Ethiopia’s peacemaking prime minister emerges as a Nobel favorite

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Eritrea's President, Isaias Afwerki talks to Ethiopia's Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed during the Inauguration ceremony marking the reopening of the Eritrean Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri

Reuters – During a high-level meeting at Ethiopia’s foreign ministry in July, officials were shocked by social media reports that their prime minister was visiting Eritrea. 

No one in the room had been informed of Abiy Ahmed’s trip, his second since clinching a peace deal last year that ended two decades of hostility between the neighbors. 

“The foreign office was not in the loop,” said a senior official who was present. “We learned of it from the Eritrean media, on Facebook and Twitter.” 

The surprise visit is typical of Abiy, who both fans and critics say often relies on bold personal initiatives and charisma to drive change instead of working through government institutions. 

Nebiat Getachew, the foreign ministry spokesman, said policy was well coordinated. He did not confirm if Abiy had made the July trip without informing the ministry.  

The deal with Eritrea won Abiy international plaudits. He is the bookmakers’ second favorite to win a Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, after climate activist Greta Thunberg. 

But Abiy’s unpredictable style annoys some Ethiopians.

It is unclear how much of the fractious ruling coalition — some form of which has been in power since 1991 — backs his reforms, or how durable those reforms would be without his leadership. He has already survived one assassination attempt: a grenade thrown at a rally last year.

Lasting change cannot be built through a “cult of personality,” said Comfort Ero, Africa program director at the International Crisis Group think tank. 

“None of Abiy’s promised transformational reforms are going to have any solid foundations unless he works through the institutions,” she said.

Ethiopia has been among Africa’s fastest growing economies for more than a decade. But uncertainty over Abiy’s ability to carry out all his reforms worries both citizens and the foreign investors he has been courting to develop the country’s antiquated telecoms and banking sectors. 

Personal style or canny strategy? 

Some observers say Abiy, a former military officer specializing in cyber intelligence, will sometimes bypass ministries because his reforms must maintain their breakneck momentum or become mired in bureaucracy. 

Those reforms — including unbanning political parties, releasing imprisoned journalists and prosecuting officials accused of torture — have drawn ecstatic crowds at rallies. 

“Abiy seems to have relied on his charismatic rule,” said Dereje Feyissa, a professor at Addis Ababa University. “The question is whether this is sustainable. Euphoria is subsiding.” 

Other observers say Abiy’s rapid changes are a deliberate attempt to wrong-foot opponents from the previous administration, which was dominated by Tigrayans, a small but powerful ethnic group. 

Abiy, 43, is from the Oromo group, the nation’s largest, which spearheaded the protests that forced his predecessor to resign. Since taking office in April 2018, Abiy’s government has arrested or fired many senior officials — mainly Tigrayans — for corruption or rights abuses. 

“In the first six or seven months, he undercut the institutions … The institutions were either not working or working against his agenda,” said Jawar Mohammed, an Oromo activist and informal adviser to the prime minister.

“I don’t think he could have traveled this far without doing that.” 

Foreign policy

One of Abiy’s biggest victories 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. 

“Last year’s rapprochement appears to have been partly due to the Eritrean president’s belief that Abiy’s rise marked the eclipse of Tigray’s ruling party, which had been his prime antagonist for more than two decades,” said Will Davison, an Ethiopia analyst at Crisis Group.

“But although it has lost power at the federal level, Tigray’s ruling party remains firmly in control of its own region, which includes a long border with Eritrea, partially explaining why relations between the two nations haven’t warmed further.”

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 — like his surprise trip — 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.

Nebiat disputed that. 

“There is always a well-coordinated foreign policy and diplomacy implementation within the Ethiopian government,” he said. “Any other claims are simply baseless.”

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.

“Abiy played a key role,” said Amjad Farid, a senior representative of the civilian group that led talks with the military. 

Reforms at home

Abiy has pushed through reforms at home and abroad. His public renunciation of past abuses drew a line between his administration and that of his predecessor.

He appointed former dissidents to senior roles. Daniel Bekele, a former political prisoner and Africa director at New York-based Human Rights Watch, now heads the government’s human rights commission. Birtukan Mideksa, who founded an opposition party and was jailed after a disputed 2005 election, now heads the electoral commission.

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.

23 COMMENTS

  1. He deserves every ounce of it. There has never been peace time with the NEIGHBORING COUNTRIES until now. That is the region with more than 250 million people. If he wins that will lift the country into a new and higher spotlight. If he doesn’t it won’t make any difference. Good luck sir!!!

