The world woke up Friday to the stunning news that President Barack Obama had won the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009, beating over two hundred other nominees for the religiously coveted medal. As much a surprise as it was, the decision to award “the highest honor in the world” to America’s freshman president less than nine months into his presidency was also lauded by many — creating a heated and interesting debate that has claimed acres of space in newspapers and kept the heat running in the realms of the blogosphere.
Even the activity on “status updates” by my Facebook “friends,” particularly those here at Brown, has largely been dominated by varied responses to Obama’s “premature” Nobel triumph — a trend reminiscent of the enormous outpouring of grief, admiration and eulogies on social networking sites that followed the June 25 death of the king of pop, Michael Jackson.
Obama landed the $1.4 million prize ahead of the race’s three strong favorites — Colombian Senator Piedad Cordoba, Chinese dissident Hu Jia and quite notably, Zimbabwean opposition hero and now Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
From the deafening buzz surrounding this controversial choice by the Norwegian Nobel Committee came some familiar voices. Previous Nobel laureate and American statesman Al Gore is one of them: “I think it is thrilling that the Nobel Peace Prize Committee recognizes early contributions made to world peace by President Barack Obama. Much of what he has accomplished already is going to be far more appreciated in the eyes of history, as it has been by the Nobel Committee.”
Oh please. Give me a freakin’ break.
What contributions to world peace has President Obama made that warrant him to stand on the same perch as Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King, President Roosevelt and many other worthy Nobel laureates? Even he acknowledged this.
Have Obama’s efforts significantly changed the global mood for cooperation and a quest for peaceful resolutions to world crises, particularly nuclear non-proliferation and hostile nations? Yes. Has Obama initiated an important journey towards a better perception for America across the world, and to undo some ills of the previous (Bushian) foreign policy? Yes. Has Obama been a largely positive, inspirational and hard-working President, keen on reviving America’s flagging economy and her waning image abroad since taking office? Yes.
Does Obama deserve his Nobel Peace Prize? No!
Since when did people get awarded for aspirations and rhetoric, or for simply not being other people? Since when do Brown professors give final grades to students for “extraordinary promise in mastering and excelling in a course”? Since when do the Oscars go to the director who can potentially make a good film this year, especially when there are a few great movies already made?
As an African township boy, I took Obama’s Nobel success with a personal dimension, as it denied a similar triumph for a bold and courageous countryman whose sacrifice has been a beacon of hope in the storied struggle for democracy in my country and across the African continent.
Zimbabwe’s Morgan Tsvangirai, famous across the world for his fight for democracy and peace in his country for the last decade, was the African hope for the medal this year, and widely touted to take the podium in Oslo this November. Pitted for a decade against one of the most repressive dictators in the world, Robert Mugabe, Tsvangirai has been jailed, tried for treason, tortured and robbed of an election victory by his geriatric opponent.
Tsvangirai was denied the presidency by Mugabe in March 2008 despite winning the presidential poll — and even when Mugabe embarked on a vengeful retribution offensive against opposition supporters, which claimed scores of lives, Tsvangirai espoused peace and cooperation. A September 2008 agreement with Mugabe culminated in the (power-sharing) Government of National Unity, which has significantly stabilized the country and set it on a path to economic recovery.
In risking his own life for his country, Tsvangirai has slowly established himself as the face of an emerging brand of 21st-century African leaders who value peace and democracy more than personal power, recognition and wealth. His humility in agreeing to share power with an unpopular, failed and rejected regime for the sake of the Zimbabwean people eased a tense political situation that by now would have had an exponentially increasing pool of human casualties. Already, thousands of Zimbabweans had perished in politically sponsored violence in the country since 1999.
Although I have a lot of respect and admiration for America’s iconic president, and know positively that one day he will deserve a Nobel Peace Prize, I am of the humble opinion that a few other people deserved it more than he this year. Chief among these, Zimbabwean Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai.
Dominic Mhiripiri ’12 is an Applied Math/Economics concentrator from Chitungwiza, Zimbabwe. He can be reached at dominic_mhiripiri-at-brown.edu