Nobel Peace Prize Winners - Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, women's rights activist Leymah Gbowee from the same African countr and democracy activist Tawakkul Karman of Yemen — the first Arab woman to win the prize
Africa's first democratically elected female president, a Liberian campaigner against rape and a woman who stood up to Yemen's autocratic regime won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday in recognition of the importance of women's rights in the spread of global peace.
The 10 million kronor ($1.5 million) award was split three ways between Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, women's rights activist Leymah Gbowee from the same African country and democracy activist Tawakkul Karman of Yemen — the first Arab woman to win the prize.
The chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee told The Associated Press that Karman's award should be seen as a signal that both women and Islam have important roles to play in the uprisings known as the Arab Spring, the wave of anti-authoritarian revolts that have challenged rulers across the Arab world.
"The Arab Spring cannot be successful without including the women in it," Jagland said.
Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
He said Karman, 32, belongs to a Muslim movement with links to the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group "which in the West is perceived as a threat to democracy." He added that "I don't believe that. There are many signals that that kind of movement can be an important part of the solution."
Yemen is an extremely conservative society but a feature of the revolt there has been a prominent role for women who turned out for protests in large numbers. The uprising has, however, been one of the least successful, failing to unseat President Ali Abdullah Saleh as the country descends into failed state status and armed groups take increasingly central roles. In Libya's and Syria's uprisings, women have been largely absent. And while there were many women protesters in Egypt's revolution, few had key leadership positions.
Karman is a mother of three who heads the human rights group Women Journalists without Chains. She has been a leading figure in organizing the protests against Saleh that kicked off in late January. "I am very very happy about this prize," Karman told The Associated Press. "I give the prize to the youth of revolution in Yemen and the Yemeni people." Citing the Arab Spring alone could have been problematic for the committee. Libya descended into civil war that led to NATO military intervention. Egypt and Tunisia are still in turmoil. Hardliners are holding onto power in Yemen and Syria and a Saudi-led force crushed the uprising in Bahrain, leaving an uncertain record for the Arab protest movement.
Jagland told AP it was difficult to find a leader of the Arab Spring revolts, especially among the many bloggers who played a role in energizing the protests, and noted that Karman's work started before the Arab uprisings. "It was not easy for us to say to pick one from Egypt or pick one from Tunisia, because there were so many," he said. "And we did not want to say that one was more important than the others." Karman "started her activism long before the revolution took place in Tunisia and Egypt. She has been a very courageous woman in Yemen for quite along time," Jagland said. No woman had won the prize since 2004, when the committee honored Wangari Maathai of Kenya, who died last month at 71. 2004 was also the last year the prize went to an African.
Liberia was ravaged by civil wars for years until 2003. The drawn-out conflict that began in 1989 left about 200,000 people dead and displaced half the country's population of 3 million. The country — created to settle freed American slaves in 1847 — is still struggling to maintain a fragile peace with the help of U.N. peacekeepers. Sirleaf, 72, has a master's degree in public administration from Harvard University and has held top regional jobs at the World Bank, the United Nations and within the Liberian government.
In elections in 1997, she ran second to warlord-turned-president Charles Taylor, who many claimed was voted into power by a fearful electorate. Though she lost by a landslide, she rose to national prominence and earned the nickname, "Iron Lady." She went on to became Africa's first democratically elected female leader in 2005. Sirleaf was seen as a reformer and peacemaker in Liberia when she took office. She is running for re-election this month and opponents in the presidential campaign have accused her of buying votes and using government funds to campaign. Her camp denies the charges. The election is Tuesday.
"This gives me a stronger commitment to work for reconciliation," Sirleaf said Friday from her home in Monrovia. "Liberians should be proud." Buttons from her presidential campaign say it all: "Ellen — She's Our Man." Jagland said the committee didn't consider the upcoming election in Liberia when it made its decision.
"We cannot look to that domestic consideration," he said. "We have to look at Alfred Nobel's will, which says that the prize should go to the person that has done the most for peace in the world." African and international luminaries welcomed the news. Many had gathered in Cape Town, South Africa on Friday to celebrate Nobel peace laureate Archbishop Desmond Tutu's 80th birthday.
