No nukes in Africa

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The continent of Africa is now officially free of nuclear weapons, after a 14-year-old treaty banning their development, production, testing or acquisition finally came into force in July.

This means the entire southern hemisphere is now free of nuclear weapons.

The desire for a nuclear-arms-free Africa was first expressed at the Organisation of African Unity’s inaugural summit in Cairo, Egypt, in July 1964. Thirty-one years later, on 2 June 1995, a suitable treaty was drafted and adopted in South Africa at Pelindaba, a nuclear research facility west of Pretoria. The treaty was opened for signature a year later in Cairo.

Pelindaba was an appropriate place for the treaty to be drafted as its name comes from the isiZulu iphelile indaba, which roughly means “the matter is settled”. The pact itself became known as the Treaty of Pelindaba.

All 54 African countries were eligible to become parties to the agreement, but it could only come into effect once 28 or more states had ratified it. Burundi became the 28th state on 15 July 2009.

The treaty does not ban nuclear activity altogether. It supports the use of nuclear science and technology for peaceful purposes, and requires each party to “conduct all activities for the peaceful use of nuclear energy under strict non-proliferation measures”.

A South Africa-based commission on nuclear energy has been established to monitor compliance.

The treaty also invites the US, France, UK, Russia and China “to agree not to use or threaten to use a nuclear explosive device against any treaty party or against any territory within the African zone”.

It also urges the five powers not to test nuclear weapons in the African zone and requires France and Spain, which have dependent territories within the zone, to observe the treaty.

Only the UK, France and China have accepted these terms.

Praise for the treaty

“The Treaty of Pelindaba maintains and enhances Africa’s regional peace and security, and promotes the global goal of a world free of nuclear weapons,” says the Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies, one of several peace organisations working to promote the pact.

“The treaty also contributes to the developmental imperatives facing the continent by, for example, regulating nuclear-related industries – such as uranium mining.”

The International Atomic Energy Agency, an intergovernmental body that promotes the peaceful use of nuclear energy, has also welcomed the enforcement of the treaty.

“The director general welcomes the entry into force of the African Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty [Treaty of Pelindaba],” it says, adding that it also “welcomes the treaty’s support of the use of nuclear science and technology for peaceful purposes and trusts that the use of nuclear technologies in Africa will contribute to the continent’s economic and social development”.

“The African Nuclear-Weapons-Free Zone, similar to other nuclear-weapon-free zones in Latin America and the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, South Pacific and Central Asia, is an important regional confidence and security-building measure that will contribute to our efforts for a world free from nuclear weapons.”

The countries that have officially accepted the treaty (PDF) are Algeria, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Libya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Africa, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo and Zimbabwe.

Other nuclear-weapons-free pacts around the world include the Treaty of Tlatelolco (Latin America and the Caribbean), Treaty of Rarotonga (South Pacific), Treaty of Bangkok (Southeast Asia) and the Central Asian Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty.