The ten Africans and three African-Americans who have won the Nobel Peace Prize comprise a complex group of peace leaders, said Adekeye Adebajo, Executive Director of Centre for Conflict Resolution, on March 25th. He spoke as part of a panel at the International Peace Institute’s launch of Africa’s Peacemakers, Nobel Laureates of African Descent, edited by Mr. Adebajo.
A collection of essays that examine all thirteen Nobel Peace Prize laureates of African descent, the book was coauthored by leading African and African-American scholars.
“‘It may be through the negroes that the unadulterated message of nonviolence will be delivered to the world,'” the editor quoted Mahatma Gandhi to begin the event. Mr. Gandhi was the most deserving Nobel peace laureate not to have won the prize, he said. Gandhi nevertheless inspired at least eight of the peace leaders chronicled in the book, he argued.
Part of the drive behind the volume was to bridge the gap between modern peace movements and civil rights’ and anti-apartheid struggles of the past, noted Mr. Adebajo. Currently, there’s a “poverty of leadership” not just in Africa but elsewhere, he said. “These are pygmies that you see around the world; all the giants are gone.”
However, the book is much more than a celebration of Africa’s peacemakers, said John Hirsch, IPI Senior Advisor and moderator of the event. The book is also a critique of the Nobel Prize itself, which is “effectively chosen by five Norwegians,” he explained. It poses the question of whether “aspirational rhetoric as distinct from concrete accomplishment merits the award of the Nobel Peace Prize,” he added.
Pearl Robinson, Associate Professor at Tufts University, noted that US President Barack Obama won the prize less than a year into his first term, while the US was actively involved in wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. She added that although President Obama, as the leader of a global superpower, is in a unique position to affect lasting change, he is also limited by the contours of his presidential responsibilities.
“We are left with the portrait of a president who is a situational peace activist, both empowered and constrained by his relationship to the state,” she said.
Another factor that complicates President Obama’s stature as a peacemaker, Mr. Adebajo contended, is the fact that he came to power concurrent with the rise of drone warfare. While the President’s predecessor employed some 50 drone strikes in eight years, he explained, Obama had ordered more than 300 in half the time.
“He often resembles at least to me a tragic Macbethian figure, unable to wipe the blood of his victims off his permanently stained hands,” he said.
It’s important to note that none of Obama’s twelve fellow laureates were in a powerful enough position to be able to “secure world peace,” said Mr. Adebajo. “The young ‘afro-Saxon’ president of the most powerful nation on earth is the first Nobel peace laureate of African descent who has a chance to leave an indelible mark on global peace and security.”
There is a great need for peace movements both internationally and in the United States, said Lee Daniels, an independent journalist who wrote a chapter in the book about Martin Luther King Jr. “But at least so far,” he added, “it’s always out of the turbulent periods that progress comes.”