Many names were put forward for this year’s Nobel peace prize. Angela Merkel was in the running and many were tipping Pope Francis to win. He’s after all the man who thawed the frozen relationship between Cuba and the United States in recent months. In the end, it is the Tunisian national dialogue quartet, a group nobody except for a few initiated, had heard of, who won it.
Upon winning, Mokhtar Trifi from the quartet and honorary president of the Tunisian Human Rights League said, “This is extraordinary news. It’s a clear encouragement for the wider process in Tunisia, and for all the work and dialogue that went into the move to elections and democracy.” He went on to add, “We have much more to accomplish and are facing new challenges. We have to save our country from terrorism and from economic crisis.” A job they are already doing despite some teething problems. Nonetheless, Tunisia has managed to stay stable in the wake of the Arab spring; something that can’t be said for neighbouring countries like Libya or Egypt.
This is not the first time Africans have won the Nobel prize, which was established in 1895 for 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.” In 2011, the Liberian president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee won it for “their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.” Wangari Maathai, the Kenyan environmental activist was the first African woman to win the prize in 2004.
The prize or its recipients haven’t always been free from controversy. The United Nations Peacekeeping Forces, which won it in 1988, have come under heavy criticism in recent years. in 1996 , in the Impact of Armed Conflict on Children report, Graca Machel wrote, “in 6 out of 12 country studies on sexual exploitation of children in situations of armed conflict prepared for the present report, the arrival of peace-keeping troops has been associated with a rapid rise in child prostitution.”
Another African whose win caused some controversy, at least in some circles, was that of President Nelson Mandela. Many black South Africans felt that forgiveness was imposed on them without their hurts being taken into account. As the South African writer Thando Mgqolozana succinctly put it when he criticised the whiteness of the Franschhoek Literary Festival which he was attending this year, and that of the South African society at large, “we need to be angry at Nelson Mandela. I don’t think black people are angry enough at Nelson Mandela.”
Goes to show that winning the Nobel Prize doesn’t make everything alright. Still, as Anouar Moalla, the spokesman for Tunisia’s Pioneering Truth and Dignity Commission said, “The Nobel announcement gives us a lot of hope.” And hope is a necessary ingredient in peace seeking and peace building.