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Opening Roads to Angola’s Future

Updated Tuesday, 17-Sep-2013 16:20:43 EDT

Angola’s Road Threat Reduction Project, funded by the Humpty Dumpty Institute, cleared heavily mined roads in the country's Planalto region. The project made safe travel possible among the over 200 small communities and other bordering nations. With help from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and HALO Trust, HDI opened several roads for the Angolan people, creating new possibilities for the developing government.

“Now I have no fear any more of going to my farm down the road,” said Francisco Luca, farmer and resident of Chitembo, one of the hundreds of communities located along a 200-kilometer (124-mile) stretch of a crucial provincial highway recently made safe from landmines in Angola’s Bie province. As a former soldier and landmine victim from Angola’s devastating civil war, Luca knows about fear. HALO Trust, a U.K.-based demining organization, has found and destroyed booby traps and anti-tank landmines on this road leading from Kuito to Menongue,1 a major section of the only road between Angola and Namibia.

Milk Sale Clears Mines

The Humpty Dumpty Institute funded the Road Threat Reduction Project with a grant made possible through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. HDI received US$770,000 from the sale of 500 metric tons (551 tons) of surplus dried milk. HDI used the proceeds from this USDA grant to fund HALO Trust’s landmine clearance operations in the Planalto region, once the most fertile and now the most densely mined part of Angola. As a rebel stronghold, it was the site of the heaviest fighting between União Nacional para a Independência Total de Angola forces and the Angolan government during 26 years of civil war. Since the conflict ended in 2002, thousands of refugees are coming back to find their farms and access roads mined. Many villages are completely isolated from the outside world due to landmines found in the roads; aid agencies cannot reach the villages and farmers cannot take their produce to market. The mines have a stranglehold on Angolan post-conflict recovery and economic development.


Angolans using recently cleared roads for commercial traffic.
All photos courtesy of Daniela Kempf

HDI helped change that. As a result of this project, over 350 kilometers (217.5 miles) of previously mined roads have been opened for traffic. An additional 15,000 square meters (161,458 square feet) of densely mined land around bridges, markets, farms and houses have also been cleared. Over 200,000 people living within five kilometers (three miles) of mined roads can now safely use these roads to get water from nearby rivers, access their farmland, sell their products in markets, and send their children to school. It also helps them gain access to food aid and medical help, as other nongovernmental organizations and the World Food Programme are now able to use the cleared roads to deliver food and medicine. New infrastructure and development projects as well as commercial trade and traffic, previously impossible because of mined roads, will now commence and benefit the population of the whole region, almost two million people in total.

Up Close and Personal

The project is making a real and immediate difference in the lives of the Angolan people, as Francisco Luca and his colleague Laurindu Kutu (also a former soldier) told me during my recent visit to Angola. HDI was responsible for closely monitoring the project and meeting the USDA’s strict reporting requirements.

The only way to travel from Luanda, Angola’s capital, to the Planalto region is by plane, as the roads are mined and in otherwise bad condition. I flew to Huambo on a small, rickety plane. After landing, I then set off on a nine-hour, gut-wrenching Land Rover ride via recently cleared sections of the road to reach the current location of HDI’s demining project in Chitembo. I camped there that night with HDI’s demining teams and shared with them a food called funge2 for dinner while sitting around the campfire. The following day I visited Rio Cusseque to observe a manual demining team clearing a crucial, very densely mined bridge, followed by a visit to a mechanical task site on a nearby section of the road.


Local villagers washing clothes near the Bridge of a Thousand Mines.

The “Bridge of a Thousand Mines”

The manual task at Rio Cusseque was declared a high priority by the Angolan government because children use the bridge every day to go to school and villagers come to the river to wash their clothes. The local people call it the “Bridge of a Thousand Mines” and HALO Trust confirmed in surveys that there were literally over 1,000 landmines spread out in the four corners of the bridge and along both banks of the river, laid in 1985.3 HALO first cleared a small path to the river and the top of the bridge itself, so the villagers could have at least limited use of it until everything was cleared and declared safe.

While I was there, several women came to wash their clothes in the river and gingerly walked on the narrow path that had been cleared and marked, just inches away from the still-mined section. I also saw a group of 25 children cross the bridge that morning on their way to the nearby school, laughing and running past the deminers who were in full gear going about their dangerous work just a few feet away.


School children crossing the Bridge of a Thousand Mines, while HALO's deminers conduct mine clearance only feet away.

Since then, a total of 1,102 mines have been found at the bridge and destroyed, with 9,514 square meters (11,379 square yards) cleared. An additional 2,260 square meters (2,703 square yards) have been “threat reduced” by heavy rollers. All of the area currently not under water has been cleared. The final part of the mine line by the river bank is expected to be cleared later in the year when the water level is low.3

Making Roads Safe

I also visited HDI’s Road Threat Reduction demining team on the road from Kuito to Menongue, which is an important and long stretch of the only road from Angola to Namibia. This task was being conducted with a multi-drive truck that had a large loop metal detector in the front and a trailer with weights in the back to detonate any mines not found by the detector. A team of manual deminers followed the truck and conducted manual verification with metal detectors. I was briefed by Gabriel Duarte Marques, the leader of the team, and talked to some of the deminers about their work and how it affects them and their families. All the deminers hired for this project have come from local communities affected by the landmine problem in Huambo and Bie provinces, and demining has provided them jobs, skills and a steady income. Two of the deminers I talked to, Alberto Rafael Catimba and Pedro Domingo Nambi, who both have large families, were well-aware and proud of the positive impact their landmine clearance operations have on the community and the future of their country.

Landmines and Democracy

Clearing landmines and opening up the roads also has political implications: Angola is preparing for the first free parliamentary elections next year, and these newly opened roads will allow election officials to set up polling places and send international monitors to previously isolated and unreachable villages. When the day comes, voters will be able to go to the voting booth without the fear of landmines.

Angola is now free from war, but its people are still struggling with destruction, death and obstacles to development. In order to truly begin post-conflict reconstruction and set itself on the path toward democracy, Angola needs to be freed from the plight of landmines. The partnership among the Humpty Dumpty Institute, the U.S. government and HALO Trust is helping to clear Angola’s roads for a better future, safe from the risk of landmines.

Biography

Daniela Kempf is HDI’s Director of Mine Action Programs. Kempf is a native of Croatia, where she worked as National Coordinator for the Open Society Institute. Before joining HDI, Kempf served as Chief of Staff for an international democracy education program and taught argumentation and debate as an adjunct professor. Kempf holds a master’s degree in political communication.

Endnotes

  1. Kuito is the provincial capital of Bie and Menongue is the provincial capital of Cuando Cubango, the southern province on the border with Namibia.
  2. Funge is a cooked porridge-like dish made from corn or yucca flour mixed with water and seasoned with salt. It is a staple of the Angolan diet in the region the author visited.
  3. Information provided by HALO Trust in an e-mail interview with Helen Gray, April 23, 2006. Accessed May 10, 2006.

Contact Information

Daniela Kempf
Program Director
The Humpty Dumpty Institute
29 W. 46th St., 5th Floor
New York, NY 10036 / USA
Tel: +1 212 944 7111
Fax: +1 212 398 0304
E-mail: Daniela.Kempf@theHDI.org
Web site: http://www.theHDI.org