Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali was announced as the winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday in recognition of his efforts to end his country’s long-running border conflict 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.
Born in 1976 in the Jimma region of western Ethiopia, Abiy is a son of a Muslim father and Christian mother. While still a teenager, Abiy was reportedly a part of the resistance movement against the “Red Terror” regime of Ethiopia’s Mengistu Haile Mariam. He later joined the Armed forces in 1993 and served under the intelligence service wing and even rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel.
In 1994, when the Rwandan genocide happened, Abiy was deployed as a member of the United Nations peace mission. But it was only after 2010 that Abiy took the plunge towards politics and joined the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization (OPDO). When 43-year-old Ali became the Prime Minister of Ethiopia on April 2018, after widespread protests, he quickly announced dramatic reforms and made it clear that he wished to resume peace talks with Eritrea.
In close cooperation with Isaias Afwerki, the President of Eritrea, Abiy was quick enough to work out on the principles of a peace agreement between the two nations and ended the long “no peace, no war” stalemate.
Apart from ensuring peace, Abiy announced a series of reforms that hold the promise of fundamentally changing the country of some 100 million people. From partial liberalisation of the state-controlled economy to overhauling the security forces that have helped the ruling coalition maintain a tight grip on power since 1991, the promises have raised hopes in Ethiopia.
In its announcement, the Nobel Peace Prize committee said: “Abey spent his first 100 days as Prime Minister lifting the country’s state of emergency, granting amnesty to thousands of political prisoners, discontinuing media censorship, legalising outlawed opposition groups, dismissing military and civilian leaders who were suspected of corruption, and significantly increasing the influence of women in Ethiopian political and community life”.
The youngest head of government in Africa, however, still faces high expectations from young Ethiopians who want jobs, development, and opportunities.
(Inputs from agencies)