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Opinions of Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Columnist: John Hamilton

Africa’s next Nobel Laureate

Perhaps the most prestigious and coveted award in the world is the Nobel Peace Prize. It has been given for the past half-century to some of the most distinguished, influential, and admirable individuals in the world of politics and political activism.

In its history, it has only been bestowed upon 8 individuals from Sub-Saharan Africa, the most memorable of which have been affiliated with the anti-Apartheid struggle in South Africa.

According to the Nobel organization itself, the Peace Prize should be bestowed upon someone who, in the words of Alfred Nobel’s last will and testament, “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.”

Looking to future recipients of the prize, I think that the political crisis in Ghana resulting from an ominous Supreme Court challenge by Nana Akufo-Addo, alleging fraud in the December election that resulted in the declaration by the Electoral Commission of John Mahama as President, could yield another Nobel Prize, or even two, for Ghana.

Akufo-Addo’s peaceful approach to resolving Ghana’s political deadlock certainly meets the Nobel criteria. It also is only the latest move in a long career of peace-oriented activities. I’ve done some research on his past and I find it quite impressive, going back to the very beginning over 3 decades ago, when he was among the leaders of the non-violent mass movement against military dictatorship as a 33-year old General Secretary of the “rainbow coalition” called People's Movement for Freedom and Justice.

Akufo-Addo brought together traditional political foes (the CPP, PP and UP fold) to agitate against General Acheampong's one-party state. Though the resulting referendum of 1977 was rigged, Akufo-Addo’s movement damaged the military dictator so badly that he fell to a palace coup, with the leaders, including General Akuffo, immediately putting in place a process that led to disbanding of political parties and new elections. That was Akufo-Addo’s first major success in promoting the lasting peace that Ghana enjoys today.

Though elections took place at that time, he was not satisfied with the tendencies of those voted into power to continue to behave as autocrats. When the new President Limann acted to remove Chief Justice Apaloo from the Supreme Court, Akufo-addo successfully challenged that action in court, in a landmark case that cemented the doctrine of separation of powers in Ghana, further pushing the country away from military rule and towards peace and democracy.

And of course, when the PNDC military took over the country, he played a leading human rights role, and was among the leaders of the street protests that led to the dissolving of military rule, the establishment of the 4th Republic, and the holding of free elections. All of that was accomplished without firing a shot; it was a completely peaceful enterprise from start to finish.

As an attorney, he championed many cases that opened up the frontiers of freedom and democracy in Ghana, such as the National Reconciliation Commission exercise and the repeal of the Criminal Libel Law.

When he was picked by President Kufuor as Ghana’s Foreign Minister, his role in peace efforts in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Cote d'Ivoire were more than substantial. His diplomatic stature peaked when he chaired the meeting of the UN Security Council in 2006, which took the decision that halted Israel’s massive incursions into Lebanon.

Akufo-Addo’s political career as a candidate also bolsters his peace credentials. Selected as the NPP Presidential candidate in 2008, Akufo-Addo beat Prof Mills by more than 100,000 votes in the first round – just short of the 50% of the vote needed for outright victory. In the run-off election, Nana lost to Mills by a margin of merely 40,586 votes, representing 0.46% – the smallest margin of defeat ever in Africa’s history. Yet, he accepted the results without even calling for a recount, thereby helping to preserve Ghana’s peace, freedom, stability and democracy.

In 2010, how he opposed the government’s posture and for the sake of peace, pushed for Ghana to support Alassane Ouattara against Laurent Gbagbo after the disputed election in neighboring Cote d’Ivoire.

Which brings us to today. Despite the angry calls from within his own ranks, he has managed to channel the frustration of the voters who feel that their sovereign will has been violated into a judicial and constitutional process for the sake of peace. It is truly setting an example for the rest of Africa about how peaceful democracies behave and how electoral disputes should be settled. The Nobel Committee ought to consider him for a 2013 Peace Prize given all of these recent actions, not to mention his considerable past track record.

Soon, Ghana’s Supreme Court may rule that the evidence in the NPP petition is correct and that Nana Akufo-Addo was the rightful one-touch winner in the election. In that case, a joint prize for both John Mahama and Nana Akufo-Addo should be considered if Mahama and the NDC can prove that they will respect the rule of law and the will of the people, can demonstrate that they have broken from their old PNDC ways, and can show that they possess the courage to step down from power without violence.