Alfred Nobel’s Peace Prize: President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf doesn’t deserve it.

By Nadia Ahmadou and Oumar Ba

The calibre of recipients for the Nobel Peace Prize has puzzled the wider public in recent years. Writing in 2009, Nadia addressed the controversy generated over the award of this prestigious prize to President Barack Obama for example[1]. It is important to revisit the purpose behind the award in order to ascertain whether or not any recipient would be worthy of the award.

Alfred Nobel, in 1895, dedicated a large part of his fortune to the cause of humanity through allowing an award of an impressive sum of money to “the person who shall 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.”[2] Over and beyond the material factor, this award comes attached with global prestige and respect as it encourages the development of human ideals for the benefit of all. Alfred Nobel then intended the award for individuals who have displayed such qualities which can be demonstrated via a myriad actions such as abolition, reduction and active participation in fulfilling an end; mainly that of peace. These are the criteria the committee responsible should be adhering to in their choice of candidates for this prestigious award.

Given this background it becomes critical to ask: is President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, new recipient of the award, worthy? What can one make of her role in the Liberian armed conflict and factors relating to her ascent to political power? Are such actions, among others, relevant to the qualities commended through the Nobel peace prize? It is important to review these factors a little closer. Liberia had implemented a Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) in 2005 to look back at the civil war years between 1979 and 2003.[3] In its 2009 final report, the TRC concluded that President Sirleaf (along with 49 other people) should be banned from public office for a period of 30 years.  Furthermore President Johnson Sirleaf has admitted before the Commission that while she worked for the World Bank in Washington DC, she had provided food, supplies, and financial support to Charles Taylor’s National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL) in the early years of the civil war.[4]

It is difficult to ascertain the extent to which President Johnson Sirleaf is personally responsible or guilty for the chaos in which her country spiraled in for over two decades, but the fact is that she admitted having acted on the behalf of one of the warring factions, and refused to apologize or show remorse before the TRC.  Moreover, it is a blatant dereliction of her duty as the President of Liberia that she has refused to implement the recommendations of the TRC, which should have led her not to seek re-election.  In any case, we that there is enough ground here on which to firmly stand and say that President Sirleaf did not deserve a Nobel Peace Prize.

Finally, The Norwegian Nobel Committee, which awards the Nobel Peace Prize, announced President Sirleaf’s award on October 7, 2011, only four days before the presidential elections in Liberia, in which Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was a contender.  For the Nobel Committee to award the prize to a candidate in national elections only four days before the elections day is, in our opinion, an insult to the democratic process in Liberia.  One cannot ignore the obvious bias this demonstrates towards President Sirleaf, in providing undue advantage to the detriment of a free and fair process. That is a violation of Liberians’ right to a fair election, and we doubt that the Nobel Committee would have done so to a western country. Democratic standards are global and should be preserved in the same manner for countries and contenders irrespective of their geographical location. The Committee has the responsibility of being more sensitive to such issues. Moreover, there is a provision in the will for instances where a worthy candidate cannot be found; with the statutes of the foundation clearly stating: “If none of the works under consideration is found to be of the importance indicated in the first paragraph, the prize money shall be reserved until the following year. If, even then, the prize cannot be awarded, the amount shall be added to the Foundation’s restricted funds.” Not being under any pressure to grant this award, and given the background of the candidate in question, one can only ponder as to the intentions of the Committee in this instance, and the implied new meaning they are giving to Alfred Nobel’s peace prize.






One Response to Alfred Nobel’s Peace Prize: President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf doesn’t deserve it.

  1. A timely article Nadia and Oumar as worryingly wait what will follow Winston Tubman’s pull out from today’s run-off in Liberia.
    Before commenting on Sirleaf, I would like to first express my absolute joy at the recognition of Leymah Gbowee as one of the three women who won this Nobel Prize with Sirleaf. I have been following the efforts of Gbowee in the Liberian peace process, the security sector transformation in Liberia for a little while now. She is most deserving of this recognition. She has not only been instrumental in the reshaping of the Liberian military and ensuring the participation of women in it, she has done the same in neighbouring Sierra Leone. I would highly recommend that you get a copy of the dvd “Pray the devil back to hell” and the rather fit for Hollywood titled memoir “Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War.”
    Now that I have successfully plagued Leymah, let’s get on with Madam Sirleaf :-) My discomfort with her winning the Nobel is less about her support of Charles Taylor to be honest. A part of me believes that Sirleaf at the time was like many Liberians believed that Taylor was a genuine revolutionary at the early stages of what would end up to be one of the most ruthless roads to the presidency. I think her early support of Taylor is in part a reality of the ugliness of war, like many Liberians at home and in the diaspora she was not immune to the charms of Taylor. This is also something that she never denied so the revelations of her support for Taylor in the early years was nothing new from the report. Nevertheless, I think it would have been good for Sirleaf not to run a second term as a show of respect to the investment the country made to the TRC process.

    My bigger discomfort with her the prize and the second run for the presidency is that it entrenches this belief that democratic consolidation depends on particular personalities of which without their leadership they would crumble. In part I think the decision of the Nobel committee is indeed an anxiety about the future of Liberia without her personality which is very problematic. Institutions must be able to out-live particular people, and Sirleaf should have cultivated such a culture since taking over in 2006, so that there is no fear of what happens when she is gone. Will the work be done in 2017 if she wins the run-off today? Probably not. This obsession with personalities has led to allegations of an overpowering presidency in Liberia, where no decision can be made without the input of the president. Such a centralization of power is never healthy for any democracy; as well as accusations of a continued patronage within her governance is part of the bigger issues of Liberia’s young democracy.

    Some have noted that how is it possible that the only African president who was willing to welcome America’s AFRICOM when most African states resisted this outside military is awarded a peace prize? I think the failure of Sirleaf to get 50% in the October ballot is a clear indication of the challenges of postconflict reconstruction and a belief by Liberians that there are other leaders other than her. Despite the economic growth the country has experienced since 2005, unemployment is still high and the fact that Sirleaf is a convert of neo-liberal policies informs me that perhaps the young people of Liberia are fighting a different order that will privilege growth with development. However, the fact that the run-off is seemingly moving along peacefully is a positive indication of the strength of democracy in Liberia. Indeed the decision by the committee of Nobel was a reverence to a very problematic idea that without “favoured” personalities at their helm new democracies will come tumbling down. If Sirleaf loses today (which is a possibility) this is will be a bitter lesson for her and perhaps the Nobel committee that democratic governance by nature is at the hands of the people not ordained individuals.

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