Africa is rarely at the centre of attention when the challenge of nuclear proliferation is mentioned. But African uranium was critical in different fields as: the development of the first atomic bombs, nuclear weapons were tested on the continent, and South Africa and Libya operated covert nuclear programmes for military purposes. Importantly, Africa cannot escape from the global nature of the nuclear proliferation’s current threat. Large uranium deposits exist in African states that are in some cases illicitly exploited at great public health and environmental risks and/or that are the source of local tensions. The maintenance of uranium exploitation operations and nuclear industries in several African states entails, as shown by experience, the risks of the diversion of nuclear material and sensitive technologies by governments or, more often, private individuals and commercial companies. In addition, international trafficking networks do not ignore Africa and target states with weak national legislation or implementation of controls on nuclear activities as a source of or transit point for nuclear material.
African governments do not ignore the risk of nuclear proliferation on their continent. They negotiated the African Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone Treaty (Pelindaba Treaty) in the framework of the Organization of African Unity. The treaty opened for signature in 1996 but less than half of the African states that signed the treaty ratified it, and two more ratifying states are needed for its entry into force.
This paper reviews Africa’s nuclear proliferation challenges against the background of the Pelindaba Treaty. The first part of the paper provides an overview of Africa’s history in the nuclear age and the continent’s current nuclear proliferation challenges. The second part of the paper presents the context and contents of the Pelindaba Treaty. It is argued that there is no room for complacency in relation to nuclear proliferation threats in Africa. The entry into force of the Pelindaba Treaty would be an important step into the right direction by strengthening the capacities of African states to face the continents’ nuclear proliferation challenges and the global non-proliferation regime.
GRIP also coordinated the translation of the Guide to ratification of the Treaty
made by the Institute for Security Studies. This document describes the procedures that most African states should take to ratify or accede to the treaty and implement its provisions.