On December 10, 2019, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali took to the stage in the lobby of Oslo Prefecture, Norway, to receive the world’s most coveted award (with the possible exception of d ‘Oscar).
“I receive this award on behalf of Africans and citizens of the world, for whom the dream of peace has often become the nightmare of war,” he said, thanking the Nobel Peace Prize for his role in the end of the war against neighboring Eritrea.
Less than a year later, in November 2020, Ali started another nightmare of war in his country by ordering an attack on rebels in the Northern Tigris region. The conflict, one of the most important on the African continent, has already caused more than 2 million people displaced and an uncertain number of deaths, by the thousands.
For the Nobel Peace Committee, this was just another awkward moment in recent years.
The organizers of the award were still in contact with the international activist movement calling for the cancellation of the award given to Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi in 1991.
The reason was her silence on the massacres perpetrated by the government against which she was working against the Rohingya ethnic group, a Muslim minority living in the west of the country. Trapped since a military coup in early February, Suu Kyi, in prison, could perhaps regain some of his lost prestige.
The sequence of events drew strong criticism of the Nobel selection criteria, an award that confers great moral prestige. “For the Nobel Committee, there is a lesson: when in doubt, wait,” wrote the British newspaper Financial Times, commenting on the Ethiopian case.
Controversies are not unrelated to the Nobel Peace Prize, created in 1901 after the will of the Swedish Alfred Nobel. But the past few years have not been easy.
In 2009, the selection committee had already been torpedoed for having chosen, during his first year in office, and without great achievements, the President of the United States, Barack Obama. He will admit himself later that he did not know the reason for which it was awarded.
“Looking back, it is very clear that the price for Abiy Ahmed was premature. He is an autocratic leader in a country with multiple armed conflicts, it was obviously a high risk prize, ”explains Henrik Urdal, director of the Oslo Peace Research Institute, which closely follows the Nobel Prize. .
Was this a mistake then? Not necessarily, says Urdal. Boldness, after all, is part of the Nobel proposition. “The idea behind awards like these is to give a little push to support positive events, but in this case it hasn’t been a success, at least so far,” he says. .
A conservative prize, he argues, awarded only to less influential and less controversial figures, could take some of the Nobel’s luster away. “The price would become something very irrelevant,” he said.
Author of “Peace, The Say” (Peace, They Say), a book on the history of the Nobel Prize, American journalist Jay Nordlinger says that many people have the wrong idea of what the prize is.
“The prize is awarded for work done in the previous year. It’s not due to the winner’s work, ”he says.
Thus, the Nobel Committee understood that the Ethiopian Prime Minister deserved to win for his specific work on the peace agreement with Eritrea, although Nordlinger admits that this has turned out to be somewhat embarrassing.
“It’s not always that you have a Mother Teresa from Calcutta,” he said, referring to the nun who received the award in 1979 and was later canonized. In other words, the image that winners are holy on Earth is wrong.
“Most of the time, peace is a political arena. Often the people who win are involved in governments, dealing with issues of war and peace, ”he says.
In recent decades, there have been scratches like the Nobel. The award given to former US Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in 1973 for his efforts to end the Vietnam War is often cited as one of the worst choices ever made.
Not only did the war continue for another two years, but Kissinger ended up shaking its reputation for supporting repressive regimes around the world.
Another example of a controversial award came in 1994 to Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. A former leader of a terrorist organization, he received the Oslo accords with Israel the year before, which ultimately failed to bring peace to the region.
Nordlinger defends the decision to present the award to Arafat and to Israeli leaders Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin. “The agreements turned gray, but the prize was awarded for the effort,” he says.
The process of choosing the Nobel Prize is long. Nominations must be made before January 31 of the year of the award, and only specific categories of people can submit them: among them, members of parliament and national governments, university professors in the fields of the humanities and the winners of previous years.
On average, around 300 appointments are made each year, but their names are not published until 50 years later.
After months of meetings, the list is reduced to about thirty, which will go through the final sieve of the Nobel committee.
The body is made up of five people elected by the Norwegian Parliament, usually specialists in international issues. Members have a six-year term, with the right to be re-elected. The announcement takes place in early October, and the reasons given for the choice are usually summarized in one paragraph, without too much detail.
The troubled mechanism and the selection criteria have their criticisms. One of them is Norwegian law professor Fredrik Heffermehl, who has the website The Nobel Peace Prize Watch.
He says the award should go to international peace activists, not heads of state.
This was the original goal of the Nobel, he says, which would have been distorted in the following years. “The objective was to promote international cooperation so that we have a world without weapons. But the Nobel was corrupt, ”he says.
Hence, according to him, the annoyance of giving the Nobel Peace Prize to people who subsequently turned out to be far removed from this ideal.
Folha contacted the Nobel Committee and sent in questions, but there was no response.
Over time, the Nobel has changed its criteria from an award focused on disarmament to one that takes into account human rights activism and, more recently, social issues such as the environment. and education.
Heffermehl wrinkles his nose at these innovations, giving the example of the prize awarded to Pakistani Malala Yousafzai in 2014.
“She could have won by opposing the militarization of the region where she lived, the Swat Valley, but she won by defending the education of women. No one is against education, but it’s something very far from what Nobel had in mind, ”he says.
Last year, the price avoided controversy with a seemingly “safe” choice, the National Food Program. But it’s hard to imagine that the option for the Ethiopian prime minister who preached peace and waged war was the latest controversy over the Nobel Peace Prize.
How to make a Nobel
Nominations can be made by members of national parliaments, government ministers, university professors in the humanities, former laureates and other categories.
Deadline January 31 of the year of the award
Secret names of nominees who haven’t won aren’t released until 50 years later
Selection After preliminary discussion, the list, generally of around 300 names, is reduced to 20 to 30; the remains are examined by experts
Who decides on the Nobel Committee, composed of five members appointed by the Norwegian Parliament, for a period of six years, with the right of re-election
Announcement The final decision is taken at the last meeting before the prize announcement, in early October; Most decisions are taken unanimously, but there have been cases of committee votes
Henry Kissinger (1973)
The US Secretary of State won for his efforts to end the Vietnam War; his support for Latin American dictatorships, however, sparked protests
Aung San Suu Kyi (1991)
Burmese opposition leader later criticized for complicity in massacre of Rohingya minority
Yasser Arafat (1994)
Former Palestinian leader responsible for terrorist attacks wins under Oslo Accord
Barack Obama (2009)
The award given to the President of the United States was considered premature, even by him
Abiy Ahmed (2019)
The Ethiopian prime minister was supposed to end the war with Eritrea, but soon after began another confrontation in the north of the country.