No. 5: Africa's Peacemakers: Nobel Peace Laureates of African Descent / Heidi G. Frontani / African Studies Quarterly / September 2015

Published in: African Studies Quarterly, Volume 15, Issue 4, September 2015

Adekeye Adebajo, ed. 2014. Peacemakers: Nobel Peace Laureates of African Descent. London: Zed Books. 330pp.

Africa's Peacemakers has fourteen contributors including several renowned Africanists, and is dedicated to the memory of Nelson Mandela (1918-2013). The editor and author of two of the book's fifteen chapters has served as the executive director of the Centre for Conflict Resolution in Cape Town. The book is divided into six parts: an introduction, followed by two sections on the three African-American Nobel Peace Prize winners, Ralph Bunche, Martin Luther King Jr, and Barack Obama, and it concludes with four sections on the ten African Nobel Peace Laureates: Albert Luthuli, Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, and Frederik Willem de Klerk from South Africa, Anwar Sadat and Mohamed ElBaradei of Egypt, Kenyan Wangari Maathai, Ghanaian Kofi Annan, and Liberians Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee.

Africa's Peacemakers is the first book to offer a comprehensive look at people of African descent who won the Nobel Peace Prize between 1950 and 2011. It highlights interactions among the prize winners, such as Bunche and King marching together for civil rights, Luthuli and Mandela working jointly to end apartheid, and Obama meeting and honouring Tutu. The individual chapters devoted to the Nobel Laureates are largely laudatory, but the introduction includes some concerns with individual recipients including Sirleaf for her "ambiguous role in Liberia's first civil war" (1987-1997), the fact that she was given her award "four days before a presidential election" that she won, and de Klerk having viewed apartheid as morally wrong only in a "qualified way" (pp. 9,30, and 22).

The authors also raise the issue of the politics behind the Nobel Prize, noting that Gandhi was nominated for the prize five times and shortlisted three times, but never won, due to British opposition to Gandhi and Britain's close ties with Norway, the country that awards the prize. Of note is that although Gandhi never won the Nobel Peace Prize, he inspired eight of the thirteen Nobel Laureates featured in Africa's Peacemakers in their efforts for socio-economic justice, civil rights, and women's rights.

In 1950, Ralph Bunche was the first person of African descent to win the Nobel Peace Prize. He received it for his skillful mediation in arranging a ceasefire between the Israelis and Arabs following the creation of the state of Israel. Egyptian Anwar Sadat also won his Nobel Peace Prize (1978) for his success in making peace with Israel. Albert Luthuli was born in 1898 and was the first of the African peace laureates and the first South African. Luthuli reached his mid-forties before he became active in politics, but then served as the president of the African National Congress from 1951 to 1967. He received the Nobel Peace Prize in 1961 for his role in the non-violent struggle against apartheid.

It took another forty-three years for the first African female, Wangari Maathai, to win the Nobel Peace Prize for her contributions to sustainable development, democracy and peace. Of the ninety-seven individuals that received the Nobel Peace Prize prior to Maathai in 2004, only twelve were women. Dr. Maathai is noteworthy in that she was not only the first African woman and first Kenyan to receive the prize, but also the first person of any gender or nationality to receive it for contributions to the protection of the natural environment.

Some may wonder, given the book's title, why F.W. de Klerk, a white South African, has a chapter devoted to him. One contributor to the volume, Kenyan historian Ali Mazrui, offers two groups that qualify as people of African descent: "Africans of blood" who identify as Africans by ancestry and "Africans of the soil," people who by birth or adoption identify as African (p. 46).

Africa's Peacemakers is quite comprehensive and well researched, but lacks a concluding chapter that brings together theoretical or conceptual concerns. As such the book falls short of its objective of drawing lessons from the thirteen Nobel Peace Laureates lives "for peacemaking, civil rights, socio-economic justice, environmental protection, nuclear disarmament and women's rights" (p. 4). Nonetheless, this book should be read by all those interested in Nobel Peace Prize winners of African descent, for its own sake, or to better appreciate the anti-violence struggles against oppression, human rights violations and injustice the eminent people featured in Africa's Peacemakers participated in or led.

Africa's Peacemakers is an interdisciplinary work that is appropriate for use in undergraduate seminars on Africa. The writing style also makes it appropriate for general audiences. The book is a welcome contribution to the still rather limited literature on African successes.

Heidi G. Frontani
Elon University

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