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Final Steps to make Africa
a Nuclear Weapons-Free Zone

By  Raphael Chegeni
PNND Global Council Member,
Deputy Secretary General, Amani Forum
Kaspar Beech
PNND Assistant Global Coordinator

 PNND Council members Hon. Raphael Chegeni (Tanzania) and Hon. David Coltart (Zimbabwe) together with the PNND New Zealand Section (chaired by Hon. Nick Smith) recently wrote to all African governments who had not yet ratified the African Nuclear Weapon Free Zone (Pelindaba) Treaty and urged them to do so.

The Pelindaba Treaty opened for signature in 1996 and has been signed by 51 of the 53 African States. However, to-date only 23 of these States have ratified. 28 ratifications are required for the treaty to enter into force, at which time the treaty will become fully operative and will enable the joining together with other zones (Pacific, South-East Asia, Antarctica and Latin America and the Caribbean) to form a Southern Hemisphere and Adjacent Areas Nuclear Weapons Free Zone.

The concern in Africa regarding nuclear weapons arose from Cold War tensions, the atmospheric nuclear testing by Nuclear Weapon States, including the French testing in Algeria, and the South African nuclear weapons programme under the apartheid regime. It was not, however, until after the Cold War and the end of the apartheid government that the political openings emerged for a treaty. The catalyst for progress came when the post apartheid government in South Africa closed its Pelindaba nuclear weapons plant (from which the treaty gets its name), destroyed all its nuclear weapons facilities and joined the initiative for a NWFZ in Africa.

Responding to the joint PNND letter were some states saying they had just ratified the treaty or where in the process of doing so while some individual parliamentarians expressed interest and joined the PNND.

For many states though, the immediacy of developing-state issues and the successful prohibition on nuclear testing and the curtailment of nuclear weapons programmes in South Africa and Libya has  removed the issue of nuclear weapons from the agenda of most policy makers. However, other nuclear threats are emerging in Africa.  Power shortages have fuelled interest in the development of nuclear energy and a massive increase in exploration and extraction of uranium is now viable due to increased uranium prices. This brings with it proliferation risks and possible terrorist targeting of nuclear facilities.

Until entry into force the treaty is neither binding nor legally enforceable. This includes the protocols whereby the Nuclear Weapons States (NWS) commit not to deploy, threaten or use nuclear weapons in the region. Thus Africa remains vulnerable to proliferation and the possible threat of nuclear fuelled tensions spilling into the region. Entry into force would also enable the treaty-based African Commission on Nuclear Energy to be established, providing a forum for advancing regional collaboration on measures to safeguard fissile materials and prevent proliferation.  Treaty ratification thus remains an imperative.

Basing himself in Zimbabwe and with the support of PNND Global Council members Hon. David Coltart (Zimbabwe) and Hon. Raphael Chegeni (Tanzania), PNND Assistant Global Coordinator, Kaspar Beech, travelled to five Southern African Capitals where he met with key parliamentarians, government ministers, officials and civil society representatives to raise the issue.   This resulted in indications from Angola, Burundi, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia and Zambia that they will move to ratify the Pelindaba Treaty this year. On the 26th of March 2008 the Mozambican Parliament voted to ratify the Pelindaba Treaty. This was largely due to the sterling efforts of new PNND member Eduardo Namburete, who, as the Opposition Foreign Minister worked with the Foreign Ministry and parliamentary colleagues across the isle to get this result.

To build on this momentum we encourage all PNND members to raise the issue with their African counterparts. This is not an issue which requires fiscal commitment or diplomatic capital, it must merely be brought to the minds of African legislators and put on the agenda of African States.

Africa will be safer under a ratified treaty, strengthened against proliferation threats and will add to the increasingly powerful imperative for Nuclear Weapon Free Zones, particularly in neighbouring regions such as the Middle East and Europe. An African Nuclear Weapon Free Zone can also act as an important stepping stone toward a world free of nuclear weapons.