Africa Is Now Officially a Zone Free of Nuclear Weapons


Thirteen years after it officially opened for signature, the African Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone Treaty (Treaty of Pelindaba) has finally come into force with the twenty-eighth deposit of its ratification instrument by Burundi on 15 July 2009.


This important milestone follows concerted efforts by the Institute for Security Studies in Pretoria, South Africa and the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies based in Monterey, with the support of several other organisations, including the Parliamentary Network for Nuclear Disarmament (PNND), Groupe de Recherche et d’Information sur la Paix et la Sécurité (GRIP) and the World Council of Churches (WCC) to promote the ratification of the Treaty by the remaining members of the African Union (AU) and Morocco who have signed the Treaty, but not yet ratified it. The Treaty, which covers the entire African continent as well as its surrounding islands, ensures that nuclear weapons are not developed, produced, tested, or otherwise acquired or stationed in any of the countries on the continent.


Entry-into-force of the Treaty of Pelindaba confirms Africa’s resolve to strengthen the global nuclear weapon-free regime and contribute to international nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation processes, as was stressed by the AU’s Peace and Security Council in 2006. In addition, the declaration of Africa as a nuclear-weapon-free zone (NWFZ) means that the entire southern hemisphere is now nuclear weapons free.


Like other NWFZ treaties, the Treaty of Pelindaba, includes protocols for the five Nuclear Weapons States (NWS) to sign. To date, the United Kingdom, France and China have signed and ratified these Protocols, but the Russian Federation and the United States are yet to ratify. By adhering to the Protocols, NWS commit themselves to respecting the status of the zone.


Importantly, the Treaty of Pelindaba supports the use of nuclear science and technology for peaceful purposes, and in this respect, each Party undertakes to conduct all activities for the peaceful use of nuclear energy under strict non-proliferation measures. The renewed global interest in the development of nuclear power for both electricity generation and for radioactive materials used in medicine, means that the entry-into-force of the Treaty of Pelindaba will have a direct impact on the future nuclear energy developments in African countries. South Africa, Nigeria, Sudan, Egypt, Kenya and Uganda, amongst others, have already publically indicated their interest in nuclear energy as a means of resolving their energy shortages and as a means to mitigate climate change.


According to Article 12 (Mechanism for compliance) of the Treaty, after entry-into-force, the Parties agree to establish an African Commission on Nuclear Energy (AFCONE). In addition to being a compliance mechanism, the Commission will be responsible for encouraging regional and sub-regional programmes for co-operation in the peaceful uses of nuclear science and technology. The establishment of AFCONE would also:

  • Encourage African states to take responsibility for their natural resources, and in particular nuclear material;
  • Protect against the dumping of toxic waste

Now that the Treaty of Pelindaba has come into force, States Parties should urge the African Union to convene a Conference of all Parties (as is required by the Treaty) to establish the way forward. Civil society organisations, such as ISS, will continue to promote its universalisation by encouraging the remaining 24 African signatories to ratify. These signatories are: Angola, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Cape Verde, Chad, Comoros, Congo, Djibouti, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Niger, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sao Tome & Principe, Sudan, Tunisia, Uganda and Zambia, as well as the area known as the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic. AU Member States and African Civil Society Organisations also need to urge the Russian Federation and the United States to ratify the relevant Protocols.


The Entry-into-Force of the Treaty of Pelindaba is both long overdue and timely - sending a clear message ahead of the May 2010 Review Conference for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) that Africa is totally committed to nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation both globally and on the African continent.


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