Located in Angola’s southeastern Cuando Cubango province, the Mavinga and Luengue-Luiana National Parks are home to a wide range of wildlife including the largest remaining population of African elephants. These parks protect the diverse ecosystem situated in Angola’s portion of the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area (KAZA TFCA) as well as the Cuito and Cuanavale rivers, which flow into the Okavango Delta in neighboring Botswana. While these parks boast two of Africa’s most diverse ecosystems, landmines from Angola’s Civil War – which ended in 2002 – continue to maim and kill both people and animals in the parks, constraining conservation efforts and the ecotourism industry.
Beyond these parks, landmines and unexploded ordnance (UXO) from the same conflict continue to severely injure and kill civilians in other parts of Angola during daily activities such as commuting to work and school, farming, and fetching water. These explosive hazards prevent communities from safely accessing markets and hinder local development.
The United States is a longstanding partner with Angola in efforts to address contamination from landmines and explosive remnants of war (ERW) and works closely with the National Demining Commission in Angola (CNIDAH). The U.S. Ambassador to Angola, Nina Fite, reflected on the U.S. commitment to the partnership in a recent press release: “Twenty five years of committed U.S. support to humanitarian demining has resulted in the destruction of more than 218,000 landmines and other explosive hazards and the return of over 463 square kilometers of land to the people of Angola.” Building on this history of cooperation, and in order to increase human security, enable economic development, and bolster regional stability, the United States has provided $11.1 million for new humanitarian demining and weapons stockpile management projects in Angola this year.
In 2019, the Government of Angola took action to support conservation and ecotourism by committing $60 million for demining in its national parks. New U.S. funding for humanitarian mine action directly complements Angola’s priorities and underscores the importance of burden sharing in the humanitarian mine action space. Beginning in July 2020, a U.S.-funded project with The HALO Trust (HALO) focuses on clearing landmines from the Okavango River Basin. Six manual and mechanical clearance teams work in three provinces – Bié, Cuando Cubango, and Moxico – that comprise the Okavango region in Angola.
Additionally, the mobile teams resurvey minefields for contamination, respond to reports of explosive ordnance to safely dispose of the hazards, and provide mine risk education to local communities. Removing ERW contamination facilitates new opportunities for ecotourism and agriculture development. For example, during this project HALO works to clear contamination from areas where people live on the outskirts of the town of Cuchi, a municipal capital in Cuando Cubango, and resurvey areas of landmine contamination around the town of Cangamba, the main gateway into Moxico Province from where National Geographic launches research expeditions to promote conservation.
In another new project, U.S. funding supports the Mines Advisory Group (MAG) to clear high-priority minefields in Moxico Province, where growing communities need safe land for housing, farming, markets, and schools. MAG’s mine action teams will also respond to local community reports of explosive ordnance in order to conduct safe disposal. This large-scale project spans the next three years and will enable local communities to develop fertile farmland safe from buried mines.
In Angola, MAG and HALO use both manual and mechanical demining methods due to the dense vegetation and uneven terrain. For manual demining, a team of individual deminers use metal detectors, at times augmented by ground penetrating radar, to carefully examine contaminated land and destroy found mines. Mechanical demining uses various machinery, such as the Digger D-250 tiller, to remove vegetation and process difficult terrain for demining teams to conduct direct clearance.
The United States has provided more than $145 million for conventional weapons destruction efforts in Angola since 1995. A majority of the funding has supported demining operations, and the United States is the largest bilateral donor for humanitarian demining in Angola. We strongly support Angola’s goal to clear all remaining minefields by 2025.
The new clearance projects are detailed in a recent U.S. press release announcing this year’s additional US $11.1 million for new humanitarian demining and weapons and ammunition stockpile management projects in Angola. The humanitarian demining portion totals $8.6 million, and the remaining $2.5 million supports new stockpile management projects.
Weapons and Ammunition Stockpile Management
The illicit proliferation of small arms, light weapons, and ammunition across the African continent enables terrorists and other destabilizing actors to perpetuate violence and conflict. The Angolan civil war ended in 2002, but stockpiles of weapons and ammunition remained for many years without requisite storage infrastructure or adequate management practices. This vulnerable surplus of weapons creates a dangerous opportunity for criminals to arm themselves and for traffickers to sell the weapons to armed groups throughout the region and beyond. Additionally, the lack of safe storage conditions can lead to unplanned explosions, such as one that occurred in 2018 at a Luena depot as a result of a lightning strike. The explosion, although caused naturally, dispersed dangerous explosive ordnance and fragments throughout the city.
To prevent unplanned explosions and illicit diversions, the United States has assisted the Government of Angola with the destruction of 107,900 excess small arms and light weapons, and more than 648 U.S. tons (588 metric tons) of excess ammunition since 2006. We support stockpile management activities through MAG and HALO who partner with the Angolan National Police (ANP) and the Angolan Armed Forces (FAA).
This year’s additional U.S. funding includes $2.5 million for physical security and stockpile management projects in Angola. A portion of the assistance supports HALO’s work to improve ANP weapons storage facilities and train the storekeepers and their managers who will use the improved facilities on a daily basis. HALO mobile teams will also destroy excess weapons and ammunition in coordination with the security forces and provide explosive ordnance disposal training.
New U.S. funding also supports MAG in identifying priority needs for stockpile management in Moxico, Lunda Norte, and Lunda Sul provinces. MAG will also destroy excess weapons, construct one new armory, and provide training to the police on stockpile management for the new armory and storekeeping at the Luena depot that experienced the unplanned explosion in 2018.
These new U.S. investments build on decades of close partnership with Angola and advance Angola’s national and regional security goals. CWD work, ranging from landmine clearance to the destruction of excess weapons and ammunition, furthers United States national security interests by opening opportunities for Angolan prosperity and partnership while bolstering regional stability.
The United States is the world leader in Conventional Weapons Destruction, programing more than $3.8 billion in over 100 countries since 1993 to advance security, stability, and economic development priorities. To learn more about the United States’ global conventional weapons destruction efforts, check out our annual report, To Walk the Earth in Safety, and follow us on Twitter @StateDeptPM.
For more information on the Okavango Delta, see National Geographic’s 2018 documentary, Into the Okavango. You may also follow The HALO Trust on Twitter @TheHALOTrust and MAG on Twitter @MAGsaveslives.
About the Author: Victoria Matkins serves as an Assistant Program Manager in the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs, Office of Weapons Removal and Abatement at the U.S. Department of State.