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. 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.” 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. 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.
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.