By Tafi Mhaka
I cannot see Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn of Ethiopia exchanging congratulatory messages on WhatsApp with President Bashar Hafez al-Assad of Syria or President Vladimir Putin of Russia just yet, but these three world leaders could have something in common in future: they might bag the Nobel Peace Prize for going to war against their people and those they nominate as enemies.
Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn has had his hands full of late dealing with a multitude of protests against his government. Protestors say the government is appropriating the land of the Oromo illegally in a plot to satisfy the commercial interests of huge agricultural concerns.
The Amhara people are not happy, either, with the inclusion of their region in Tigray territory, as they would rather see the administration of their lands fall under the Amhara region. And Muslims are not happy with a decision by the government to impose leaders on them.
Other protestors say a more equitable system of representation in political affairs should be introduced. The Oromo – who make up sixty percent of the ninety-five million people in Ethiopia have very little senior representation in government.
Human rights groups say five hundred people have been killed in protests in the Oramia region since last year. Should Prime Minister Desalegn, who has just declared a state of emergency in Ethiopia, find a way to suppress the violent uprisings, jail the dissenters and forge a so-called peace deal – the man might be in the running for that famous peace prize along with another leader with a gift for quashing protests: President Assad.
The commander-in-chief of the Syrian Armed Forces has been directing the war against his people and ISIS from the comfort of his lovely palatial home in Damascus. From there, the British-trained medical doctor, has seen the deaths of hundreds of thousands of his people and displacement of millions of Syrian citizens. Those who have chosen to the escape the armed terror have mostly chosen to flee to save havens in France and Germany and other European Union member states.
Russian military intervention in the Syrian war has seen Damascus gain the upper hand in fighting in rebel held areas. So Assad has largely frustrated or plainly rejected efforts to seal a peace deal in Syria. Should he retake the Rebel-held eastern city of Aleppo, where allegations of crimes against humanity have emerged in the past few days, talk of renewed peace talks and a peace deal in the making might just surface. These are just the sort of peaceful actions that should raise the interest of the Nobel Peace Prize committee in Oslo.
The committee must be considering President Putin as well. He has singlehandedly annexed the peninsula of Crimea on the northern coast of the Black Sea, sponsored pro-Russian separatists in a proxy war in Eastern Ukraine, saved President Assad from suffering the same fate as late Iraq leader Saddam Hussein, and created the worst refugee crisis in Europe since Adolf Hitler started World War 2 in 1939. The Russian strongman, who, like President Juan Manuel Santos, winner of the 2016 Nobel Peace Prize, boasts quite a long and dubious human rights record, might reinvent himself as a man of peace fairly soon and negotiate dodgy peace deals in Syria and the Ukraine.
Recent Nobel Peace Prize laureate President Santos was accused of sanctioning extrajudicial executions by the army in his time as Colombian Minister of Defence. He did admit that under his watch there were transgressions by soldiers and promised to investigate the murders. As many as 1500 people may have been killed illegally by Colombian security forces. Relatives of those killed by the army hold President Santos and former President Alvaro Uribe responsible for the actions of the army. This did not stop President Santos from bagging the prestigious Nobel Peace award precisely seven days after Colombians voted against a peace deal with the FARC in a referendum held on October 2.
The man is in good company. He would not be the first leader to get an award without a peace deal to speak of: Although the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize went to the leader of the PLO, Yasser Arafat, and Israeli leaders Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin– twenty-two years on, peace in that part of the Middle East remains as elusive as it has ever been. In fact the second intifada happened just seven years after the recipients signed the Oslo Accords in 1993. About three thousand Palestinians and one thousand Israelis died in the second intifada. Both parties, the Palestinians and Israelis, have abandoned peace talks, yet again, as have the Americans, the sponsors of the so-called Israeli-Palestine peace talks. See the peaceful leaders are never at peace with peace. But the wise old men and women in Oslo just love that sort of peace.