When Prince Harry made a trip to Angola in September 2019 as part of his tour of southern Africa, he was continuing his mother Princess Diana’s legacy. Diana’s iconic trip to Angola in 1997, where she among other things stepped out onto an active minefield, did change the discussion around landmines as it put the spotlight on Angola and its landmines.
Indeed, her trip to the country led to an international treaty to ban landmines that same year. In a few months, the ‘People’s Princess’ would die in a car crash in the French capital, Paris, an incident that shocked the world.
Believed to be one of the most famous women in the world then and even now, Diana was not only well known for being a style icon but also for her humanitarian work. She worked for several charities, using her fame to create awareness on many humanitarian issues. Her philanthropic duties made her visit a number of African countries. The Princess of Wales met with some African leaders including Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe on a visit to Harare. She also met anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela in his residence in South Africa where the two talked about AIDS.
In January 1997 when she visited Angola, her children Prince William and Prince Harry were 14 and 12 years old. She had also divorced Prince Charles in 1996. The British Red Cross, which she was involved with, organized her trip to Angola, where she became aware of the work of HALO Trust, a non-profit organization that had been working to clear mines in Angola since 1994 in the midst of the civil war that was ongoing at the time.
During her visit, she did not only meet victims of landmine attacks but also walked through one of the active minefields (a minefield in Huambo in central Angola) alongside HALO students and other experts wearing body armor. Pictures of her visit flooded international media, bringing the world’s attention to Angola and its landmines.
“For the people that were here at that time, which was obviously still a time of conflict, it led to a feeling of acknowledgment, and that their plight was recognized around the world,” Ralph Legg, program manager of HALO Trust’s operations in Angola, was quoted by TIME in 2019. “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.”
Diana while in Angola called for an international ban on landmines. But her call was met with criticisms from some UK lawmakers, who called her a “loose cannon” and said she was “out of line with government policy on the issue”, TIME reported.
Nevertheless, Diana would greatly influence the steps that were taken to ban landmines. Her Angolan trip gave birth to the 1997 Convention on the Prohibition of the Use, Stockpiling, Production and Transfer of Anti-Personnel Mines and on their Destruction — the international agreement that bans antipersonnel landmines. It is usually referred to as the Ottawa Convention or the Anti-Personnel Mine Ban Treaty.
The treaty came a few weeks after the untimely death of Diana. Though she was not present at the signing of the treaty, she was lauded for her advocacy as reports said the treaty that was written in Oslo “took on the luster of a humanitarian memorial to Diana and her cause.” What’s more, experts say the awareness Diana raised about landmines in Angola during the 1997 journey helped the country recover from its decades-long civil war.