If I may ask, have you ever wondered why awards or prizes are given by organisations from time to time? And why should anybody care about what other people or organizations are doing by giving them certificates, beautiful plaques or even cash in some cases? Award ceremonies are a global phenomenon and awards are usually given to individuals, groups, or institutions for outstanding contributions to the society or humanity.
While individuals and organisations are usually recognized for their efforts at making a difference in society, journalist Osman Benk Sankoh (I call him Benkilism) of Hidden Voices magazine say he has little or no trust in the awards that many groups in Sierra Leone churn out these days. In his view, the awards are usually given to the highest bidder, that is, anybody who can give the best “cold water” to the organizers of the award ceremony to quench their insatiable thirst for largesse.
Going by what Benkilism and many other people believe are crooked deals that go on behind closed doors during award-giving ceremonies by organizers with parochial attitudes, it would be interesting to see what would happen if the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize was annually given out by organizers in Sierra Leone.
A few days ago, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed won this year’s Nobel Prize. Not surprisingly, winning the prestigious award was covered by media outlets around the world as individuals excitedly put fingers to keyboard and posted the breaking news on various social media platforms.
Incidentally, I am writing this piece from the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, where I have been privileged to work for the second time in less than five years. Having worked in Ethiopia before and after the prime minister assumed office, I have witnessed Ethiopia’s rapid transformation vis-à-vis achievements, challenges and opportunities.
Why did Mr Abiy win the Nobel award? Essentially, the 43-year-old prime minister was awarded the prize for his efforts to “achieve peace and international cooperation”. His peace deal with neighbouring Eritrea ended a 20-year military stalemate following their 1998-2000 border war. He was named the winner of the 100th Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, Norway, and come December, he will receive the award worth about USD 900,000. How many people were considered for the award? A total of 301 candidates were nominated, including 223 individuals and 78 organisations.
After becoming prime minister in April 2018, Mr Abiy freed thousands of opposition activists from jail and allowed exiled dissidents to return home. He has also appointed several women to prominent positions and introduced massive liberalising reforms.
“The prize is also meant to recognise all the stakeholders working for peace and reconciliation in Ethiopia and in the East and Northeast African regions,” the Norwegian Nobel Committee said. “Peace does not arise from the actions of one party alone. When Prime Minister Abiy reached out his hand, President Afwerki grasped it, and helped to formalise the peace process between the two countries. The Norwegian Nobel Committee hopes the peace agreement will help to bring about positive change for the entire populations of Ethiopia and Eritrea.”
Mr Abiy – the youngest head of government in Africa – has also been involved in peace processes in other African countries, including helping to broker an agreement between Sudan’s military leaders and civilian opposition after several months of protests.
The prime minister has been consistently championing the ideals of unity, cooperation and mutual coexistence. Was he doing what he has been doing to win awards? Of course not. His interest has been to bring peace to the Horn of Africa region, from Sudan to Somalia and Djibouti, all of which at some time have had border disputes.
Everybody has described Mr Abiy as a “deserving winner”. Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo said the award was “a reminder to us all that peace is one of the most critical ingredients needed to make Africa successful”.
Returning to Sierra Leone, perhaps it is about time we organized awards that truly reflect our realities such as the Best Corrupt Institution award in the country. And the candidates are – the National Revenue Authority; the Sierra Leone Police; Sierra Leone Telecommunications etc…and the winner is…? Next category. The Most Corrupt Ministry Award. The candidates are: the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Energy etc. And the winner is…?
Jokes apart, awards are meant to recognize the efforts of people and organisations to make a better world and not gimmicks that make mockery of our terrible man-made poverty. It is usually sickening when the same people who cry down a rotten system become the same people who resist change or give awards to rogues. Tell me, how are we ever going to experience sustainable peace and have efficient services if all we know is to loot at the slightest opportunity or organise fraudulent awards ceremonies and give misfits or looters prizes?
Mr Abiy said he was “humbled and thrilled” to win the award. Listen to what he said on the phone with the secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee. “Thank you very much. It is a prize given to Africa, given to Ethiopia and I can imagine how the rest of Africa’s leaders will take it positively to work on the peace-building process on our continent”.
With no shortage of very old leaders on the African continent, including dictators, I doff my hat to the prime minister for a job well done even as the world will now have all eyes on him. Congratulations, Mr Abiy!
About the author: Sulaiman Momodu is a former editor of Concord Times newspaper. He is currently based in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.