"Who? Johnson Sirleaf? The president of Liberia? Oooh," said Tutu, who won the peace prize in 1984 for his nonviolent campaign against white racist rule in South Africa. "She deserves it many times over. She's brought stability to a place that was going to hell." U2 frontman Bono — who has figured in peace prize speculation in previous years — called Sirlaf an "extraordinary woman, a force of nature and now she has the world recognize her in this great, great, great way."
Gbowee, who organized a group of Christian and Muslim women to challenge Liberia's warlords, was honored for mobilizing women "across ethnic and religious dividing lines to bring an end to the long war in Liberia, and to ensure women's participation in elections." Gbowee has long campaigned for the rights of women and against rape. In 2003, she led hundreds of female protesters through Monrovia to demand swift disarmament of fighters who preyed on women throughout Liberia during 14 years of near-constant civil war. Gbowee works in Ghana's capital as the director of Women Peace and Security Network Africa. The group's website says she is a mother of five.
"I know Leymah to be a warrior daring to enter where others would not dare," said Gbowee's assistant, Bertha Amanor. "So fair and straight, and a very nice person." Karman is from Taiz, a city in southern Yemen that is a hotbed of resistance against Saleh's regime, and now lives in the capital, Sanaa. She is a journalist and member of Islah, an Islamic party. Her father is a former legal affairs minister under Saleh.
Long an advocate for human rights and freedom of expression in Yemen, she has been campaigning for Saleh's ouster since 2006 and mounted an initiative to organize Yemeni youth groups and opposition into a national council. On Jan. 23, Karman was arrested at her home. After widespread protests against her detention — it is rare for Yemen women to be taken to jail — she was released early the next day. Karman has been dubbed "Iron Woman, "The Mother of Revolution" and "The Spirit of the Yemeni Revolution" by fellow protesters. During a February rally in Sanaa, she told the AP: "We will retain the dignity of the people and their rights by bringing down the regime."
The peace prize was in line with Norway's development aid strategy, which is often focused on women's rights. Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg called the award "important and worthy." In his 1895 will, award creator Alfred Nobel gave only vague guidelines for the peace prize, saying it should honor "work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses." The peace prize is the only Nobel handed out in Oslo, Norway. The other five awards — in medicine, physics, chemistry, literature and economics — are presented in Stockholm. Last year's peace prize went to imprisoned Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo.
Krista Larson in Johannesburg, Robert Reid and Sarah El-Deeb in Cairo, Jonathan Paye-Layleh in Monrovia, Liberia and Ahmed Al-Haj in Sanaa, Yemen, contributed.
Achebe and Nobel Prize
Whenever you have time to visit Nobel Prize website, do click to page for Nobel prize winners for literature. You come to notice that of all the important literature of 20th century and emerging 21st century winners of the prize; that the greatest literature of all time that elucidated and clarified the position of Africans on meeting of the West and Africa is missing. The book is Chinua Achebe's "Things Fall Apart" which is based on the crash of civilizations. To say that "Things Fall Apart" is just a literature is a sophomoric understatement. The book is a historical analogy and the psychoanalogy of the antecedent and contemporary Africans as they struggle to confront the history, encroachment and interference of an outside culture that left an undeniable and indelible mark on the body, soul and psyche of the African. The meeting brought mixed basket of modernity, exploitation, slavery, colonialism and Christianity - a total transformation of Africa.
The ramification and the osmosis of the great meeting of the cultures is exactly the picture our Honorable Achebe captured and portrayed vividly in "Things Fall Apart". The book is bigger than a great story and history because it becomes the first attempt by an African to define what it means to be an African within the context of the introduction of the Western culture without undermining African sense and sensibility. Africa from the prism of history is the great loser but the complete ramification have not fully emerged. It will take centuries to say for sure what the great crashed of civilizations meant to the both parties. The great loser of today might tomorrow inherit the mundane earth.
