the world. This month a tender opened for mine action charities clearing Angola’s minefields to bid for funding from £100m committed by the Department for International Development for landmine clearance globally. This welcome re-engagement comes 15 years after the UK stopped funding mine action in Angola in 2002. It is now critical that sufficient resources are channelled towards these life-saving programmes – many of which are perilously close to ending within the next six months should funding cease.
International funding for mine clearance in Angola has dropped by 90% within the space of 10 years, while Angola’s own efforts have been hit by austerity cuts driven by the ongoing dip in oil prices. At the current rate of funding, Angola will not become landmine-free until at least 2046.
Late Princess Diana with a young victim of landmine in Angola. Princess Diana was a vigorous campaigner against landmine in Angola. (Pinterest.com)
In January 1997, Diana, Princess of Wales visited Angola’s landmine survivors, bringing the country’s legacy of landmines to the attention of a global audience. Two decades on, and more than 15 years since the end of Angola’s complex civil war, Angola remains one of the most heavily mine-contaminated countries in the world. It is the rural poor in Cuito Cuanavale and elsewhere that face the daily threat of injury or death due to landmine accidents.
As Angola enters a period of political and economic transition, with the first new president for 37 years, it is of utmost importance that the UK continues to re-engage with this key regional player. Demonstrating UK leadership on mine action is a good place to start. These funds alone won’t resolve Angola’s landmine crisis, but if other international partners follow the UK’s lead, Angola will be able to achieve landmine-free status by 2025.
Dr Alex Vines
Head, Africa programme, Chatham House