Ethiopian prime minister wins Nobel Peace Prize for Eritrea accord

Ethiopian Prime Minister
SEAN GALLUP/GETTY IMAGES/TNS
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and German Chancellor Angela Merkel greet at the Chancellery during the “Compact with Africa” conference on Oct. 30, 2018 in Berlin, Germany.

BY NIZAR MANEK AND MIKAEL HOLTER
BLOOMBERG NEWS/TNS

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has won the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to end almost two decades of conflict with neighboring Eritrea.

Abiy was honored for his “efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation, and in particular for his decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighboring Eritrea,” the Oslo-based Norwegian Nobel Committee said in a statement Friday.

It’s the second successive year the prize has gone to an African — in 2018 Congolese doctor Denis Mukwege was the joint winner of the award for his work against sexual violence.

Abiy, 43, became Africa’s youngest leader when he was appointed prime minister in March 2018. He immediately set about implementing a swathe of economic and political reforms aimed at opening up the economy to increased foreign investment and freeing up the political space for opposition parties.

Three months later, he made an historic visit to the Eritrean capital, Asmara, and met President Isaias Afwerki, to close a bloody chapter in the nation’s history: a 1998-2000 border war between the two states claimed as many as 100,000 lives. The nations have clashed sporadically since then and armed rebel groups in each others’ countries.

“Since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed assumed political leadership in April 2018, he has made peace, forgiveness and reconciliation key policy components of his administration,” Abiy’s office said in a statement after the award was announced.

HIS CHALLENGES

Ethiopia will be the fastest-growing economy in Africa this year, according to the International Monetary Fund, and globally only Bhutan, Yemen and Brunei will grow faster.

The nation’s Eurobonds due December 2024 have returned 13.2% this year, more than the 13% average for sub-Saharan African sovereigns. Only Angola, Cameroon and Congo have offered better returns out of 17 nations on the continent that have sold Eurobonds.

In his role as premier, Abiy has overseen plans to open up the telecommunications, sugar, power and other industries to private investors. He’s also scrapped bans on opposition and rebel groups, and purged allegedly corrupt officials.

An unbanning of opposition and rebel groups has stoked political fragmentation and long-suppressed rivalries among ethnic groups, while leading regional groups to intensify calls for more self-determination.

He also faces opposition from within the ruling party, which has factionalized under his rule. In June, attacks that claimed the lives of five senior government officials highlighted the extent of the challenges facing Abiy.

BORN IN BESHASHA

Amnesty International, the London-based advocacy group, said the award should spur Abiy to tackle continuing human-rights challenges that threaten to reverse the gains made so far.

“He must urgently ensure that his government addresses the ongoing ethnic tensions that threaten instability,” Amnesty said in a statement. “He should also ensure that his government revises the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation which continues to be used as a tool of repression, and holds suspected perpetrators of past human rights violations to account.”

Born on Aug. 15, 1976, in the small town of Beshasha in Ethiopia’s Oromia state, Abiy holds master degrees in business administration and transformational leadership and a Ph.D. in traditional conflict resolution.

He’s served as a lieutenant-colonel in the Ethiopian National Defense Force, an acting director of the country’s cyber-security intelligence agency and science and technology minister.

Past laureates include former U.S. President Barack Obama and civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. The peace prize, along with awards in literature, physics and medicine, was created by Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel and first awarded in 1901.

The economics prize, set to be revealed on Monday, was instituted by the Swedish central bank.

With assistance from Sveinung Sleire, Mike Cohen, Rene Vollgraaff and Robert Brand.

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