Let's deal with this without mincing words. Why did the Nobel Award committee deny Chinua Achebe the literature prize? Simple and direct: They are afraid of the truth, the intellectual honesty that the committee is devoted to pursue and propagate have eluded them because the acceptance of the truth and reality comes with a cost and reparation. Reparation and acknowledgment of the truth does not necessarily have to be material or monetary gain but it can come as way of intellectual reparation and the readjustment of the status quo from intellectual guilt. The intellectual gatekeepers of the Nobel committee might see the acknowledgment of this reality abounded by "Things Fall Apart" as making them vulnerable to those that desire to be atone for the past mistakes and injustices.
Nobel Prize committee has given every Tom, Dick and Harry from all the corners of our globe literature prize. But when they come to Honorable Chinua Achebe they skipped him because "Things Fall Apart" is not your father's literature, for it is a missive of rugged individualism, pride, heart break and mistreatment written by an African to the world that oppressed them and dislodged them from their humanity.
THE COLD WAR
What is this cold war between these two institutions - Achebe and Nobel? First and foremost Chinua Achebe is an institution, he might be one man but he represents a side of Africa that dare to speak, seek, pursue and ask question that must be asked. So ask he did and when two titans meet for a wrestling match the ground quivers. Chinua Achebe is bigger than Nobel prize because the question or the quest for liberty he tendered cannot be satiated with a Nobel prize. The committee of Nobel prize comprehended that the only way they chose to answer Things Fall Apart‘s question is with mute. For if they award the prize they have accepted the argument of the book. If they deny it with a loud voice then they have acknowledged their vulnerability and insecurity.
The inactive observers who have not comprehend this delicate game of chicken and hen, fail to appreciate the brewing and continuous cold war: Since Honorable Chinua Achebe refused to apologize for the book instead he challenged another great western writer the Conrad's Heart of Darkness dehumanization of Africans. In the paper "An Image of Africa: Racism in Conrad's 'Heart of Darkness'" he presented at University of Massachusetts in 1977. He reiterated and rebutted the content of the book with clarity and intellectual vim:
"Heart of Darkness projects the image of Africa as "the other world," the antithesis of Europe and therefore of civili zation, a place where man's vaunted intelligence and refine ment are finally mocked by triumphant bestiality. The book opens on the River Thames, tranquil, resting peacefully "at the decline of day after ages of good service done to the race that peopled its banks."2 But the actual story will take place on the River Congo, the very antithesis of the Thames. The River Congo is quite decidedly not a River Emeritus. It has rendered no service and enjoys no old-age pension. We are told that "going up that river was like travelling back to the earliest beginning of the world." Is Conrad saying then that these two rivers are very differ ent, one good, the other bad? Yes, but that is not the real point. It is not the differentness that worries Conrad but the lurking hint of kinship, of common ancestry. For the Thames too "has been one of the dark places of the earth." It conquered its darkness, of course, and is now in daylight and at peace. But if it were to visit its primordial relative, the Congo, it would run the terrible risk of hearing grotesque echoes of its own forgotten darkness, and falling victim to an avenging recrudescence of the mindless frenzy of the first beginnings."
The Nobel Prize Committee and its intellectual hamlet have not forgiven Chinua Achebe for equating his book as the antithesis of Conrad's Heart of darkness. Those that witnessed the event and others misunderstood "Things Fall Apart" and Chinua Achebe - for all he was exposing were the sins of Heart of Darkness which makes the book fundamentally flawed from African perspective. These ivory tower intellectuals that claimed paragon of excellence have cultivated a mindset that negate anything African and absolutely diverged from the African point of view.
THE GREAT ACHEBE
"Men become might not by what they achieved but for the task they set for themselves"
- Henry Kissinger
What really made Hon. Chinua Achebe the greatest writer of our time is not just about writing one of the most significant book of all time but for the task he set for himself and his people. The great task was to tell the world that in spite of the tribulations and destruction of the African body that the spirit - the African spirit is still vibrant and very much alive. If the thesis of "Things Fall Apart" can be summon and summarize in one line: Africa is living.
Emeka Chiakwelu is the Principal Policy Strategist at Afripol Organization. Africa Political and Economic Strategic Center (Afripol) is foremost a public policy center whose fundamental objective is to broaden the parameters of public policy debates in Africa. To advocate, promote and encourage free enterprise, democracy, sustainable green environment, human rights, conflict resolutions, transparency and probity in Africa.