World

Ethiopian PM Abiy Ahmed wins Nobel Peace Prize

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was awarded the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for his peacemaking efforts with Eritrea.

Honoured for peacemaking efforts with neighbouring Eritrea

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed​​​​​​​ was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2019 on Friday. (Francisco Seco/Associated Press)

It was a war that killed some 80,000 people and sputtered to life again and again over two decades, pulling in soldiers, including a young Ethiopian who fought in a contested town at the centre of the conflict.

On Friday, Abiy Ahmed, now Ethiopia's prime minister, received the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for his peacemaking efforts with Eritrea and taking the crucial step to end the fighting.

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

The bitter border conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea, once a single nation, played out far from the global spotlight. Abiy's abrupt announcement last year, just weeks after taking office, that his country would fully embrace a peace deal revived hopes for an end to one of Africa's longest wars.

No one immediately knew whether the gesture of peace would be returned. Eritrea is one of the world's most closed-off nations, and longtime President Isaias Afwerki's response, if any, was mere speculation. Then, in another surprise, he accepted.

The Nobel Peace Prize committee noted its leader's role: "Peace does not arise from the actions of one party alone. When Prime Minister Abiy reached out his hand, President Afwerki grasped it," the Nobel committee said.

While the other prizes are announced in Stockholm, the peace prize is awarded in the Norwegian capital of Oslo.

In audio of a call between the Nobel Committee and the Ethiopian leader, Abiy called the award "a prize given to Africa, given to Ethiopia."

He also laid out his hope the award would be taken "positively" by other African leaders "to work on peacebuilding process on our continent."

The Ethiopian leader's office celebrated his win, and called on "all Ethiopians and friends of Ethiopia to continue standing on the side of peace." The tweet sharing the statement adds jubilantly: "We are proud as a nation!!!"

Ethiopian PM's work 'far from done'

Abiy won after announcing sweeping political reforms that included making peace with longtime rival Eritrea and ending one of Africa's longest-running conflicts. The 43-year-old also shocked observers by releasing tens of thousands of prisoners and welcoming home once-banned opposition groups.

Ethiopia's statement adds "this recognition is a timeless testimony to the medemer ideals of unity, co-operation and mutual coexistence that the prime minister has been consistently championing," using a local term for "unity." 

Human rights and humanitarian groups, meanwhile, urged Abiy to uphold and build on the dramatic reforms that led to his award.

"Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's work is far from done," Amnesty International secretary Kumi Naidoo said in a statement. "This award should push and motivate him to tackle the outstanding 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 and further human rights abuses."

The secretary general of the Norwegian Refugee Council, Jan Egeland, said he was "astounded" by Ethiopia's recent achievements, but he was "equally struck by meeting many of the millions of displaced Ethiopians as a result of ethnic violence" that has followed the lifting of repressive measures.

This year's Nobel winners

Abiy's win comes a day after two literature prizes were awarded: the 2018 prize to Polish novelist Olga Tokarczuk and the 2019 award to Austrian author Peter Handke.

The chemistry prize went Wednesday to three scientists, for their work leading to the development of lithium-ion batteries.

  • John B. Goodenough of the University of Texas.
  • M. Stanley Whittingham of the State University of New York at Binghamton.
  • Akira Yoshino of Asahi Kasei Corp. and Meijo University in Japan.

On Tuesday, Canadian-born James Peebles, 84, an emeritus professor at Princeton University in New Jersey, won half of the physics prize for his theoretical discoveries in cosmology. Swiss scientists Michel Mayor, 77, and Didier Queloz, 53, both of the University of Geneva, shared the other half of the prize, for finding an exoplanet — a planet outside our solar system — that orbits a solar-type star.

A day earlier, two Americans and one British scientist — Doctors William G. Kaelin Jr. of Harvard Medical School and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Gregg L. Semenza of Johns Hopkins University and Peter J. Ratcliffe at the Francis Crick Institute in Britain and Oxford University — won the prize for advances in physiology or medicine, cited for their discoveries of "how cells sense and adapt to oxygen availability."

In his will, Alfred Nobel, the Swedish industrialist and inventor of dynamite, decided the Peace Prize should be awarded in Oslo, but his exact reasons for that are unclear. During his lifetime, Sweden and Norway were joined in a union, which was dissolved in 1905.

The economics prize wasn't created by Nobel, but by Sweden's central bank in 1968. It is awarded Monday.

With the prize comes a $918,000 US cash award, a gold medal and a diploma. The laureates receive them at elegant ceremonies on Dec. 10 — the anniversary of Nobel's death in 1896 — in Stockholm and Oslo.

With files from Reuters

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