By Takura Zhangazha*
When the first Gulf War occurred in 1990, there was limited satellite television access for many a Southern African, let alone a Zimbabwean. I was in my last year of primary school at that time and our headmistress, walked into the class with a seriousness that we would only come to understand with the benefit of hindsight. She pulled out a map of the world and pointed somewhere to what we now know as the ‘Middle East’ and talked of something referred to as ‘nuclear war’. Or at least the dangers of it and the potential ‘global apocalypse’ that would occur.
Her warning, for the age we were, obviously had a very religious tone. But she did make mention of a ‘dangerous cloud’ that would move all the way from the Middle East to where we were in Africa, killing everything in its wake.
It is a primary school ‘lecture’ that always pops up in my mind whenever there is talk of nuclear war or where nuclear powers are reportedly at loggerheads. Ditto the recent and hopefully subsiding diplomatic rows and military threats between North Korea and the United States of America.
They had me in a silent panic. Not only because the leaders of the two nuclear countries are reportedly erratic and prone to act on whim. But also because of the catastrophic devastation to not only human but all forms of life that a war of that nature would bring on to the world.
Another thought that struck my silent panic mode was the reality that the general imagined narrative where a monumental catastrophe occurs in the Global North, there is always the option of mass movement of survivors to, you guessed it, the Global South or in some specific cases, Africa. It’s a narrative that is found in some movies on climate change, where after massive flooding, ships find themselves docking in some Africa port or the other. And in most cases Africa will have had a minimal role in causing a specific climate crisis (this is also the reality, Africa has a comparatively miniscule role in causing global climate change).
And again where we look at the current nuclear power impasse and its consequences, Africa and African countries will be nowhere near trigger ‘red buttons’ or special codes and keys. In fact, it would be trite to note that no single African country has a nuclear warhead. The last and probably only country to have these was apartheid South Africa which got rid of them in the run up to national independence in what some have described as controversial circumstances. Suffice to say we have a non proliferation treaty to show for it.
I am glad no African country has these weapons, even if by default or in keeping with the interests of global superpowers. Even if some will argue that having them may keep liberal interventionists away, the proliferation of nuclear weapons is an absolute ‘no-no’.
The key consideration however is that given the reasonable probability that should a major man-made catastrophe such as nuclear war occur between the belligerent USA (plus allies) and the even more stubborn North Korea (plus allies), there would be an initial global trek southwards. At least to where a liveable environment would still exist, even if temporarily. This, I might add, is a point that has been raised by renowned Australian journalist, John Pilger in one of his most recent articles.
This is why Africa has to talk back to the nuclear superpowers. And very loudly so about any threats of ‘fire and fury’ from the world’s holder of nuclear weapons.
Our talk back, in keeping with the progressive world would, as we have always done, be calling for nuclear disarmament and non-proliferation. But it would also be diplomatically to say, we know what will happen to us and our people in the event of nuclear war decimating cities and populations in the global north. It would be a return to occupation and depending on what of the superpowers remains, a return to colonialism. Not as an option, but as a life and death matter.
This is because in Africa’s placement in the world, we are not negotiating hard enough to make our own interests and stance against nuclear war patently clear. On paper and in practice. Sometimes to the extent of viewing or thinking that its well-nigh impossible that there would be a nuclear war. Or that it would only between those that have these dangerous weapons or those that live in close proximity to them. In extreme cases, I know and regrettably so, some colleagues who have viewed wars (Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia) and threats of wars (even nuclear ones where this is no winner) as though it were like watching a random American movie.
We must therefore deal our own hand before we are dealt with. We need a united people centred voice that says no to nuclear war not only because of its decimation of humanity but also because it is never going to be in our best interests as Africans. Nor have previous wars of global super/nuclear powers.
Takura Zhangazha writes here in his personal capacity (takura-zhangazha.blogspot.com)