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Ugandan Activist is Africa's Youngest Nobel Nominee

Ugandan Nobel Peace Prize Nominee Victor Ochen
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Ugandan Nobel Peace Prize Nominee Victor Ochen

Ugandan activist Victor Ochen has been nominated for the 2015 Nobel Peace Prize and, at 33, is Africa’s youngest nominee ever.

The social activist received a "dream call" about the Nobel Peace Prize, he said. The American Friends Service Committee nominated him and his organization, the African Youth Initiative Network, for their work with war victims in northern Uganda.

Ochen had been at The Hague in January when Dominic Ongwen, a leader of the rebel Lord's Resistance Army that had terrorized his country, was captured and brought before the International Criminal Court, the activist told VOA.

"After appearing in discussions and media, then I got a mail from somebody from the United States saying, ‘I have some news I would like to share with you," Ochen said.

But Ongwen's appearance, the first of the rebels at the court, took up so much of Ochen’s time and energy that he almost forgot to call back.

When he did, he heard an overwhelming endorsement of his work.

"We do very much believe and [are] convinced that your good intention is very, very clear, and we want to let you know that we have nominated you for the Nobel Peace Prize 2015," Ochen said, recalling the conversation.

Ochen said he was left speechless. Nobel winners who've also been nominated by the committee include Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter and Martin Luther King Jr.

Perfect timing

To Ochen, the nomination came at a perfect moment: Ongwen's arrest refocused international attention on northern Uganda and the plight of its war victims, he said.

Ugandans there "have suffered," he said. "Often times, so much attention is paid to the perpetrators, more than in [the amount of] attention and services and responses given to the victims."

He understands their trauma.

"I work in the community where I was born and raised. And I work with the people who are living the life I lived not so long ago," he explained. "The majority of my age mates did not make it. They died in the struggle" to escape abduction or captivity or to protect their families.

“Every time I think about a success, where someone is healed, someone is finally out of pain; someone’s tears have been transformed into smiles. This is what really keeps me so ... happy and so inspired," he added.

Message to youth

Nobel winner or not, Ochen has a message to the youth living in post-conflict zones.

"Living in a camp does not mean all hope [is] gone," Ochen said. "Living as a refugee does not mean you cannot do it. Living the destitute life shapes your thinking and living in conflict zones as a young person tells you who the person is you should never be."

This year, 276 candidates worldwide are nominated for the peace prize. The winner will be announced in October.