Nuclear Weapons: Does Africa Have a Say?

Published on 10th August 2009

Everyone in the West praises the new ANC government in South Africa for having refused to inherit the Apartheid-era nuclear weapons, but no one asks why. It is to do with Africa's acute sense of moral values, especially human life. 

Sixty-four years ago on 6th and 9th August 1945, the United States dropped atomic weapons on the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and graphically demonstrated the horrendous power of nuclear weapons.  Over 300,000 people, buildings as well civilian and economic infrastructures were instantly vaporised on impact.  Several more people died of their injuries in the days, weeks, months and years that followed.  Today, 64 years later, the Japanese are still dying of radiation-induced cancers and giving birth to children with all sorts of radiation-induced deformities. 

Beating swords into plowshares Photo Courtesy
Yet, in Africa many people do not know of care about the horrors of nuclear weapons, wrongly believing that AK47s are the only problem. And yet, thanks to the help by the UK, US and many western governments, the diabolical Apartheid regime in South Africa had acquired nuclear weapons with the express purpose of blackmailing and intimidating African front-line states and the rest of the continent to submission, or worse.   

It was because of the horrors of nuclear weapons that in 1970, the world agreed to a treaty known as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) to abolish all nuclear weapons.  

Its preamble is instructive: "Considering the devastation that would be visited upon all mankind by a nuclear war and the consequent need to make every effort to avert the danger of such a war and to make measures to safeguard the security of peoples. Believing that the proliferation of nuclear weapons would seriously enhance the danger of nuclear war."   

That is where Ambassador Boniface Guwa Chidyausiku comes in. In May 2008 in Geneva, at the Second Preparatory Committee Meeting (PrepCom) of the 2010 Review Conference on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), western diplomats and their compliant press had laughed when it was announced that Ambassador Guwa Chidyausiku of Zimbabwe would chair the Third PrepCom to be held in New York from 5th to 15th May 2009.  Why did they laugh? 

Led by the New Labour Prime Minister Mr Gordon Brown, the western world was convinced that the Zimbabwe was a good-for-nothing country that had become a real threat to international peace and security. For this reason, Mr Gordon Brown had sponsored a draft resolution at United Nations Security Council, asking the UN to act without delay, and impose even tighter economic sanctions on the already crippled country and its peoples. The draft resolution also asked the UN to add more names on the long list of officials already barred from travelling abroad.  And it asked that foreign troops should be sent in to effect regime change in Harare. 

President Thambo Mbeki of South Africa, then a temporary member of the UN Security Council, fought tooth and nail to reject the draft resolution. But it is a strange matter of record for posterity that the draft resolution was publicly and repeatedly supported by three leading Africa personalities, namely, the Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga, the retired Bishop of Johannesburg Desmond Tutu and the Ugandan-born Bishop of York, Dr John Sentamu.   

On Sunday 9th December 2007, Dr Sentamu went one step further when, on a popular BBC One's Andrew Marr Show, watched by over a billion people throughout the world, he had dramatically pulled a pair of scissors from his pocket and cut his dog collar to pieces, swearing never to wear it again until Robert Mugabe was dead! 

If Mr Brown, Raila Odinga, Desmond Tutu and Bishop Sentamu had had their way; leading Zimbabwean officials including the Ambassador to the United Nations, Lieutenant Colonel Boniface Guwa Chidyausiku would have been in The Hague, awaiting trials for war crimes.  In the event, the third Preparatory Committee Meeting on the 2010 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, which took place at the UN from 4th-15th May 2009, might have failed, like several others in recent years. 

But thanks to his extraordinary diplomatic skills, Ambassador Chidyausiku managed to convince the 189 member states of the NPT to agree on the agenda for the 2010 Review conference in a record two days, a feat that had eluded delegates until three weeks into the 2005 conference.  

He also produced a list of forward-looking recommendations for practical and time-framed actions leading to the global nuclear disarmament, something that no previous Chairman had even attempted. 

It was little wonder that during the two week conference, state delegates and NGO representatives were asking the same questions: Who is Ambassador Boniface Guwa Chidyausiku? It was revealed that his success in chairing the nuclear disarmament conference did not happen by accident.  

Ambassador Chidyausiku holds a Master of Science in International Relations.  He had previously served as Ambassador and Permanent Representative of the Republic of Zimbabwe to the Conference on Disarmament and the World Trade Organisation in Geneva, Switzerland from 999 to 2002.   

Between 2003 and 2005, he was the President of the UNDP's High Level Committee on Technical Cooperation among Developing Countries (TCDC).   And in 2002,  he had served in several capacities including Chairman of the Committee on Regional Trade Agreements in the World Trade Organisation, Geneva, Switzerland; and Vice President of the 49th Session of the Trade and Development Board of UNCTAD.   

And most importantly, Ambassador Chidyausiku is a former a combatant with the Zimbabwe Liberation Army in which he attained the rank of commissioned Lt Colonel in 1985. 

Despite his formidable credentials, Ambassador Chidyausiku was humble enough not only to eat in the same canteen, which is also used by the lowest UN staff.  He also left the door to his private office open to anyone who wanted to see him, and shook their hands in the corridors, greeting them in Arabic, French, English, Portuguese and Swahili. In other words, Ambassador Chidyausiku demonstrated that he was a text book diplomats and the common-man's diplomat. 

According to the 'Diplomat's Dictionary' by Chas Freeman, "Peace and its opposite (that is war) depend on the Ambassador. An Ambassador should be a trained Theologian, should be well versed in Aristotle and Plato; he should also be an expert in Mathematics, Architecture, Music, Physics and canon law; he should speak Greek, Spanish, French, German and Turkish.  While being a trained classical scholar, a historian and a geographer, he must also be an expert in military science."   

Did the Author have Mr Guwa Chidyausiku in mind? Whatever the case may be, with a man like that, and many like him, Zimbabwe is not totally a hopeless case as Mr Gordon Brown, Raila Odinga, Desmond Tutu and Bishop Sentamu would want us to believe.   

If Ambassador Guwa Chidyausiku can bring together 198 countries to agree on an agenda to abolish nuclear weapons, then he could do a great deal more for Africa generally, and Zimbabwe in particular. 

Sadly, a nuclear-free world will remain an illusion as long as the declared nuclear weapons states that are China, France, Russia, the UK and the USA (especially the last two) continue to expand or upgrade their nuclear arsenals while lecturing Iran and North Korea not to develop any. 

But given that Libya and South Africa are the only two counties to have unilaterally given up their nuclear weapons, the African Union and its individual member states are the only ones with demonstrable moral authority to lecture China, France, Russia, the UK, USA, India, Pakistan, Israel, Iran and North Korea to give up their nuclear weapons as well. 

The African Campaign for a Nuclear-free World (ACNFW) now calls on the African union to occupy the moral high ground, which it rightfully deserves, and lead the rest of the world in effort to create nuclear-free world. 

The AU should persuade (diplomatically speaking) China, France, Russia, the UK, USA, India, Pakistan and Israel that trillions of dollars which they are wasting annually on nuclear weapons should be spent on tackling climate change and poverty, which are likely to lead to World War Three. That war will be fought in and over Africa, thanks to its abundant natural resources. 

And, given his immense experience on the global scene, Ambassador Boniface Guwa Chidyausiku should persuade the African Union to urgently take the lead in the political campaign for a nuclear-free world, if not for the sake of mankind, certainly for Africa's self-preservation. 

By Akaki Sami

The African Campaign for a Nuclear-free World (ACNFW), London.  

Akaki Sami participated at the May 2009 UN Preparatory Committee Meeting of the 2010 Review Conference on the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty  (NPT).


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