Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed has been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize after negotiating a peace settlement with Eritrea following decades of conflict between the neighbouring countries.
At a ceremony in Oslo, 43-year old Abiy was recognised for “his efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation and in particular for his decisive initiative to reduce the border conflict with neighbouring Eritrea” in an award also meant to recognise stakeholders working for peace in Ethiopia, East and North East Africa.
Since his election in April 2018, Abiy has pursued ambitious domestic reforms, including releasing political prisoners, encouraging media liberalisation and legalising opposition groups. But it was his success in formally ending the border conflict with Eritrea in July 2018, which included restoring full diplomatic relations and agreeing to open closed borders, which particularly resonated with the Norwegian Nobel Committee.
“When Abiy Ahmed became prime minister in April 2018, he made it clear that he wished to resume peace talks with Eritrea. In close cooperation with Isaias Afwerki, president of Eritrea, Abiy Ahmed quickly worked out the principles for a peace agreement to end the long no peace no war stalemate between the countries….an important premise for the breakthrough was Abiy Ahmed’s unconditional willingness to accept the arbitration ruling of an international boundary commission in 2002,” said Berit Reiss-Andersen, the chairwoman of the five-member Norwegian Nobel Committee.
The committee also highlighted Abiy’s work as a regional peace broker in his efforts to improve diplomatic relations between long-term foes Eritrea and Djibouti, resolve a maritime dispute between Kenya and Somalia and broker a political agreement in Sudan.
“In September 2018 he and his government contributed actively to the normalisation of diplomatic relations between Eritrea and Djibouti after many years of political hostility. Additionally Abiy Ahmed has sought to mediate between Kenya and Somalia in their protracted conflict over rights to a disputed maritime area. There is now hope for a resolution to this conflict, and in Sudan the military regime and opposition have returned to the negotiating table.”
The committee endorsed Abiy’s ambitious domestic reform agenda, arguing that the Prize should encourage and strengthen the prime minister on his path to liberalise Africa’s second most populous country.
“In Ethiopia even if much work remains, Abiy Ahmed has initiated important reforms that give many citizens hope for a better life and brighter future. He spent his first 100 days as PM lifting the country’s state of emergency, granting amnesty to thousands of political prisoners, discontinuing media censorship, legalising outlawed opposition groups, dismissing military and civilian leaders suspected of corruption and significantly increasing the influence of women in Ethiopian political and community life.”
The committee acknowledged that critics may see the award as premature, but argued that it ought to encourage further reform in a country prone to ethnic tensions. In June, Ethiopia was rocked by two fatal attacks in the Amhara regional capital of Bahir Dar and Addis Ababa in the most significant challenge to the country’s new era yet.
“Ethnic strife continues to escalate and we have seen troubling examples of this in recent weeks and months. No doubt some people will think this prize is being awarded too early. The Norwegian Nobel Committee believes Abiy Ahmed’s efforts deserve recognition and need encouragement. The Norwegian Nobel Committee hopes that the Nobel Prize will strengthen Prime Minister Abiy in his important work for peace and reconciliation.”