Nepali Times
Pax Americana


Over the last few weeks, I've been bombarded with questions about my thoughts on President Barack Obama winning the Nobel Peace Prize ? so much that I'm starting to feel like I'm defending a relative.

My first reaction is to say I'm very proud. He's certainly deserving of the Nobel Committee's claim that "only very rarely has a person to the same extent captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future." But is capturing the world's attention enough to justify receiving this prestigious honour?

There is a sense that the reservoir of global goodwill candidate Obama built up on his run to the White House is starting to ebb. After all, leading America is no cakewalk. Obama is now the tough talking face of a country fighting two of the most brutal armed contests on earth. Yet he has won a prize for peace?

Was the Nobel Committee bold enough to imagine the honour would weigh on his conscience when contemplating America's next steps in Afghanistan or Iraq? If that was the case, they were way off track. National security and foreign policy decisions are about national interests and any prize is unlikely to have an influence on the decisions of a global superpower, even if US foreign policy has adopted a much-needed multilateral approach.

No, in my opinion President Obama won the Peace Prize for something else, something that I think will intrinsically transform the landscape of modern America, and if the United States is a beacon for others, then the world.

To grow up black in America has never been easy. The legacy of colour is chequered with pain, and struggle. Often treated as second-class citizens, black Americans still live segregated lives in some sense. Award-winning African American producer Lee Louis Daniels says that before Obama was elected blacks in America had two separate dialogues running in their heads. There was one for the black world, and another for the rest of the world, the white world. The latter was designed for success, it was superficial, and didn't ring true.

The Declaration of Independence, written in 1776 by Thomas Jefferson, boldly declares: "We hold these truths to be self evident that all men are created equal." Yet throughout the country's short history race has divided America and resulted in its greatest social challenges. The Civil War (1861-1865), fought between the anti-slavery North and the pro-slavery South, remains the nation's bloodiest conflict.

We stand at a similar crossroads today in Nepal. The country's leaders, civil society and citizens are struggling to decide on a roadmap for the future. The decisions of today are likely to affect the future of generations to come. So those who are impatient for results should remember that from the time Thomas Jefferson penned those immortal words, it took Barack Obama 233 years to get to this milestone on America's long walk to freedom.

So what does it really mean to have a black man elected as President of the United States? My hope is that this is the beginning of the end in the long journey towards a colour-blind nation. For this, Barack Obama stands in the company of the other giants who have won this award, and for this alone I believe he deserves the prize.

Richard Ragan is Country Director for the World Food Programme (WFP in Nepal.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)