Sunday, March 7, 2021 12:00 pm
By Owei Lakemfa
THE Nobel Peace Prize, perhaps the most prestigious annual award in the world, suffers from a chronic illness: the inability of the award committee to define what is peace. It is like one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.
The loose framework; that the prize be awarded to those who have “done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses” has not helped much. If it did, Adolf Hitler might not have been nominated in 1939. Nor would a warmonger like Donald Trump who actively promoted the wars in Yemen and Syria and tore up the Iran Nuclear agreement have been nominated in 2021.
Even for constituting a serious obstacle to the war against COVID-19 by campaigning that the pandemic was a ruse, refusing to allow countries like Iran and Venezuela access to COVID-19 drugs and withdrawing America from the World Health Organisation, WHO, at a time the world needed a joint response to COVID-19, should have made him ineligible for the nomination. So when the Committee announced that as at the close of nominations this Monday, March 1, some 329 candidates, including 234 individuals and 95 organisations were nominated for the 2021 prize, it was no surprise that it was an admixture of doves and hawks, sheep and wolves, peacemakers and warmongers.
Do not assume that only the peacemakers win. History shows that warmongers can also win, depending on the prevalent politics. After all, it is the vote of the majority in the five-member Norwegian Nobel Committee, that decides who wins the prize, and their decision is as infallible as the Papacy.
Some loosely define peace as the absence of war. But the irony is that even where there is war, representatives of the combatants are sometimes awarded the prize jointly, more as an appeasement and a weird sense of balance than a recognition of true peace-making. This was the case in Vietnam. The Vietnamese had militarily defeated France in their struggle for independence. Then the United States stepped in to stop the independence movement because it feared the new country would go communist. Subsequently, America lost 58,220 personnel while over two million Vietnamese were killed. When America decided to withdraw its troops, it bombed the civilian city of Hanoi to force the Vietnamese accept its withdrawal terms. That was when the Nobel Committee waded in to award the 1973 Prize to the chief negotiators on both sides: the warmonger, Henry Kissinger and Vietnamese revolutionary, Le Duc Tho. The latter was so enraged by the clear hypocrisy that he rejected the award.
That was not the first time the integrity of the peace prize was being called to question. It may be to its eternal shame that Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, the man who in the 20th Century symbolised peace and non-violence, was not considered fit to be awarded the prize. The reason is simple: he was opposed to British colonial rule, especially in South Africa and India. So it was simply a political decision not to annoy Britain, a then super power.
The subsequent arguments that Gandhi could not be given the award posthumously because it is given only to living persons, were rubbished when the 1961 Peace Prize was awarded posthumously to the Swedish, Dag Hammarskjold, the United Nations Secretary General, for allegedly strengthening the body. Ironically, Hammarskjold died in a controversial plane crash on September 18, 1961 over Ndola, Zambia while coordinating the UN intervention against the legitimate and democratic government of pan-Africanist, Patrice Lumumba.
Perhaps to stave off criticism on the Gandhi matter, the 1964 award was given to a Gandhi Non-Violence follower, Martin Luther King Jr. This was despite the fact that the award would anger the American establishment. Another controversial one was the 1993 Prize awarded jointly to Nelson Mandela, symbol of the anti-Apartheid struggles and Frederik Willem de Klerk, the inheritor and beneficiary of the murderous Apartheid system.
In the 2021 Award, the Nobel Committee is being invited to reverse itself. The Israeli-Palestinian Oslo Accords was acknowledged across the world as the solution to the Middle East crisis. Under it, both peoples accepted the existence of each other and their rights to security; a two-state solution; the creation and acceptance of the Palestinian Authority to govern parts of the West Bank and Gaza Strip and a joint commitment to resolving all other matters, including the issue of East Jerusalem as the capital of an independent Palestinian state. For these historic peace agreements, the 1994 Prize was awarded jointly to Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat and Israeli leaders Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin.
Then the Trump administration emerged in the US and reversed these agreements. First, it endorsed the theft of Palestinian lands, their dehumanisation and the forced annexure of East Jerusalem as part of a new capital for Israel. Then in 2020, it floated the so-called Abraham Accords under which the Palestinian rights to self-determination were traded by some Arab countries like Saudi Arabia and The United Arab Emirates in exchange for American arms and patronage. It is for the subversion of the Middle East Peace process that Trump’s in-law and former White House Adviser, Jared Kushner, has been nominated for the 2021 Peace Prize!
There are other controversial nominees like Russian politician, Alexei Navalny, whose activities, programmes and philosophy, have nothing to do with peace process anywhere in the world. Also nonsensical, is the nomination of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, NATO, which is dedicated to the military dominance. It was established in 1949 for three primary reasons: “deterring Soviet expansionism,” checking nationalist militarism and supporting members during conflicts. So how does an obsolete militarist qualify for the peace prize?
There are of course outstanding nominees like the WHO for leading humanity against COVID-19, Reporters Without Borders, Sahrawi human rights activist Aminatou Haidar and of course, the Black Lives Matter.
I have personally campaigned for the 2021 Prize to be awarded to the international Cuban medical team, the Henry Reeve Medical Contingent which in 2020 went to 28 countries to battle COVID-19. If the award were based on the number of nominating countries, groups and individuals, the Cubans would easily win this year’s awards. The Cuban contingent received 43 nominations from British parliamentarians and scholars including former Labour Party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, personal nomination from South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, the Namibian government, the Nigeria Labour Congress, 22 academics and professors of the Serbian Academy of Sciences and 215,000 Greeks who signed a joint nomination.
America under Trump had opposed the Cuban nomination on the laughable ground that the Cuban medical personnel were “forced labour”.
The prize is open both to the peacemaker and warmonger.