Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe has been awarded this year's Confucius Peace Prize, an award that is considered a Chinese rival to the Nobel Peace Prize. In a statement, the prize committee said that the 91-year-old leader had been chosen for his commitment to his nation's "political and economic order" and his support of pan-Africanism.
Mugabe apparently beat out a number of other candidates for the award, including Microsoft founder Bill Gates and South Korean President Park Geun-hye. His selection will raise eyebrows for many in the West, where Mugabe has become a pariah for his autocratic tendencies and human rights abuses during 35 years of leadership.
Not everyone in Zimbabwe is delighted by the award, either. "Mugabe as we know him and as the people of Zimbabwe have experienced his reign is a war-monger, a bellicosist and a sadist who delights in the misery of the people," Gorden Moyo of the opposition People's Democratic Party wrote in response to the award.
However, Mugabe's selection does seem in keeping with the Confucius Peace Prize's tradition of sometimes choosing leaders the Western world is at odds with. Last year, the prize was awarded to former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, whom prize co-founder Liu Zhiqin praised for not using "military force or violence to resolve controversies and disputes." In 2011, when Russian leader Vladimir Putin was awarded the prize, the prize committee paid tribute to Putin's actions in Chechnya in 1999.
In the past, the organizers of the Confucius Peace Prize have explained that they set up their prize to "promote world peace from an Eastern perspective." Notably, the prize appears to have been hastily launched after Chinese dissident Liu Xiaobo won the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize.
In a Nov. 17, 2010, editorial in state newspaper the Global Times, Chinese businessman Liu Zhiqin suggested that China create its own peace prize in response. Such a prize could be a "weapon in battle of ideas," Liu wrote.
That weapon hasn't necessarily worked all that well. The very first recipient, Taiwanese politician Lien Chan, told journalists he knew nothing about the award until reporters asked him about it and that he had no plans to accept it. The next year, China's Culture Ministry announced that the award would not be given out anymore and that the prize committee was abandoned. It was later awarded to Putin anyway. The prize's relationship with the Chinese state remains unclear.
This year's award is murky, as well. It appears to have first been announced last month but seems to have drawn attention only after Zimbabwean outlets noticed this week. Prize co-founder Liu told the Guardian that he himself had concerns about the award being given to Mugabe, noting the leader could "easily be labeled a dictator, tyrant or despot.” It remains unclear if the Zimbabwean leader will actually travel to China to collect his prize, which includes a check for 500,000 yuan ($78,000). Few, if any, other winners have made the trip.
Still, the awarding of the prize to Mugabe does make some sense. The Zimbabwean leader is known for his personal ties to Hong Kong, and China is a key investor in the Zimbabwean economy. It's also among a number of prizes that have been set up in a bid to rival the Nobel. From 1988 to 2010, Libya gave out the Gaddafi International Prize for Human Rights. Previous winners included Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, the children of Palestine and "the libraries of Timbuktu."
And Mugabe is not the most surprising peace prize winner we've seen so far this year. In August, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un received a prize for his "peace, justice and humanity" from an Indonesia-based organization.
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