Africa Becomes World's Largest Nuclear Free Continent


Nuclear Abolition News | IDN
By Fareed Mahdy

IDN-InDepth NewsAnalysis

CAIRO (IDN) - Africa, the world's second-largest and second most-populous continent after Asia has now become the world's largest nuclear free zone comprising 53 countries with about one billion people. ARABIC | JAPANESE | GERMAN

This rather positive news, ignored by most mainstream media, which has its eyes set on a 'might-be nuclear' Iran, is significant also because it relates to the denuclearisation of one of the world's richest uranium producing regions.

In fact the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the African Union (AU) announced mid-August the coming into force of the Treaty of Pelindaba amidst news of an intensive legal and illegal exploitation of uranium mines in Africa by European and Chinese-backed multinational corporations.

The entry into force of the African Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone (NWFZ) Treaty ensures that Southern hemisphere territories are now a zone free of nuclear weapons.

The process of the coming into force of the Treaty was completed July 15 after its ratification by Burundi, the 28th African nation to do so. Algeria and Burkina Faso were the first African countries that ratified the Treaty in 1998, only two years after its signature.

The Treaty of Pelindaba establishes that in order to allow for the verification of its nuclear non-proliferation undertaking, all parties involved are required to conclude "comprehensive safeguards agreements" with the IAEA.

These agreements are equivalent to the ones required in relation to the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT).

The Treaty also commits its parties "to apply the highest standard of security and physical protection of nuclear material, facilities, and equipment to prevent theft and unauthorized use, as well as prohibits armed attacks against nuclear installations within the zone".


The Treaty of Pelindaba officially declares Africa a Nuclear Weapons Free Zone. Drafted in Johannesburg and Pelindaba in June 1995, and opened for signature in Cairo on April 11, 1996, the Treaty is named after the Pelindaba nuclear research facility situated near the Hartbeespoort Dam, west of Pretoria in the Republic of South Africa.

Pelindaba is South Africa's main Nuclear Research Centre, run by the Nuclear Energy Corporation of South Africa, and was the location where South Africa's atomic bombs of the 1970s were developed, constructed and subsequently stored.

The IAEA Director General Mohamed ElBaradei declared: "The African NWFZ, similar to other nuclear weapons free zones in Latin America and the Caribbean, Southeast Asia, South Pacific and Central Asia, is an important regional confidence and security-building measure and would contribute to our efforts for a world free from nuclear weapons."

He also welcomed 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 would contribute to the continent´s economic and social development".


The process of declaring Africa a nuclear weapons free zone was launched by the Assembly of Heads of State and Government of the then called Organization of African Unity (OAU), held in Cairo from July 17 to 21, 1964, during which they decided to establish the African NWFZ.

In Cairo, the African leaders declared their readiness "to undertake, through an international agreement to be concluded under United Nations auspices, not to manufacture or acquire control of nuclear weapons".

The African heads of State and government based their position on all related international agreements, such the UN General Assembly Resolution of December 11, 1975 that considered "nuclear-weapon-free zones one of the most effective means for preventing the proliferation, both horizontal and vertical, of nuclear weapons".

The African leaders emphasised their conviction of "the need to take all steps in achieving the ultimate goal of a world entirely free of nuclear weapons, as well as of the obligations of all States to contribute to this end".

They stated as well their conviction that "the African nuclear-weapon-free zone will constitute an important step towards strengthening the non-proliferation regime, promoting cooperation in the peaceful uses of nuclear energy, promoting general and complete disarmament and enhancing regional and international peace and security".

While announcing the Treaty, African leaders underlined their firm belief that an "African nuclear-weapon-free zone will protect African States against possible nuclear attacks on their territories".

It will also "keep Africa free of environmental pollution by radioactive wastes and other radioactive matter". The treaty commits members not to dump nuclear waste.

However, they also expressed their firm observance of Article IV of the NPT.


This article recognises "the inalienable right of all States Parties to develop research on, production and use of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes without discrimination".

It recognises as well their inalienable right to facilitate the fullest possible exchange of equipment, materials and scientific and technological information for such purposes.

In Cairo, the African leaders also stressed their determination to promote regional cooperation for the development and practical application of nuclear energy for peaceful purposes in the interest of sustainable social and economic development of the Africa continent.


Africa hosts some of the richest uranium mines on earth. Many industrialized countries have high dependence on African minerals in general, and uranium in particular. France, for example, relies entirely on uranium exploitation in Niger to operate its 58 nuclear power plants.

Other uranium producers in the continent are Algeria, Botswana, Central African Republic, DR Congo, Gabon, Gambia, Guinea, Malawi, Mali, Morocco, Namibia, Tanzania, and Zambia.

However, at the same time, Africa is reported to be one of the world' largest nuclear, radioactive and toxic waste-dumping sites, together with Southeast Asia.

Somalia is reported to be a major nuclear waste dumping site and the piracy activities are allegedly related to this illegal practice.


In fact, similar Treaties are in force in South America (Treaty of Tlatelolco), the South Pacific (Treaty of Rarotonga), Southeast Asia (Treaty of Bangkok), and Antarctica (Antarctic Treaty).

Another Treaty creating a zone free of nuclear weapons in Central Asia entered into force March 21 this year. Five countries --Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan -- are parties to the Treaty.

This Treaty was the first of its kind comprising States of the former Soviet Union, and is the first such zone in the Northern Hemisphere. It also encompasses an environmental component, which addresses concerns unique to the Central Asian region.

Each of the five States hosted former Soviet nuclear weapons infrastructure and now confront common problems of environmental damage resulting from the production and testing of Soviet nuclear weapons.

Like the African Treaty, the Central Asian pact forbids the development, manufacture, stockpiling, acquisition or possession of any nuclear explosive device within the zone.

These regional and sub regional denuclearisation treaties represent a milestone in the world wide civil society campaign aiming at abolishing nuclear weaponry. (IDN-InDepthNews/22.08.09)

2009 IDN-InDepthNews Service
(This article is part of a media project initiated by the Tokyo-based Soka Gakkai International (SGI), a Buddhist association, and the Inter Press Service global news agency to strengthen public awareness of the urgent need for nuclear abolition. The writer is special correspondent of IDN-InDepthNews service, an external partner of IPSEurope that coordinates the project.)

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