Nobel Peace Prize Awarded to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia, left, with President Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea. Their accord broke through two decades of frozen conflict.
Credit: Tiksa Negeri/Reuters

Abiy Ahmed, the prime minister of Ethiopia, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, for his work in restarting peace talks with neighboring Eritrea and beginning to restore freedoms in his country after decades of political and economic repression.

Mr. Abiy, 43, broke through two decades of frozen conflict between his vast country, Africa’s second most populous, and Eritrea, its small and isolated neighbor. When he became prime minister of Ethiopia in 2018, he threw himself at a breakneck pace into reforms at home, and peace negotiations with the rebel-turned-dictator Isaias Afwerki, president of Eritrea.

The two nations share deep ethnic and cultural ties, but until July last year they had been locked into a state of neither peace nor war, a conflict that had separated families, complicated geopolitics and cost the lives of more than 80,000 people during two years of border violence.

In its official announcement, the Nobel Committee detailed a litany of accomplishments for Mr. Abiy in his first 100 days as prime minister: lifting the country’s state of emergency, granting amnesty to thousands of political prisoners, discontinuing media censorship, legalizing outlawed opposition groups, dismissing military and civilian leaders suspected of corruption, and increasing the influence of women in political and community life.

“Abiy Ahmed has initiated important reforms that give many citizens hope for a better life and a brighter future,” the Norwegian Nobel Committee said.

But some of Mr. Abiy’s reforms at home, however positive on paper, have also unleashed forces that threaten the country’s stability. He escaped at least one assassination attempt.

Ethnic rivalries have flared in recent years and more than two million people have been internally displaced because of conflict.

“No doubt some people will think this year’s prize is being awarded too early,” Berit Reiss-Andersen, the chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, acknowledged. “The Norwegian Nobel Committee believes it is now that Abiy Ahmed’s efforts deserve recognition and need encouragement.”

It’s not the first time the Nobel committee awarded the peace prize to fortify a new president, early in his term, whose lasting achievements were still uncertain. In 2009, the prize was given to President Barack Obama, only nine months into his term, with the committee citing his advocacy of nuclear disarmament and “his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”

When Mr. Obama’s disarmament efforts stumbled, the Nobel committee came under increasing criticism for awarding the prize based on aspirations, not achievements.

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SOURCE: The New York Times, Matina Stevis-Gridneff