The long road to a mine-free Africa: clearing landmines in Africa is not only fraught with danger but also with ethical and financial dilemmas.

Author:Saigal, Kanika

For just over a year, Mozambique has been officially free of landmines. It took nongovernmental organisation (NGO) the Halo Trust along with others 22 years to clear the country of these silent killers, a grim legacy of the war of independence in the 1960s and the civil war between the government and Renamo rebels from 1977 to 1992.

"This is just one more step towards a mine-free world by 2025, a key target for many countries that have signed up to the Mine Ban Convention [adopted in 1997]," says Calvin Ruysen, a regional director for the Halo Trust based in Scotland. "The case of Mozambique shows what can be achieved throughout the continent and beyond."

Demining in Africa is essential if countries hope to reach their full economic potential. At one end of the scale, it frees up huge swathes of land in countries such as South Sudan to Somalia--both affected by ongoing conflict and the presence of landmines or unexploded ordnance (weapons that fail to detonate as intended during conflict)--allowing citizens to toil the land and provide for their families without fear of losing a limb or worse.

At the other end of the scale, demining means that private companies and government bodies are free to explore the land for lucrative natural resources and build essential infrastructure for economic development, also without the threat of being blown up.

Transformative effect

In short, mine clearance has transformative effects for African communities, effects which will be felt for hundreds of years to come. "But both commercial demining companies and NGOs will need to work together, efficiently exercise funds, and muster political will among governments to realise a mine-free world by 2025," says Michael Patrick Moore, a researcher for the Landmine and Cluster Munition Monitor. "Otherwise the goal could be difficult to achieve."

The approach of commercial demining companies and NGOs can be different. "We work on a humanitarian basis and our funding comes from international donors," says Ruysen. Although commercial demining companies may also work for humanitarian purposes, they are often funded by private companies or governments for business related ends.

"Whilst we are operational in many countries where the security picture is complex and evolving, we direct our work towards mine-affected communities where we are welcome and supported," says Ruysen.

In some cases, private demining companies can be called into areas which are much more insecure...

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