It’s October. The month with days that mark United Nations Day, World Mental Health Day, and International Day of Non-Violence, to name a few. It is also the time when the prestigious Nobel Prizes are announced.
Businessman and entrepreneur Alfred Nobel who established the prizes in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature, and peace, stated that it be awarded to “those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind.” Other than during the two World Wars, the Nobel committee has been doing his bidding since 1901.
In its 120 year history, the Nobel Prizes have created an impressive list of Who’s Who in their respective fields. Naturally, there have been many hits and misses, some more glaring than the others, especially when it comes to the Nobel Peace Prize.
For instance, the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi, 2nd October, is observed as the International Day of Non-Violence. He was the leader of the Indian independence movement and the man who pioneered the philosophy and strategy of non-violence in the struggle against an oppressor. Yet, the man who showed the world the path and process of peaceful agitation and practiced ‘ahimsa,’ the path of non-violence, is “the missing laureate” according to the official website of the Nobel Prize. While it is argued that Gandhi was not conferred the honor because he was assassinated before the Prize could be announced, it does not hold much water.
The Nobel Committee actions have confounded many, time and again. They conferred Mikhail Gorbachev, the President of the former USSR, with the Peace Prize for ending the Cold War, while ignoring the other half of the process, the U.S. President Ronald Reagan.
In 2007, Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and former U.S. Vice President Al Gore “for their efforts to obtain and disseminate information about the climate challenge.” While climate change is a hot topic, one must wonder how disseminating information about the topic promoted world peace.
The Nobel Committee has been critiqued for its biases and optimism frequently. For decades, the Prizes were conferred only on Americans and Europeans. In 1960, the Nobel recognized an African, and then, more than a decade later, an Asian was honored with the Prize.
Many of the Peace Prizes were awarded in the expectation that a (peace) agreement would bear fruit and not on the actual results. Recent recipient Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia comes to mind. The Committee also jumped the gun in the case of President Obama, who was announced the winner days after taking office. Many termed it “wishful.” Prophetically, Obama spent his entire two terms as President overseeing wars in Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and Pakistan.
As hoped, many of the Laureates do not uphold the spirit of the Prize. Many Peace Prize recipients have chequered pasts denying massacres, involvement in horrible wars, and questionable views on world peace to begin with.
In his will, Alfred Nobel’s stipulated that the Nobel Peace Prize go to “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.” The spirit of the Prize is as valid today as it was more than a century ago. The onus lies in finding a deserving candidate.