Today , the global debate about the proliferation and command of chemical biological and nuclear weapons capability raises concerns and suspicions among member states of the United Nations and sub-regional groups - Africa being no exception.
For the sake of this expose, we will focus on the threat of chemical and biological weapons and capability in Africa.
Biological Weapons(BW) spread diseases among humans, animals and plants. Opportunistic diseases may also spread when the population is exposed to the micro-organisms or chemical toxins which are manufactured by such organisms. With micro-organisms, the symptoms of the diseases are visible after an incubation period during which time the organisms are multiplying. With toxins, which are poisonous substances produced by living organisms such as botulinum toxin plants(ricin) and animals like snake venom, symptoms generally appear more rapidly among people and animals and the effects of diseases may range from physical incapacitation to death.
In their publication in 2005, entitled, “CIVIL SOCIETY AND THE NORM AGAINST THE WEAPONISATION OF DISEASE: Meeting the Challenge,” Dr. Jean Pascal Zanders, Director of BioWeapons Prevention Project and Chandre Gould, the Network Coordinator of the same organization maintain that “…biological warfare is the intentional use of disease-causing micro-organisms, or other entities, that can replicate themselves – such as viruses, infectious nucleic acids and prions – against humans, animals or plants for hostile purposes…:”
Three international treaties including the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention (BWC), which bans offensive biological weapons development and possession; the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC), which outlaws chemical weapons development, possession, and use; and the 1925 Geneva Protocol, which forbids the use of chemical and biological weapons in war were put in place to maintain effective policing.
Research of publicly available intelligence information shows that several African countries, to some degree, were developing, maintaining or pursuing offensive chemical and biological weapons programs at some point in time. Namely, the African countries include South Africa, Libya, Egypt and Sudan.
In the 1960’s, although South Africa began experimenting with the technical usage of a “peaceful nuclear regime” for the purpose of mining and engineering, its biological weapons program was considered large and sophisticated in research and testing. The apartheid government saw itself as a target of “attack” by Soviet- Marxist supported guerrillas and nationalists organizations at home and abroad. The purpose of maintaining its chemical weapons capability then was more for a military offensive and defensive posture and was prepared to employ this capability in the face of an attack.
In testimony before the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in South Africa, participants in a covert military program during the apartheid era gave evidence of the development of chemical and biological weapons by South Africa. According to Mr. Dan Goosen, a scientist involved in the apartheid-era government weapons program, researchers “investigated the possibility of developing drugs that would only work on blacks - either killing, injuring or making them infertile.’ There was even a plan, later aborted, to employ hallucinogenic drugs to poison Nelson Mandela and other black activists before release from prison.
Later, the government of former President Nelson Mandela, which came to power in 1994, declared in June 1998 that it had terminated this program earlier and had destroyed the material for offensive purposes in government storage. In response to a request from the TRC, the South African government, through the relevant agency, made documents from this program available to the TRC, which placed them in the public domain.
The Libyan government has a biological and chemical weapons research and development program and may be able to produce small amounts of agent. It is likely in need of foreign assistance to advance this program further.
Western intelligence reports indicate that potential delivery vehicles include short-range, anti-ship cruise missiles; air-launched tactical missiles; fighter aircraft; bombers; artillery; helicopters; and rockets.
In a regional conflagration, the Libyan military attempted to use chemical weapons against Chadian troops in 1987
The north African nation led by strongman Colonel Muammar Abu Minyar al-QADHAFI reportedly produced mustard and nerve agent before 1990.
That country still had some elements of its chemical weapons program and was working to re-establish its chemical weapons capabilities, which had been limited by UN sanctions from 1992 to 1999. Accused of actively training and supporting insurgencies and terrorists worldwide in its effort to counter western influence, Libya had been pursuing an indigenous production capability but had been highly dependent on foreign suppliers.
The US Arms Control and Disarmament Agency reported in July 1998 that “…Evidence indicates that Libya has the expertise to produce small quantities of biological equipment for its Biological Weapons(BW) program and that the Libyan Government is seeking to move its research program into a program of weaponized BW agents.”
In a stunning and surprise about-face on December 20, 2003, Libya said it would give up its Biological and Chemical Weapons programs for developing weapons of mass destruction and allow unconditional inspection and verification. The official reason given by Colonel al-QADHAFI was that “his country was ready to play its role in building a world free from all forms of terrorism.”. The favored speculation is that he was fearful of “regime change” as was done in Iraq against Saddam Hussein by the West. Libya has not signed the1993 Chemical Weapons Convention Treaty.
The north east African nation is reported to have developed biological weapons agents by 1972. Considering itself as strategic, a broker in Middle Eastern geo-politics and faced with an unstable Middle East, Egypt sought to maintain a dominance of the Nile Basin. This meant maintaining a military posture backed by a chemical weapons component. On the other hand, there is no evidence to suggest that Egypt employed or used this component in its military confrontation with Israel mainly because its own intelligence confirmed that the Israelis were capable and prepared to strike at Egypt decisively and disastrously with their own chemical weapons were their military conflict ever to deteriorate to that level..
There is no evidence suggesting Egypt has eliminated this chemical weapons capability. Given the fragile Middle East political climate and it is quite possible that Egypt probably maintains a chemical weapons stockpile. That country, to date, has not signed the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention Treaty.
The United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that Sudanese military regimes favoring Islamic-oriented governments have dominated national politics since independence from the United Kingdom in 1956.
Additionally, Western intelligence sources have also long suspected and maintained that Sudan may be interested in developing a Chemical and Biological weapons program and is developing the ability to produce chemical weapons, possibly including VX. Sudan, in this regard, is reported to have received assistance from sympathetic and friendly governments. It is believed that chronic political and social economic instability have crippled any sustained development of its biological and chemical weapons program but Sudan remains interested in pursuing this effort. The northeast Africa nation continues to develop close ties with Iran to the annoyance of the West who has accused that country of pursing the development of nuclear arsenal and a hostile posture in the region. Iran has been threatening to pursue its nuclear development program regardless of the threat of international sanctions claming it is mainly for “peaceful and economic purposes ”
Sudan acceded to the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention Treaty on May 24, 1999.
The PELINDABA Treaty of the pan African grouping the African Union (AU) which aims to maintain the continent as a “nuclear weapon free zone” purposely obligates each member state to, among other things, “renounce, prohibit and prevent the usage and proliferation of nuclear weapons except for peaceful means. The AU treaty, for some odd reason, is silent on the proliferation of chemical or biological weapons, instead, for which an explanation is needed.
And so, interestingly, Africa, too, has been and remains a active player in the interest, acquisition and potential usage of chemical and biological weapons. The challenge is to ensure that the democratic alternative take root on the continent which will in turn deny would be dictators, mad-men and hostile countries the deadly chemical and biological weapons they could pursue and employ to threaten and harm their people and neighbors for the sake of state of power and regional dominance.