The Nobel Peace Prize has long been a nonsense and has been accused of being a kind of tool of Norwegian foreign policy. Who can forget the farcical scenes as Barack Obama was awarded the prize (about which Martin Luther King would have had a few things to say) or that it was once awarded to Henry Kissinger, or that Mahatma Gandhi never received it? However this year’s choices are fortunately not mass-murderers or charlatans and far more deserving of recognition.
Tawakul Karman, from the Yemen, is a worthy choice – she is the Chairwoman of Women Journalists Without Chains, an organization that defends human rights and freedom of expression, including the freedom to protest and who has herself been jailed by the Yemeni authorities on many occasons.
Leymah Gbowee from Liberia played a very major role in bringing the 2003 civil war to an end, effectively mobilising women to put an end to the conflict. She is the executive director of the Women Peace and Security Network Africa, based in Ghana which acts to build relationships across the West African sub-region in support of women’s capacity to prevent, avert, and end conflicts. She is a founding member and former coordinator of the Women in Peacebuilding Program/West African Network for Peacebuilding (WIPNET/WANEP).
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the Liberian President, is a controversial choice as her background includes requesting Liberia to be used as the headquarters for the United States African Command (AFRICOM) and accepting millions in military aid from the USA, as reported by PANA:
Liberian authorities have requested the United States to make Liberia the headquarters of its new African Command, as Defence officials of both countries signed an agreement to exchange logistical support and military supplies and services here on Wednesday.
Defence Minister Brownie Samukai and the Deputy Commander of the US European Command, General William Ward, signed the agreement at the Defence Ministry in Monrovia Wednesday.
Recently the US government decided to establish an African Command.
Samukai thanked the American government for its security assistance to Liberia, which include the on-going training of soldiers for the new Liberian army by the United States, and support to the country’s security sector reform programme.
The US has said it would commit some US$200 million to reform Liberia’s security sector, including the training and equipping of a 2,000-strong new Armed Forces of Liberia.
US General Ward described the latest agreement with Liberia as a “foundation for future assistance”. 19 April 2007 – PANA
As it turns out, of course, AFRICOM is still located at Kelley Barracks in Stuttgart-Moehringen, Germany and there are no plans to move it to Monrovia. Most African nations do not believe having American troops on their doorstep would be a positive development for peace on the continent. The security assistance programme has however proceeded and has recently been calculated at $285 million.
Also interesting is that the Liberia Truth and Reconciliation Commission (for whom Leyman Gbowee served as the commissioner-designate) has called for Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to be banned from office, according to Time magazine:
In its final report, released yesterday, Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), a body modeled on South Africa’s historic truth commission, says Johnson Sirleaf should be banned from government for 30 years for her early support of former Liberian President Charles Taylor. Taylor, who played a central role in Liberia’s conflict, is on trial in the Hague for crimes against humanity that stem from his part in the civil war in neighboring Sierra Leone.
The Commission’s 370-page report collected more than 20,000 statements and took three years and several million dollars to complete. It investigates the causes and consequences of Liberia’s conflict, a war that displaced a third of the people in the small West African country, left a quarter of a million dead, and countless more raped, disabled, and traumatized. Johnson Sirleaf is among 50 people the Commission recommends should not be allowed to hold public office.