Angola’s bombs still maiming people years after war ended

Princess Diana walks in one of the safety corridors of the landmine field in Huanbo on January 15, 1997.

Photo credit: File | Reuters


Nearly 20 years since the civil war ended in Angola, landmines laid in the ground before the country gained independence in 1975 continue to maim civilians across the country.

The civil war, that left at least half a million people dead and some four million civilians displaced in the oil-rich nation, officially ended in 2002.

The conflict destroyed industries and agricultural firms. But two decades later, the southern African country is yet to clear all land mines.

According to official government data, unexploded ordnances killed about 160 people in the last two years. In the year the war ended, some 240 people were killed.

Angola also has an estimated 80,000 people living with scars or disabilities from landmine explosions. 

The more than one million laid explosions, often known as Explosive Remnants of War (ERW), in the roads, farms and other public places have meant that rural people cannot venture out to farm, according to Mine Action Review, a global research organisation on remnant weapons of war and their clearance.

Extensive minefields

The MAR, says “Angola is heavily contaminated with anti-personnel mines and ERW, probably including some cluster munition remnants.”

Both government and Cuban forces laid extensive minefields around their bases, in and around towns as well as around infrastructure such as airports, water supply stations, electricity pylons and bridges.

Unita, the country’s main opposition party, then a rebel group, and other factions also laid mines when they took control of a position or before withdrawing from a captured post.

According to statistics published by Our Africa, there were 37 million landmines buried across Africa and Angola had 10 million of them.

Last year, the government announced it had cleared some 100,000km of roads of landmines. And thanks to the demining process, the agriculture, construction, transportation and communication, oil, mining and tourism sectors were making steady rise, according to the Ministry of Social Action, Family and Women's Promotion.

According to the country’s government, 1,858 mined fields as a result of the war are so far cleared of mines representing 56.4 per cent. The idea is to declare Angola free of landmines by 2025. There are still 1,435 fields loaded with abandoned munitions, however.

Additional funding

This week, the US government provided additional $11.1 million for the southern African country. 

With increased funding in 2020, the US Embassy in Luanda said in a statement on Monday that the US has now contributed over $ 145 million for these efforts in Angola since 1995. 

“The US remains the largest bilateral donor for humanitarian demining in Angola, and strongly supports the Government of Angola’s goal to safely clear all minefields in the country by 2025”.

“Twenty-five years of committed US support for humanitarian demining has resulted in the destruction of over 218,000 landmines and other explosive hazards and the safe return of over 463 square kilometres of land to the people of Angola”, US Ambassador to Luanda Nina Marie Fite said in a statement.

Some $8.6 million will go to demining programmes by UK humanitarian and demining charity HALO Trust as well as expanding the operational capacity of the Mines Advisory Group (MAG), Ms Nina added.

Fourteen demining teams are expected to clear “high-priority minefields” and former battle areas in the provinces of Bié, Cuando Cubango, and Moxico”. 

Then operations in Cuando Cubango will focus on the Okavango River Basin, one of Angola’s most important habitats.  Overall, the projects aim to return over 4.2 million square kilometres of land to productive use and destroy over 9,600 explosive hazards, which will benefit the safety and security of over 48,000 Angolans, a detailed programme indicated.

These projects will rehabilitate and construct 16 storage facilities and train storekeepers to safeguard weapons, avoid accidents, and prevent illicit actors from accessing them. 

Since 2006, the US says it has supported the destruction of 107,900 excess small arms and light weapons and over 588 metric tonnes of obsolete and excess ammunition to increase the safety of Angolan citizens.

The Angolan government has also been supported by Switzerland, Norway and the Japanese government to make its land safer.

In 2018, the Japanese government granted Angola a $940,000 disbursement for projects of demining and education.

The Advisory Group, an NGO working for demining projects in east central Moxico province, got $650,000.

Norwegian People’s Aid got $200,000 and works for demining projects in northern Uíge province.

The Community Development Support Association got $90,000 and works for education projects in the southern Benguela province.

Since 1990, Japan has helped Angola with $7.2 million for projects in fields of demining, education and health.


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