And how was an icon of peace, Mahatma Gandhi, denied this prestigious recognition, Benedict Lopez writes.
In line with Alfred Nobel’s will, the Nobel Peace Prize shall be awarded to the person who in the preceding year “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”.
Over the years, the award has also been extended to organisations.
Awarding prizes for chemistry and physics was to be expected as Nobel was a chemical engineer by training.
The prize for physiology or medicine is bestowed for unearthing something of importance in the life sciences or medicine, while the economics prize is for exceptional contributions in economics and the social sciences.
The literature award is for an individual who has contributed exceptional, unwavering work that gives an utmost advantage to humanity.
But Nobel, who died in 1896, left no justification for the peace prize. Many find it ironic that the inventor of dynamite and ballistite, both used violently during his lifetime, would want to dedicate an award for peace. The Nobel laureate receives a diploma, a medal and a document confirming the prize amount, nine million Swedish krona (RM4.3m).
Only the Nobel Peace Prize is awarded by the Norwegian Nobel Committee, who select the laureates. A nomination may be submitted by anyone qualified to nominate.
Alfred Nobel never explained why the peace prize would be awarded by a Norwegian committee while the other four prizes were to be handled by Swedish committees. These four awards have generated little controversy despite overlooking many eminent and well-known personalities.
Only the Nobel committee, for reasons best known to them, are privy to the basis of their choice for the peace award. Some commendable choices were made in awarding the Noble Peace Prize to the United Nations children’s agency, Unicef (1954), Martin Luther King Jr (1964), Mother Teresa (1979), the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR (1954 and 1981), the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) and Jody Williams (1997), Doctors Without Borders (1999), Kim Dae-jung (2000), the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) (2013) and the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (Ican) (2017).
The peace award in 2009, however, sparked huge controversy. The recipient: then-US President Barack Hussein Obama for “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples”. It was a disgrace to present an award to someone who had only been in office for less than a year.
I visited the Nobel Museum in Stockholm a few times and the Nobel Peace Centre in Oslo once. Both museums are worth visiting if you are touring Stockholm and Oslo. On a visit to the museum in Stockholm together with other tourists, a tour guide took us to all the various sections and briefed us on the rationale and justification for each award.
On reaching the section for peace, I asked the guide on what basis the prize was awarded to Obama and what his contribution to world or regional peace was. I also enquired how an icon of peace like Mahatma Gandhi was denied this prestigious recognition.
The guide was dumbfounded and gave me an evasive reply. But the other tourists applauded me for my questions.
Still, this year’s recipient, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) is an excellent choice as the agency faces a herculean task. David Beasley, who heads the WFP, noted the number of people facing starvation could double next year to 270 million, if the agency was unable to raise enough money to cope with the crisis.
“2021 is going to be literally catastrophic,” Beasley said on 9 October, the same day as the announcement of the award in Oslo. “We literally will be facing famines of biblical proportions; but we can avert famine if we get the money we need.”
The WFP needs $5bn (RM20bn) more than its usual requirements to prevent 30 million people from dying in what Beasley described as “the worst humanitarian crisis since World War Two”. He admitted the prize would be an important podium for fundraising and called on magnates around the world to contribute to the agency.
The award this year is testament to the conscientiousness work of the WFP’s 17,000 staff and the risks they face every day in many parts of the world.