Mission Possible in Angola

Mission Possible in Angola

‘There is a minefield that has not been cleared near Lubango’, explains MAF Angola Country Director Jez Simpson, listing off ‘things that happen in normal life’ in Angola. Photos by Marijn Goud

‘Children find ammunition dumps where toxic chemicals now leak from the 20-year-old ordinance. Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) explode killing and maiming children and adults.’ Fifteen years have elapsed since the Angolan civil war ended, but sadly the conflict has yet to claim its last casualty.   

MAF have counted more than one demining agency amongst their ‘frequent flyers’ but reserve a special respect for the work of the UK-based humanitarian organisation, The HALO Trust. The demining specialists began working in Angola in 1994 – five years after MAF established their own operation.

Today, MAF is part of HALO’s emergency contingency plan to evacuate their deminers to hospital in in the event of an accident and proudly fly their donors to witness the lifesaving work they do.    

Guns and bombs

Guns that were destroyed during the ceremony

At an event organised to mark the 20th anniversary of Princess Diana’s visit, rusty guns are laid out in neat rows in the car park at the HALO Operations base.  A special machine will break them down, one by one, into pieces that cannot be reassembled or repurposed. A nearby sign indicates the number destroyed so far - 116,374.  A hopeful statistic and a sad spectre if you think of the lives that ended violently through their use.

The machine which destroys the guns

Permanently removing the guns from circulation, ‘is very important work’ explains Edgar Lourenco from CNIDAH, the National Demining Commission in Angola. ‘It means less civil crime (less guns), it strengthens peace and helps educate the next generation who do not remember the war.’ In other post conflict countries, this hasn’t always happened.  Weapons have made their way into the hands of the civilian population, fuelling tribal conflicts that once were fought with spears.

Regional Director for The HALO Trust, Chris Pym (Left) and MAF's Angola Country Director, Jez Simpson (Right)

The HALO Trust has extended its remit to include the removal of small arms, IEDs and unexploded ordnance as well as landmines. Their mission is to create a safe and secure environment where people can rebuild their lives and restore their livelihoods. 1,371 metric tonnes of munitions have been destroyed in Angola so the next generation do not inherit a legacy of war.

Mission possible

A line of the mine sappers

The line of well-trained HALO sappers in their protective clothing represent the best hope for a mine-free Angola. They have cleared 92,000 landmines and more than 800 minefields so far - approximately half of the total. The possibility of a landmine-free future was demonstrated, when war torn Mozambique was declared mine-free in 2016. But there are far fewer deminers in Angola than there were in 2008, only 300 compared to the 1,100 HALO used to employ before the economic downturn hit and funding plummeted.

Refusing to compromise the safety of their staff or the communities they serve, the only option was to scale back operations. 

A sapper using demining equipment

An unfinished task 

Generous donations from donors, including the US and UK governments, continue to fund the clean-up operation, but the longer it takes the more the devices degrade. The same is true of the demining equipment and vehicles belonging to another demining organisation, sitting idled and rusting in the heat and humidity without the personnel to use them.

James Cowan, CEO of The HALO Trust (Left) and Deputy Programme Manager, José Pedro Agostinho (Right)

It is a source of frustration for HALO Chief Executive James Cowan, who campaigns to protect lives and restore livelihoods of those threatened by landmines and the debris of war. With the right resources and a renewed commitment from the international community and the government of Angola, the eight provinces could be mine-free within ten years. He issues a call to action, ‘let us finish this honourable and historic task’.

Land of opportunity

Once cleared, the rich fertile land can be used for agriculture. The HALO team describe how as soon as an area is deemed safe, people will move in and start farming the land the very next day. Not just small scale farming, but opportunities for intensive farming industries, wildlife conservation, and tourism will all open up as the country puts its troubled past behind it. ‘Angola is quite simply beautiful and enabling the development of tourism would bring in much-needed hard cash to the rural communities,’ Jez explains. 

Staff members from The HALO Trust

Rural Angola

HALO’s work has moved on from the provincial capitals to target minefield in poor rural areas. Rural Angolans are particularly at risk, hindered from using their land safely for housing and crops and forced to cross minefields or use mined pathways to collect water or firewood. Rural communities that have already waited decades for mine clearance, may have to wait decades more.

Rural Angola

It is exactly these communities in the south of Angola that MAF has a vision to reach – the communities without access to proper healthcare or education – where people are trapped by landmines, poor roads, poverty and geography.

Landmine Free 2025

Banner of Prince Harry supporting The HALO Trust as his mother Princess Diana did 20 years ago

The event MAF attended earlier this year marked 20 years since Princess Diana walked the minefields of Huambo helping to raise awareness, which led to the signing of the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Treaty later that year.

At another event held this week at Kensington Palace hosted by the HALO Trust and Mines Advisory Group (MAG) the campaign for a ‘Landmine Free 2025’ was launched. Prince Harry pledged his support and UK Secretary of State for International Development, Priti Patel pledged £100 million in funding over next three years on behalf of the UK government tripling their support for landmine clearance.

Commit to praying for a Landmine Free 2025 

  • Praise God for this renewed commitment from the UK government to support demining in Angola and around the world. Pray that this commitment would continue until every last landmine has been removed.
  • Pray for the nearly 60 million people in countries like Angola and South Sudan who still live with the daily fear of unexploded munitions. Lift up those whose lives have been changed through landmines who have lost limbs and loved ones.  
  • Lift up the HALO Trust and MAG as they continue the dangerous job of clearing minefields and campaigning to end their use in conflict. Pray for safety for the people who risk their lives to clear the mines.
  • Lift up the MAF team as they commit to serving rural communities with very little access to healthcare. Pray particularly for areas suffering from the drought and hunger.

MAF aircraft in Angola