The Nobel Committee Awarded Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed its annual peace prize early Friday morning, lauding the African leader for his substantial efforts in brokering a peace between his country and neighboring Eritrea.
The 43-year-old Abiy assumed the role of prime minister in April 2018, and made remarkable strides in his first 100 days toward resolving decades of conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea, which were formerly one county until Eritrea seceded in 1991. For decades, the two East African countries were in a complex state of “neither peace nor war,” the New York Times writes; families were separated and unable to reunite, and violent conflicts on the Eritrean-Ethiopian border cost more than 80,000 people their lives over a span of just two years.
Upon taking office, Abiy prioritized peace negotiations with Eritrean dictator Isaias Afwerki and initiating significant domestic reform. From the Times:
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.
The committee also acknowledged Abiy’s work is far from complete, especially since total peace has yet to hit the region.
“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.”
As the Times notes, nearly 2 million people remain displaced because of clashes between ethnic groups. Eritreans continue to live under a state of emergency imposed by Isaias; his rule, many note, has pushed many Eritreans to seek asylum in Western countries.
Will Davidson, an expert with the International Crisis Group, told the Times Ethiopia also has a long way to go toward substantive and longlasting domestic reform.
“Important anti-authoritarian steps have been taken and there are meaningful and genuine democratic aspirations,” Davidson said. “But it’s still very much a work in progress, with arguably the hardest challenges lying ahead.”
Still, some are hopeful that the peace prize will push Eritrea’s Isaias to lift the state of emergency, as well as encourage Abiy and the government to continue working toward a more democratic Ethiopia (Abiy has promised free elections next year).
Upon winning the prize, the Ethiopian Prime Minister’s office tweeted out a statement saying it was proud of Abiy’s selection, noting he had made “peace, forgiveness and reconciliation key policy components of his administration,” CNN reports.
Abiy also tweeted a statement from his personal account. “This award is for Ethiopia and the African continent,” wrote the Nobel prize winner. “We shall prosper in peace!”