Ottawa

Ottawa Eritreans have mixed reactions to Ethiopian PM's Nobel Peace Prize

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was announced as the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize last week. The prize comes as a shock to some Eritreans living in Ottawa, who say there is still no real peace between the two countries.

Abiy Ahmed was announced as the winner for work to resolve lengthy conflict

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has released many political prisoners and overseen a thaw in relations with neighbour Eritrea. Even so, some members of Ottawa's Eritrean community say he should not have received the Nobel Peace Prize. (Francisco Seco/Associated Press)

Some members of Ottawa's Eritrean community say they're dismayed by the decision to award the prime minister of neighbouring Ethiopia the Nobel Peace Prize.

On Friday, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was announced as the winner of the prize for his efforts to  "achieve peace and international cooperation" with Eritrea.

Abiy helped negotiate an agreement to end a 20-year stalemate between Ethiopia and Eritrea that followed a violent border war. 

Following the peace agreement, air travel and phone calls were permitted between the two nations and the land border was temporarily opened.

Despite those initial gestures of goodwill, some local Eritreans say nothing has really changed for their families in the region.

"When the news broke that he won the Nobel Peace Prize, I was in shock. I don't think he's the kind of guy who should be praised at the international level," said Efrem Berhe, an Eritrean youth activist.

"Saying that he made peace in Eritrea is very inaccurate, because there is no peace."

In 2018, hundreds of people marched between Ottawa City Hall and Parliament Hill to celebrate the opening of the border between Ethiopia and Eritrea. (Laura Osman/CBC)

Berhe's parents are still living in Eritrea, where there are stll rampant human rights violations. There is no freedom of religion, freedom of information or freedom of the press. 

Since the peace treaty, Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki has also closed the border at the town of Zalambessa.

"Abiy is making an alliance with the Eritrean dictator, but not with Eritrean people," Berhe said.

"To put it bluntly — sleeping with a brutal dictator does not constitute peace building."

Years of border issues 

"Abiy accepted the peace agreement, but he is not pushing to demarcate the border," said Yohannes Drar, a social worker at the Royal Ottawa Health Centre.

Before Drar came to Canada, he fought for Eritrean independence as a freedom fighter. He thinks the Nobel Peace Prize is positive news for Ethiopia, but not his home country.

"After Eritrea achieved independence, it came under a dictatorship," said Drar. "Now, we are like the North Korea of Africa." 

For Drar, a clearly defined border between Ethiopia and Eritrea is the first step toward establishing Eritrea's sovereignty and a lasting peace.

Abiy has not acknowledged the human rights violations going on in Eritrea, Drar said, adding he hopes the award will shed light on the ongoing situation in his country. 

Yohannes Drar (left), a former freedom fighter in Eritrea, and Efrem Berhe (right), an Eritrean youth activist, both disagree with the decision to award Ethiopian President Abiy Ahmed the Nobel Peace Prize. (Submitted by Yohannes Drar and Efrem Berhe)
 

More peaceful candidates 

As for Berhe, he wishes the Nobel Peace Prize committee would have acknowledged reformers like the Eritrean group nicknamed "The G-15," which first called for an open dialogue with Ethiopia in 2001.

"It feels one-sided," said Berhe. "If you're really concerned about the border conflict, how about [recognizing] the other side?"

Nevertheless, Berhe hopes the prize will put more pressure on the Ethiopian government to completely withdraw from Eritrean territory.

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