Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Wins Nobel Peace Prize
This year's Nobel Peace Prize Laureate comes from a part of the world that most people almost never think about.
Abiy Ahmed, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, was awarded the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end a civil war that began more than 25 years ago with the secession of Eritrea from Ethiopia:
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for his dogged pursuit of democratic reforms and regional peacemaking efforts.
Abiy was awarded the prize “in particular, for his decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighboring Eritrea,” said Berit Reiss-Andersen, chair of the Nobel Committee, which decides the winner.
A peace accord between Abiy and his Eritrean counterpart, Isaias Afwerki, formally ended a 20-year military standoff that followed Eritrea’s secession from Ethiopia in 1993. As many as 100,000 people were killed between 1998 and 2000 when a border dispute flared into an all-out war.
Abiy, a 43-year-old former intelligence officer, has ushered in an era of hope for peace and greater freedoms in Africa’s second-most populous country, which has long been governed by authoritarian regimes. Upon taking office in April 2018, Abiy initiated the release of thousands of political prisoners, lifted bans on various political organizations, prosecuted former officials accused of torture and vowed to move Ethiopia toward its first free, multiparty elections in 2020.
Abiy has also made bold moves to broker peace in neighboring Sudan and South Sudan, both beset by civil conflict. Abiy spearheaded rounds of talks between opposing sides in both countries, and he has sought a role in mediating other regional conflicts such as a maritime dispute between neighboring Kenya and Somalia.
In a statement, Abiy’s office said that “this victory and recognition is a collective win for Ethiopians, and a call to strengthen our resolve in making Ethiopia — the New Horizon of Hope — a prosperous nation for all.”
Abiy’s recognition by the Norway-based Nobel Committee was reminiscent of President Barack Obama’s 10 years earlier. Like Obama at the time, Abiy is near the beginning of his term and has not yet fully implemented the broad reforms and peace deals he has set out to accomplish. But his initial decisions in office have prompted an outpouring of hope that those stated objectives will be achieved.
“No doubt some people will think this year’s prize is being awarded too early,” Reiss-Andersen said in her announcement of the prize. “The Norwegian Nobel Committee believes it is now that Abiy Ahmed’s efforts deserve recognition and need encouragement.”
Ethiopia remains one of the world’s most insecure countries, with more than 3 million people displaced from their homes and more than 1,000 killed in 2018, mostly due to ethnic strife. The country’s economy is dangerously weak, and tens of thousands of Ethiopians have become refugees in search of less dire conditions. Abiy’s proposed reforms are also seen by some in Ethiopia as likely to exacerbate ethnic tensions, and he has already survived one assassination attempt.
Abiy’s peace deal with Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki also has yet to result in a full resumption of normal ties, largely because of Eritrean reluctance. Conscription is still mandatory in Eritrea, despite the end of the military standoff with Ethiopia.
“The peace deal unfroze diplomatic relations, reopened telephone lines and has allowed some travel between the two countries,” said William Davison, an Ethiopia analyst with the International Crisis Group. “But key border disputes are unresolved, and Eritrea remains without constitutional government, so there has been no peace dividend yet for its long-suffering citizens.”
Ethiopia, and indeed the entire Horn of Africa region that it is part of, is a part of the world that seldom gains the attention of the United States unless there is something horribly wrong going on there. The most notable examples of that, of course, are the famine that hit the country in the 1980s or the war and instability that has gripped neighboring Somalia since the George H.W. Bush Administration. As a result, the on-and-off war that had been going on with Eritrea is not something that really made headlines here. Additionally, I will admit that this is not a part of the world I know much about myself.
That being said, it does appear that Abiy has done a lot to turn his country around even though there is obviously still a lot of work to do, work that will require at least some outside assistance and aid. Additionally, as much as he can reach peace with Eritrea that nation seems to have problems of its own that will require its own leaders to find a way to fix. Otherwise, this entire peace deal could fall apart and one of the poorest and most desperate parts of the world will continue spiraling downward. Hopefully, the awarding of the peace prize will serve as some incentive for all the parties to try to bring peace and stability to a very unstable area.
As an aside, leading up to today’s announcement the speculation had been that the Peace Prize would go to Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who has made a name for herself as a particularly energetic spokesperson for the movement to fight global climate change. The Washington Post’s Karla Adam has at least some explanation for why this might not have happened:
Teenage climate activist Greta Thunberg was the odds-on favorite to win this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.
The award would have capped an already extraordinary year, in which Thunberg evolved from a student sitting outside the Swedish parliament, all by herself, to become the leader of a global youth movement, inspiring millions of schoolchildren around the world to join her in calling for greater action on climate change.
“How dare you? You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words,” she told world leaders in a blistering speech at the United Nations last month.
Henrik Urdal, the head of the Peace Research Institute of Oslo, omitted Thunberg from the Nobel Peace Prize shortlist he publishes.
He explained his decision to The Washington Post, saying there “isn’t scientific consensus that there is a linear relationship between climate change — or resource scarcity, more broadly — and armed conflict.”
The link between climate change and conflict is hotly debated. But climate change scholars say that while there isn’t a straightforward relationship, there is a recognition that climate change adds to stresses in regions that could spark political instability and conditions that could foster conflict. The Pentagon has called climate change a “threat multiplier.”
The prize has gone to environmental champions before. In 2007, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and former vice president Al Gore won “for their efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.” In 2004, it was given to Wangari Maathai “for her contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.” In 1970, it went to Norman Borlaug, sometimes called the “father of the green revolution.”
But Urdal said such picks would be less likely now, as the prize committee has sought to hew more closely to the original wishes of Alfred Nobel.
In his will outlining the prize, Nobel wrote that the recipient should be someone who has advanced the “abolition or reduction of standing armies” — which some have interpreted as requiring a direct connection to peace and conflict.
“If you make it too broad, it becomes a bit meaningless,” Urdal said.
Janne Haaland Matlary, a politics professor at the University of Oslo, agreed that Thunberg had been a “wild card” nominee. The link between climate change and conflict is still “quite tenuous at this point,” she said.
“Everyone sees flooding can cause conflict, migration and so on, but this is no way well established as a security policy issue yet.”
It’s also possible the timing wasn’t quite right for Thunberg. The committee draws up a shortlist “of the most interesting and worthy candidates” soon after the nomination deadline at the end of January. But some of the more impressive moments of Thunberg’s activism — the global climate strikes, her transatlantic sail, her U.N. speech — came later in the year.
It’s also possible that this is another example of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee responding to the criticism it faced in 2009 when it awarded the prize to President Obama less than a year into his first term in office despite the fact that he had done nothing to deserve it. Since then, the award has generally gone to people who arguably actually accomplished something rather than just given speeches. While she has certainly drawn attention to the issue of climate change with her passion, it’s hard to say that Thunberg has actually accomplished anything related to that issue, and it certainly cannot be said that she said that she has accomplished anything related to the ostensible purpose for the prize.
Thunberg is young and certainly strident in her views. Perhaps one day she will have accomplished something that will deserve the recognition of the Nobel Committee. But not yet.