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Not the Nobel Prize: Giving war criminals the attention they deserve

War criminals don’t get the recognition they deserve, believes Dismas Nkunda, a Ugandan journalist and activist who has covered the war in South Sudan extensively. So he decided to do something about it.

“I had to find a way of shaming those who were bottlenecks to the peace process. And what better way than giving them ‘awards’ for spoiling the peace process and being nuisances to peace,” he said in an interview with the Mail & Guardian.

Those air quotes are important: the Spoilers of Peace “awards” are not intended to commend the recipients, but rather to ostracise them.

“What we hope to achieve is to expose those who are using corrupt means to keep the poor population in South Sudan from enjoying peace and using the natural resources that the country has and shed light on who is responsible for the misery upon the population,” Nkunda said.

A civil war has been raging in South Sudan since 2013, with devastating consequences for the population: the war is estimated to have killed more than 400 000 people, and displaced more than four million. A peace deal signed in 2018 has yet to be fully implemented.

Until January 19, members of the public their top “spoilers of peace” in 11 categories. The headline prize is the Top Overall Spoiler of Peace, which will go to the person who bears the most responsibility for “derailing, stalling and otherwise frustrating” efforts to implement the peace deal, and who has done the most to “deepen the suffering of South Sudanese citizens at all levels”.

Other categories include the Top Spoiler for Enabling Sexual and Gender-Based Violence, Top Spoiler for Illegal Weapons Acquisition, Top Spoiler of the Environment and Top Business Spoiler of the Peace.

The award “winners” will be announced at a ceremony in early February. Recipients are not expected to attend.

“Award winners won’t be praised for being the worst,” reads the nomination form. “They’ll be exposed for all the actions they’ve done to kill and harm civilians, wage war, profit from war, and frustrate the peace process.

“And they’ll be exposed to potential political and economic repercussions from governments who have the capability to sanction them: to ban their ability to travel and purchase property, withdraw money from their bank accounts, and make it much harder for them to use their corrupt networks to profit from suffering in any way.”

The awards are overseen by Atrocities Watch Africa, a civil society organisation founded by Nkunda that tracks mass atrocities across Africa. The judging panel is yet to be announced.

Depending on the success of the first iteration, Nkunda intends to make the Spoilers of Peace “awards” an annual event, and possibly even extend its remit to cover the whole continent or even the world.

Nkunda, as an organiser, is not allowed to nominate anyone for the awards, but he knows who he believes is most deserving of this recognition. “It’s clear I would nominate the two principles in South Sudan,” he said, referring to President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar. Both would be worthy of the (dis)honour.

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Simon Allison
Simon Allison
Simon Allison is the Africa editor of the Mail & Guardian, and the founding editor-in-chief of The Continent. He is a 2021 Young Africa Leadership Initiative fellow.

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