Nobel for Ethiopian Peacemaker Abiy Ahmed, Who Raises the bar for other African Leaders

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Prime Minister Abiy. Photo: Aron Simeneh Wikimedia Commons
 
The news out of Stockholm today that Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was the 2019 winner of the Nobel Peace Prize did not come as a surprise for many like me--an Ethiopian national--who have been closely following developments in the Horn of Africa. Indeed, I made a case about why he was a stellar candidate in a column last year.
 
Abiy’s background certainly set him up for the prize, having earned a masters degree in Transformational Leadership followed by a Ph.D. from the Institute of Peace and Security Studies from Addis Ababa University with his thesis on "Social Capital and its Role in Traditional Conflict Resolution in Ethiopia” and subsequent research on de-escalation strategies in the Horn of Africa.
 
In terms of previous leaders who've won the Nobel Peace Prize in Africa, Egypt's President Anwar Sadat shared it in 1978 with Israelie leader Menachem Begin and Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf won in 2011, sharing with peace activist Leymah Gbowee and Yemeni journalist Tawakkol Karman. South Africa's last apartheid White president, F.W. de Klerk, shared the Prize with Nelson Mandela in 1993; Mandela became president after the country's first democratic election in 1994.  Abiy is the sole African winner while in office. 
 
Other Africans who have won the Nobel Peace Prize are anti-apartheid leader Albert Luthuli who won in 1960 and Congo's Dr.  Denis Mukwege who shared the Prize in 2018 with Iraqi activist Nadia Murad.
 
Abiy burst on the Ethiopian political scene a scant two years ago when the country was racked by widespread unrest especially in the Oromia region where protests raged against the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPDRF) for land grabs in favor of foreign agribusinesses at the expense of small farmers. Rampant corruption and increasing income disparities added to the populace’s grievances. Attacks on large domestic and foreign-owned business enterprises prompted the government to declare a state of emergency, which allowed superficial calm but failed to address underlying causes of the unrest. After months of soul searching, the ruling EPRDF concluded that new leadership and direction was needed. Months of heated internal debate within the coalition parties of EPRDF in the federal parliament led to the emergence of Abiy Ahmed as the majority choice to become Prime Minister.
 
Within weeks of assuming the position, Dr. Abiy put an end to the state of emergency. He flung open the doors of the central federal prison in the city and other regional capitals, freeing thousands of political prisoners and journalists, and he invited opposition parties and media outcasts in the Diaspora to return to the country and participate freely in the political process.
 
Certainly earning him the coveted peace prize was his bold move offering an olive branch to Eritrean President Esayas Afewerki by accepting the Algiers Accord without conditions, leading to reciprocal visits by the two leaders to each other’s country that culminated in the signing of the peace treaty ending 20 years of hostility.
 
His peacekeeping talents were further instrumental in bringing together the military junta that deposed Omar Bashir and the pro-democracy civilian activists who led the Revolution in Sudan. Abiy has also been at the forefront of reviving the dormant peace process in South Sudan between President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar. These mediating efforts have earned him praise.
 
All these achievements are worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize.
 
Yet, all is not so stable. The march towards democratic reform in Ethiopia has been bumpy and the PM’s leadership will undoubtedly be put to the test. His political reforms, including unfettered press freedom, has unleashed forces that are fomenting ethnic hatred and strife. To overcome these challenges, he will certainly need the goodwill from people at home and well-wishers abroad. His charisma and talent will be put to the test inside his own country, to end the interethnic clashes, by applying the same peacemaking skills demonstrated in ending conflict in neighboring countries. 
 
The Nobel Peace Prize thus becomes not only a recognition of his achievements to date but also an incentive to do more inside Ethiopia, and therefore to become a model for other leaders in Africa who may do well to emulate that example in their own internally troubled nations.
 
Congratulations, Dr. Abiy.
 
Mohammed A. Nurhussein, MD
 
 

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