    The other leader from the old who deserved the Nobel Peace Prize was the later Emperor Haile. I know he had shortcomings when it comes to domestic affairs but he was the one who persuaded the two Sudanese warring groups to the negotiation table and had them sign a peace accord even though it was discarded a decade later. He also managed to bring a peace treaty between Algeria and Morocco in the early 1960’s when everyone else failed, even Nasser, the French, Brits and the UN. Who do you think the two warring sides chose to observe the demilitarized zone that was agreed upon to be neutral? Ethiopian and Malian military officers, baby! That was in 1963. He also brought together the Casablanca and Monrovia groups and OAU was born out of that. Those of you who were old enough to remember those groups were slinging insults at each other that could have led into bloody conflicts. The Casablanca Group was calling the Monrovia Group reactionaries and Monrovia Group was calling the other one really derogatory names attributed to satanic commies. When I say this about that leader, I am no way to upset anyone of you. It is my opinion and that is my inalienable Almighty given rights. Those of you with fair judgment, I know you will cut me some slacks about it.

  2. The Noble Peace Prize is not a religious organization. Since its inception, it has honored individuals who had suffered to free billions of people on this blue planet . Thanks to the family of Alfred Noble and all the people in its board great men and women were deservedly honored. Gandhi , Mandela, MLK to remind us. All the above greats were really the greatest thing our planet produced and they deserved the prizes.

    Abiy Ahmed for Noble Prize? Not a chance. He doesn’t deserve it. There are many reasons that he should not even mentioned for that world renowned organization. First of all he is leading a political ‘ party ‘ of an ethnic organization that is killing religious leaders and burning churches. He is allowing maniacs like the Arab Jewar Mohamed to own a news media that is directly involved in crimes against Ethiopians simply because they are Ethiopians. He is discriminating against the largest religious group, the Orthodox Church in the day to day administration of Ethiopia. They are the majority in the country. He had threatened that he would go to war against Eskinder Nega for opposing the unelected mayor of Addis Abeba who is a spokesman for the over eight million residents of the capital and the city is the unofficial capital of Africa.

  3. Nazret.com

    I think some of us who have been with this site are just wasting our time. You are censoring us. You didn’t do that when we were posting any thoughts when TPLF was in power. Abiy Ahmed is tolerating Jewar Mohamed and shouldn’t be considered for the Noble Prize. Why would you censor those remarks ?

  4. Abiy Ahmed is the head of a dangerous ethnic party. He should not be mentioned even as a nominee of the Noble Prize .

  5. Abiy Ahmed said that he didn’t know about Legatefo and Sululta , even though his underlings from his ethnic party brought Habiba and Rosa Omer to run the two suburbs of Addis Abeba respectively from Arusi and Bale .

  6. We all should remember the victims of Burayu. They were massacred by criminals who call themselves OLF. Their leaders are living in luxury in Addis Abeba and the best residents and are dining and food is always fresh and free while the people of Legatefo still homeless and hardly eat.

  7. Though I’m wishing well for Abye’s high hopes for receiving this coveted award , I’m not completely moved by or enthusiastic about it and the simple reason is being that his merit for getting the prize or success is halfway, if not premature. I mean the reforms such as pacification of the country and reconciliation process, democratiizstion the Eritrean peace deal, free and fair elections, etc. have yet to materialize. We won’t know the probable failures or successes about them within the ext few years. Till then let us hope for the best.

  8. I have said it that long time ago in my comment that he deserves Nobel prize for peace. But now with some daubts I still think he can gate Nobel prize.
    Millions of desplaced people’s with jihadist running the parlamentet, Ethiopia is heading to GIMMATAM generation with fanatics tribalism supported by Arabs call themselves oromo with stinking flag, cousing death and destruction to innocent Ethiopian population. These gimmatam only understand a bullet in their head and deportation to BANTU LAND. They do not belong to Ethiopia.

  9. He deserves it! You some Azemaris and TPLF thugs stop badmouthing our handsome and magnanimous PM Abiy.

    Although he needs to deal with many ethnic thugs including Jawar in every corner of the country, in a short period of time Abiy has done remarkable things. No need to go over everything here.

    I don’t no why some Azemaris are hellbent to undermine his efforts. He he had done things the Debteras didn’t do in hundred years. He has done things the Woyane looters haven’t done in 27 years.

    I watched the opening ceremony of the renovatwd palace last night. Is it my eyes or Abiy is the most handsome PM Ethiopia ever have? The PM looked cool and collected.

    He didn’t spend a penny from the taxpayers money to facelift the palace. He just ‘begged’ from the rich to renovate the place, which was misused by the Debteras and TPLF thugs.

