Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed Ali wins Peace Nobel for ending 20-year conflict with Eritrea

Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed. File photo: REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah

Oslo: Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for his peacemaking efforts with Eritrea.

Ethiopia and Eritrea, longtime foes who fought a border war from 1998 to 2000, restored relations in July 2018 after years of hostility.

The prize, worth nine million Swedish crowns, or around $900,000, will be presented in Oslo on Dec. 10.

"Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali has been awarded this year's Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation, and in particular for his decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighbouring Eritrea," the Norwegian Nobel Committee said in its citation.

The Nobel Peace Prize will be presented in Oslo on Dec. 10, the anniversary of the death of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, who founded the awards in his 1895 will.

Ethiopia is "proud as a nation" for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's Nobel Peace Prize award, his office said in a statement on Friday.

"This victory and recognition is a collective win for all Ethiopians, and a call to strengthen our resolve in making Ethiopia – the new horizon of hope – a prosperous nation for all," Abiy's office wrote.

Abiy Ahmed's peace deal

One of Abiy's biggest victories as Prime Minister was the peace deal, signed in July last year, which ended a nearly 20-year military stalemate with Eritrea following their 1998-2000 border war.

Asle Sveen, a historian who has written several books about the Nobel Peace Prize, told Reuters the deal made Abiy exactly the kind of candidate Alfred Nobel had envisaged for the prize.

"The peace deal has ended a long conflict with Eritrea, and he is very popular for having done this, and he is doing democratic reforms internally," Sveen said.

But some benefits of the peace were short-lived. Land borders opened in July but closed in December with no official explanation.

Nebiat, the foreign ministry spokesman, said Eritrea and Ethiopia had restored diplomatic relations, air links and phone connections. "Other engagements are well underway to further institutionalize relations," he said.

Personal initiatives

Abiy's diplomatic forays tend to be bold personal initiatives, analysts and diplomats said.

The foreign ministry has been "completely sidelined," said the senior ministry official, adding that "our interests abroad may be jeopardized".

He said Abiy had engaged with Eritrea, Somalia and wealthy Gulf states on major policy issues without building consensus within his government.

Some nations are pleased by Abiy's personal touch.

After Sudanese police killed more than 100 protesters in June, Abiy flew to Khartoum to convince Sudan's new military rulers and the opposition to restart talks, and persuaded Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to back his mediation. The talks led to a power-sharing accord in August.

At home, Abiy's public renunciation of past abuses drew a line between his administration and that of his predecessor. He appointed former dissidents to senior roles.

But ethnically tinged violence flares frequently, and systemic attempts to address past injustices have been slow. A reconciliation commission set up in December has an unclear mandate, lacks expertise and has only met twice, said Laetitia Bader, an Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch.

"The jury is still out on whether the move will be more than mere window dressing," Bader said.

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