Princess Diana & Her Walk Through The Angolan Minefields

Princess Diana was always known for her charitable endeavours but in January 1997 she braved the Angolan minefields in an attempt to end the use of landmines.

By 1997, civil war had been tearing the African nation of Angola apart for 20 years. The war had plagued the entire nation with acres and acres of minefields. Even after the conflict ended in 2002, Angola still remains one of the world’s most heavily landmine-contaminated countries.

The HALO Trust has been working to clear mines in Angola since 1994 when the Princess of Wales, Diana, brought her signature campaigning to the war-torn nation a few years later.

Princess Diana had already been involved with the British Red Cross for years before they helped organise and support her trip to Angola. There in the Huambo province, Diana met with landmine survivors, many of them children. She then was escorted by HALO students and mine-clearing experts through a cleared lane in an active minefield whilst wearing protective flak gear. This became one of the most discussed moments of 1997.

Her simple presence here had done for Angola what she had done for HIV/AIDS patients in 1987 – create awareness and reduce stigmatisation.

Ralph Legg, program manager of HALO Trust’s operations in Angola, told Time,

“Diana’s visit is something that people in Huambo still talk about today. For the people that were here at that time, which was obviously still a time of conflict, it led to a feeling of acknowledgement, and that their plight was recognized around the world. The people I’ve spoken to who met Diana on that trip have all said how kind, considerate and how genuinely interested she seemed in them.”

Her visit prompted her to write a letter to the British Red Cross, “If my visit has contributed in any way at all in highlighting this terrible issue, then my deepest wish will have been fulfilled.”

Was Her Wish Fulfilled?

Credit: EPA

When she visited, it was all over the news. It was all anyone seemed to be able to talk about.

Paul Hannon, Executive Director of Mines Action Canada, said of the trip,

“At that time, she was probably the most recognisable person in the world, and so the fact that she wen and met with landmine survivors was really quite incredible. She showed basic humanity to people who don’t normally get that, and I think that was a wake-up call to all of us.”

Negotiations were ongoing to initiate the Mine Bans Treaty in 1997. Diana appealed for an international ban on landmines, but she copped a fair bit of criticism from U.K. lawmakers that called her out for being out of line with government policy on the issue. The U.K. government was far more cautious about banning landmines as many of the mines were supplied by British allies like the U.S. and Germany.

Unfortunately, her untimely death is what really sparked the United Nations to ban the use of mines. Now 133 countries have signed a treaty banning the use of land mines. So, in a sense, yes, her wish was fulfilled. 

What's the Situation Today?

Credit: Reuters

At the time, the U.S. was the leading backer for Angola’s mine removal and had sent $129 million USD to the effort since 1993. But the funding dried up as war in Afghanistan and Somalia were grabbing headlines.  

Angola, as of 2019, have been struggling to finish the job after four years of recession. The government had pledged $60 million USD to removing the mines but that will not be enough to reach their landmine free goal in 2025. Alex Vines, head of the Africa Program at Chatham House, told the Washington Post, “At the current rate of funding, Angola won’t be landmine-free until 2046.”

But there is some good news. In the urban areas where all the mines have been removed, like Huambo, life and development is thriving.

Prince Harry has decided to continue his mother’s work when he visited in 2019. He urged nations to raise the amount of aid sent to Angola as, “The fact that funding has been reduced by 90% over the last decade is pretty shocking.”

The HALO Trust alone has cleared roughly 100,000 landmines in Angola, clearing 297 minefields. When Harry walked the same streets Diana did, you could see the progress. Instead of a minefield you can find homes, communities, schools, and businesses. As Legg stated, “It’s been totally transformed and is unrecognisable today from when she visited in 1997.”

A little good goes a long way but there is still much to do. There are about 61 countries and areas in the world that are still covered in landmines and 32 of those are outside of the Mine Ban Treaty.

If you wish to get involved or at least donate, visit the HALO Trust’s website.

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