THERE have been a number of reconciliation “handshakes” lately including the rapprochement between South Sudanese strong men President Salva Kiir and his former Vice- President Dr Riek Machar.
But none with as far-reaching consequences and impact as the “handshake” between Kenyan veteran Opposition leader Raila Odinga and President Uhuru Kenyatta on the one hand and that between the new Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Eritrean President Isais Afweki on the other.
In both cases it is Mr Odinga and Mr Abiy who made the greatest political sacrifices and they deserve some recognition. In the case of Raila this is not the first time he is compromising for peace and security in Kenya.
A joint Noble Peace Prize would be in order. The prize of about one million USA dollars and the ensuing prestige and recognition is given in acknowledgement of significant contribution to peace and security at national, regional or global level.
Sometimes it comes when there is a breakthrough amongst bitter political rivals such as Presidents; Nelson Mandela and F W De Klerk in 1993 upon their agreement to consign apartheid to the dustbin of history.
By the same vein we could mention the Noble prize jointly shared by Egyptian President Anwar El-Sadat and Israel Premier Menachem Begin in 1978 in recognition of their peace initiative that led to the 1979 Camp David Peace Accord brokered by the US President Jimmy Carter entailing Egypt’s recognition of Israel and the return to Egypt of the Sinai peninsula that had been captured by Israel in the 1967 Six Day war.
This allowed Egypt to open the Suez Canal that is vital for Egypt’s economy and global trade. Or we could mention the 1994 Noble peace prize jointly given to the Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat and two Israel leaders; Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres for initiating the Oslo Peace Accord that led to the establishment of a Palestinian homeland in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Both the Camp David and the Oslo Accords could be described in the words of Yasser Arafat as “the peace of the brave.” And indeed it was. Both Anwar Sadat and Yitzhak Rabin were assassinated by disgruntled elements within their camps viewing the peace agreements as “sell outs”.
Sometimes it is to recognize a cause and encourage its leader such as the Prize conferred in 1960 to the then African National Congress (ANC), anti-apartheid icon Chief Albert Luthuli. By the same vein one could mention the Noble Peace Prize offered to US President Barack Obama in 2009 to encourage his use of “soft power” to advance global peace and security.
In exchange for promised revisiting of nine very contentious hot political issues ranging from reigning in police brutality, fighting corruption and impunity, addressing election malpractices.
Promoting a more inclusive and shared prosperity, fighting ethnic antagonism, developing national ethos and strengthening devolution Mr Odinga, the “Peoples’ President”.
In effect lent legitimacy to Uhuru Kenyatta’s government ending Opposition boycotts of Jubilee party- affiliated businesses and the setting up of somewhat symbolic parallel governance structures.
In effect it stabilized the political situation in the country like never before enabling the government to focus on economic revival and especially its four key agendas: improved healthcare, affordable housing, food security and manufacturing industry.
This Raila compromise is in a way a repeat of his Koffi Annan-brokered 2008 “handshake” with President Mwai Kibaki that ended the 2007/08 post-election violence that claimed 1,130 lives and displaced 660,000 people. For which President Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto were indicted and tried by the ICC at the Hague.
The Noble Committee perhaps influenced by the spotlight on Kenya and the Kibaki-Raila peace deal decided to award that year’s Noble peace prize to the famous Kenyan environmentalist, the late Professor Wangari Maathai. Premier Abiy has ushered in a policy of national reconciliation between the different nationalities and ethnic groupings that had threatened to tear Ethiopia apart.
He has released political prisoners, nurtured a free press, opened up the political space enabling political exiles to return and to participate in political processes. He has addressed gender inequity by appointing both a woman Head of State and President of the Supreme Court.
So keen is he in promoting national healing and reconciliation that former Premier Hailemariam Desalgem in a somewhat controversial move reached out to former Marxist dictator President Mengistu Haile Mariam in Harare.
Externally he reconciled Ethiopia with its neighbors more especially Eritrea, against which it fought a 1998-2000 war which ended in the Treaty of Algiers, which Addis Ababa signed but did not implement.
He is implementing the Algiers Treaty entailing the return of disputed land to Eritrea, the withdrawal of troops from the common border, the resumption of diplomatic relations and the resumption of air and surface transport.
This entails access to the Eritrean seaports of Assab and Massawa, the major gateways to the sea for 90 percent of the country’s goods before Eritrea’s independence in 1993.
Traffic rerouting to Djibouti necessitated the construction of the USD3.5 billion Ethio-Djibouti railway. Peaceful co-existence with Eritrea has removed the raison d’être for Asmara’s maintenance of a hard state.
It has brought political rapprochement between Eritrea and both Somalia and Djibouti.
Relations with Khartoum and Cairo have also improved cooling political temperatures over access to the Nile waters given Ethiopia’s Grand Renaissance Dam.
Of course it is unclear if the Noble Committee will decide to so early to reward Mr Abiy especially given the yet unresolved and somewhat tricky national question and new political dispensation in Ethiopia.
A Noble peace prize would strengthen his hand in the tough questions facing his administration. Can the Noble Committee reward Abiy on the one hand and Uhuru/Raila on the other as it did in the Arafat/Rabin-Peres case referred to above. Could they as they did over Wangari Maathai in 2004 opt for other Kenyan or Ethiopian individuals and/or institutions?
Will they offer the prize to Kenya’s leading novelist, Ngugi wa Thiong’o who has been a front liner for a possible Noble prize for literature?
Will they consider institutions such as the Kenya National Human Rights Commission that has played a good watchdog role for individual and group rights in the very divisive Presidential elections since the onset of multi-party-ism?
It would be appropriate to reward these two ‘ handshakes” that have stabilized the political situation in Kenya, Ethiopia and to some extent Eritrea.
- Professor NGILA MWASE is a student of international affairs. He is based in Dar-Es-Salaam (ngila. mwase@ yahoo.com; Cell;