Liberia, Nobel Peace Prize, Yemen

2011 Nobel Peace Prize goes to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman

The 2011 Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to three people: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkul Karman.

  • Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is the current president of Liberia. Currently the only female head of state in Africa, she is credited with helping the country move beyond its violent and fractious past.
  • Leymah Gbowee is a peace activist who helped bring about peace in Liberia. In 2003, she was a key figure in the ending of the Second Liberian Civil War.
  • Tawakkul Karman is a Yemeni human rights activist and a key figure in the Women Journalists Without Chains movement. She is a key figure in the Yemeni opposition, and her award will be seen as a snub to the Yemeni government.

All three recipients are women and all three are fairly unfamiliar to many people in the west. By honouring Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee, the committee is clearly showing its awareness of the peace process in Liberia, while Tawakkul Karman is a powerful figure in the quest to protect the safety and rights of journalists. The recognition of Karman will undoubtedly be seen as a very direct attack on the Yemeni government, although it is unlikely to really hasten developments in that country as President Saleh continues to try to cling to power.

Before the announcement, various names were bandied about. Some expected Arab Spring figures to win the prize. Other names suggested included the recently deceased Steve Jobs (who could not have won, since he is now dead) and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg. Wikileaks and Bradley Manning were also suggested by some. Very few predicted that the committee would choose Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee or Tawakkul Karman, although many expected that the committee would go for some less obvious names.

Perhaps the most surprising thing about this decision is that it lacks the urgent relevance to modern events that many expected. The Arab Spring has arguably been the defining phenomenon of the year so far, but it arguably lacked a clear and easy figurehead. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the committee could not have considered identifying a few figures of their own. The decision to award the prize to Sirleaf, Gbowee and Karman can therefore be said to be quite a safe and non-controversial decision.

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