Teenager Malala, Congo’s Mukwege Top Nobel Peace Contenders

Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani teenager who took on the Taliban, and Congolese gynecologist Denis Mukwege are among the top contenders for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.

Favorites also include Russian activists Lyudmila Alexeyeva, Svetlana Gannushkina and Lilya Shibanova as well as Mary Tarcisia Lakot, a Ugandan nun, according to bookmakers and researchers. Myanmar President Thein Sein, U.S. researcher Gene Sharp and imprisoned U.S. soldier Bradley Manning have also been mentioned as potential winners of the prize that will be announced tomorrow in Oslo.

Malala was shot in the head in Pakistan’s Swat Valley after the 16-year-old defended equal rights to schooling for girls, defying repeated threats from militants in her hometown of Mingora. She now lives in the U.K. and has gained global recognition for devoting her life to the struggle against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism.

“It will make me proud to see a Pakistani win the Nobel,” said Mujahid Khan, a rescue worker for the Peshawar-based Edhi Foundation, a relief group. “People will see Pakistan through her eyes, one who championed education, and not only as a center of terrorism.”

Risking Life

The prize, along with literature, physics, medicine and chemistry honors, was created by Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel and first awarded in 1901. Laureates include last year’s winner, the European Union, as well as U.S. President Barack Obama, Martin Luther King Jr. and Mother Teresa. The Norwegian Nobel Committee selects the peace prize, while the rest are handed out in Stockholm. The economics prize was instituted by the Swedish central bank in honor of Nobel.

Mukwege, 58, favored at 5-6 at bookmaker Paddy Power, is the medical director of Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, the capital of South Kivu province in eastern Congo, which has suffered nearly two decades of conflict. He would be the fifth person from Africa to receive the prize over past decade.

“He does a fantastic job in a conflict that has cost more than 5 million lives, putting his own life at risk,” said Asle Sveen, a historian and author of three books on the peace prize, said by phone. “The most important effect besides recognizing his role would be to turn the eyes of the international community to the conflict in the Congo.”

Own Eyes

Mukwege founded Panzi in 1998 amid a war between Congo and neighboring Rwanda that eventually engulfed a half-dozen other African countries. The hospital offered obstetric care and treatment for severe gynecological problems. Among its patients are victims of sexual violence, a hallmark of Congo’s fighting.

“I constantly with my own eyes see the elder women, the young girls, the mothers and even the babies dishonored,” Mukwege told the UN General Assembly last year. “Many are subjected to sexual slavery; others are used as a weapon of war. Their organs are exposed to the most abhorrent ill-treatment.”

More than 500,000 women have been raped in Congo during the years of conflict, according to Mukwege.

Malala is the top pick of Peace Research Institute Oslo, which ranks contenders each year, and is tied for first at Paddy Power with 5-6 odds. Former Ireland President Mary Robinson and Bradley Manning, who’s serving a 35-year sentence for espionage, and U.S. peace researcher Gene Sharp are all 25-1 at Paddy Power.

Teenage Icon

In an interview with Karachi-based newspaper Dawn, published yesterday, Malala said she hasn’t done enough to win the prize and that she still has “a lot of work to do.”

Sveen, the historian, said Malala would be the youngest winner ever of the peace prize.

“She’s already an icon, a role model not only for uneducated girls in the Muslim world but in the whole world,” he said. “She would be a fantastic role model: courageous and incredibly articulate for a 16-year-old. It would inspire girls in the whole world to get an education.”

The European Parliament today awarded Malala the Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought, saying she bravely stands for the right of all children to be granted a fair education.’’ The Parliament picked Malala over four other finalists including Edward Snowden, the former U.S. government security contractor who disclosed secret espionage programs.

Sveen also favors Alexeyeva, who heads the Moscow Helsinki Group, as well as Belarus dissident Ales Bialiatski.

The Oslo research institute’s fourth pick is Claudia Paz y Paz, attorney general in Guatemala, for leading charges of genocide against former President General Efrain Ríos Montt. The candidate list also includes UNESCO, Nigeria’s Archbishop John Onaiyekan and Sultan of Sokoto, Mohamed Sa’ad Abubakar.

Winners of other Nobel prizes handed out this week include Peter Higgs and Francois Englert for physics; James Rothman, Randy Schekman and Thomas C. Suedhof for physiology and medicine; and Martin Karplus, Michael Levitt and Arieh Warshel for chemistry. Canadian writer Alice Munro was awarded the literature Nobel today.

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