In the midst of national and international uncertainties, protests, COVID-19 spikes and economic woes, the last week has also featured some unique achievements with the announcement of winners of the 2020 Nobel Prizes, easily the most prestigious and longest-lasting global award known to mankind.
The announcement of the prize winners is the highpoint of the flurry of the Nobel Foundation’s main annual activities which will be concluded on Monday.
The Nobel Prize in Literature for 2020 is awarded to the American poet Louise Glück “for her unmistakable poetic voice that with austere beauty makes individual existence universal”.
The Nobel Prize for Chemistry was awarded to Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna for discovering the CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing tool for “rewriting the code of life”, recognised otherwise as “the development of a method for genome editing”.
The Nobel Prize in Physics went to Roger Penrose, Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez for their discoveries about black holes.
The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences decided to award the Nobel Prize in Physics 2020 with one half to Roger Penrose “for the discovery that black hole formation is a robust prediction of the general theory of relativity” and the other half jointly to Reinhard Genzel and Andrea Ghez “for the discovery of a supermassive compact object at the centre of our galaxy”.
The 2020 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine was awarded jointly to Harvey J. Alter, Michael Houghton and Charles M. Rice for the discovery of hepatitis C virus, which led to the development of tests and treatments. Thanks to their discovery, highly sensitive blood tests for the virus are now available and these have essentially eliminated post-transfusion hepatitis in many parts of the world, greatly improving global health.
The Nobel Peace Prize, regarded as the flagship award was won by the United Nations World Food Programme for its fight against ‘hunger as a weapon of war’. The World Food Programme is the world’s largest humanitarian organization addressing hunger and promoting food security. In 2019, the WFP provided assistance to close to 100 million people in 88 countries who are victims of acute food insecurity and hunger.
The final Nobel prize for Economic Sciences is expected to be awarded today.
Each recipient of the Nobel Prize (known as a “Laureate”) receives a gold medal, a diploma, and a sum of money that is decided by the Nobel Foundation. For 2020, each prize is worth 9,000,000 SEK, (Swedish Kronor) or about US$935,366, €848,678, or £716,224. The prize money could be slightly more or less, depending on what the foundation decides annually. For instance, Barack Obama is said to have received about $1.4 million for the peace prize he was awarded in 2009.
The origin of the Nobel Prize dates back to 27th November 1895, when Alfred Nobel signed his last will and testament, giving the largest share of his fortune to a series of prizes in Physics, Chemistry, Physiology or Medicine, Literature and Peace – the Nobel Prizes. In 1968, Sveriges Riksbank (Sweden’s central bank) established The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel.
Alfred Nobel was an inventor, entrepreneur, scientist and businessman who also wrote poetry and drama. His varied interests are reflected in the prize he established and which he lay the foundation for in 1895 when he wrote his last will, leaving much of his wealth to the establishment of the prize.
He was born on 21st October 1833 and died on 10th December 1896, barely a year after he signed the will. He is known for inventing dynamite and was a holder of 355 patents, being a professional chemist, inventor, engineer, entrepreneur, businessman and author. He left 31 million Swedish Kronor, SEK, about $265 million dollars today, to fund the prizes.
In his will, he specified that the bulk of his fortune should be divided into five parts and to be used for prizes in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and peace to “those who, during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit to humankind.”
The Nobel Foundation is tasked with the mission to manage Alfred Nobel’s fortune and has ultimate responsibility for fulfilling the intentions of Nobel’s will.
In his last will and testament, Alfred Nobel specifically designated the institutions responsible for the prizes he wished to be established:
- The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences for the Nobel Prize in Physics and Chemistry
- Karolinska Institutet for the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine
- The Swedish Academy for the Nobel Prize in Literature
- A Committee of five persons to be elected by the Norwegian Parliament (Storting) for the Nobel Peace Prize
- In 1968, the Sveriges Riksbank established the Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel. The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences was given the task to select the Laureates in Economic Sciences starting in 1969.
Since 1901, the Nobel Prize has been honoring men and women from around the world for outstanding achievements in physics, chemistry, physiology or medicine, literature and for work in peace.
Between 1901 and 2019, the Nobel Prizes and the Prize in Economic Sciences were awarded 597 times and there have been 950 Nobel Laureates.
923 Laureates and 27 organizations have been awarded the Nobel Prize between 1901 and 2019. Of them, 84 are Laureates in Economic Sciences. A small number of individuals and organizations have been honoured more than once, which means that 919 individuals and 24 unique organizations have received the Nobel Prize in total. There have also been multiple Nobel Laureates.
Only once has a Nigerian ever won the Nobel Prize and that was in 1986 when the Nobel Prize in Literature was awarded to playwright and author, Prof. Wole Soyinka, “who in a wide cultural perspective and with poetic overtones, fashions the drama of existence”, according to the Nobel Foundation.
Of all the prizes, the Nobel Peace Prize is more widely known and glamorous, because winners can emerge from all areas of human endeavour, whether as individuals or organisations. The Nobel Peace Prize is regarded as one of the most prestigious awards in the world and recognizes those who have contributed the most, towards ending conflict, promoting peace and building relationships between nations.
This is probably why the 2020 Nobel Prize for Peace presented to the World Food Programme has reverberated to all corners of the globe. There were 318 candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize for 2020, of which 211 were individuals and 107 organizations. 318 is the fourth highest number of candidates ever; the current record of 376 candidates was in 2016. Neither the names of nominators nor of nominees for the Nobel Peace Prize may be divulged until 50 years have elapsed, but it was widely reported that US President Donald Trump was one of the candidates.
101 Nobel Peace Prizes have been awarded between 1901 and 2020, and awardees have included 25 organisations.
Two Peace Prizes have been divided between three persons; 17 women have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize so far; and one Peace Prize Laureate, Le Duc Tho, has declined the Nobel Peace Prize.
In addition, the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded 101 times to 135 Nobel Laureates between 1901 and 2020, 107 individuals and 28 organizations. The International Committee of the Red Cross has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize three times (in 1917, 1944 and 1963), and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize two times (in 1954 and 1981).
2020 winners, the UN World Food Programme, are in good company because past Peace prize winners have been men, women and organisations of repute.
Past winners include Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai in 2014; former Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkol Karman in 2011; US President Barack Obama in 2009; Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change in 2007;
International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Mohamed ElBaradei in 2005; 2002 was US President Jimmy Carter; while 2001 was United Nations and Kofi Annan.
South Korean Kim Dae-jung won in 2000; Médecins Sans Frontières in 1999; Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin in 1994; 1993 was Nelson Mandela and Frederik Willem de Klerk; Aung San Suu Kyi in 1991; Mikhail Sergeyevich Gorbachev for 1990; The 14th Dalai Lama (Tenzin Gyatso) in 1989; 1988 was won by United Nations Peacekeeping Forces; Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa in 1984; Polish Solidarity leader Lech Walesa in 1983; while Mother Teresa won in 1979.
Egyptian and Israeli leaders Mohamed Anwar al-Sadat and Menachem Begin got the award in 1978, Amnesty International in 1977; Henry A. Kissinger and Le Duc Tho in 1973; 1964 was US Civil Rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. Apart from Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama, other U.S. presidents who have won the Nobel Peace prize are Theodore Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson.
IMAGE CREDIT: Nobel Media, stageagent.com
Epa Ogie Eboigbe, veteran journalist, broadcaster and public affairs specialist writes on, and analyses current and historical issues with a ‘wise pen’.