    They say Menlike and his relatives used to drink Teje and Katikala at the palace. Haileselie did the same thing.
    Meles Setanewi made it a gathering of Shifas from Dedebit. Thanks to Abiy, the place is now a open for public.

    We hope to see many tourists come and visit the place. Job well done Abiy!!

    Why was Isyase Adewrki no show? He didn’t send a delegate either. My guess is that he is still bitter and angry against the former so called leaders of the country, whom he thinks prevented the independence of Eritrea. He should forget the past and act like a man.

  10. Sodo

    Lighten up man! You still seem bitter for unfathomable reasons. You still stuck in with and kept repeatng this Rose Omar, Habiba Abadir and things like a parrot. You are depicting them as if they are from aliens from another planet while they could well be living in there for generations. This reminds of story written an Eritrean who met an Ethiopian in diaspora and talk about the years he was living in Addis Ababa back in the 1960s and ’70s and who had Ethiopian neighbor named Omar and then as he mentioned neighbor’s namevto him in conversation perplexed and fainted with it as if the name was curse or strange. I am not saying they couldn’t be culprits or not part of what has happened in the mentioned localities . Whoever carries those attrocities and similar ones across the country are involvement by Oromo and other ethnic extremist and opportunist politicians of all kinds of religious and ethnicty background.. Whoever carried out is as much guilty gutless bigot. I believe these kinds of religious fascism rhetoric of yours are as much dangerous as the ones you are complaining and condemning

  11. Whaaaaooo.
    I was saying it he deserves a Nobel prize long before any one and there and here we are now my prediction came true. I was predicted to where about osman bin Laden was hiding and my prediction came true, long before any one I foresee things and predict it here in nazret com most of the time, I have travelled through time in darkness on Chris footsteps and walked through middle East from old city Petra to unknown places where God and Devil sat down and talked. Where Mose got the commandments I saw God and Devil with my pure eyes, the deserts of Israel speaks with death and if you are lucky you will receive a sprutual power to see things the good and bad. I walked through the Arabian desert where mohammod traded with caravan, and I saw this creature who lived from times of God and live among us consuming human bloods, he travel where ever conflict is and live in human suffering and consume human souls so that he keep surviving thousand years. For him we humans are nothing but a chicken farm. Try to walk in desert of Arabia where mohamod walked, you will see others don’t see.

  12. Whaaaaooo.
    I was saying it he deserves a Nobel prize long before any one and there and here we are now my prediction came true. I was predicted to where about osman bin Laden was hiding and my prediction came true, long before any one I foresee things and predict it here in nazret com most of the time, I have travelled through time in darkness on Chris footsteps and walked through middle East from old city Petra to unknown places where God and Devil sat down and talked. Where Mose got the commandments I saw God and Devil with my pure eyes, the deserts of Israel speaks with death and if you are lucky you will receive a sprutual power to see things the good and bad. I walked through the Arabian desert where mohammod traded with caravan, and I saw this creature who lived from times of God and live among us consuming human bloods, he travel where ever conflict is and live in human suffering and consume human souls so that he keep surviving thousand years. For him we humans are nothing but a chicken farm. Try to walk in desert of Arabia where mohamod walked, you will see others don’t see. Whaaaaooo.
    I was saying it he deserves a Nobel prize long before any one and there and here we are now my prediction came true. I was predicted to where about osman bin Laden was hiding and my prediction came true, long before any one I foresee things and predict it here in nazret com most of the time, I have travelled through time in darkness on Chris footsteps and walked through middle East from old city Petra to unknown places where God and Devil sat down and talked. Where Mose got the commandments I saw God and Devil with my pure eyes, the deserts of Israel speaks with death and if you are lucky you will receive a sprutual power to see things the good and bad. I walked through the Arabian desert where mohammod traded with caravan, and I saw this creature who lived from times of God and live among us consuming human bloods, he travel where ever conflict is and live in human suffering and consume human souls so that he keep surviving thousand years. For him we humans are nothing but a chicken farm. Try to walk in desert of Arabia where mohamod walked, you will see others don’t see.

  13. Congratulations to PM Abe Ahmed. He won the Noble Peace Prize of this year 2019! Hopefully, he will put it in good use of by conpleting and institutializing the reforms agenda plus finishing the peace deal with Eritrea and uncle Isias despot and the rest of whole Horn Africa.

  14. Up and at em as usual here and discovered that this young visionary PM Abiy has won the Nobel Prize. Based on the merits estaboished by the council he deserves every ounce of it. PM Abiy was not the only one from the old country in my book who deserves the award but as I said before the late emperor should have been awarded also. O Ethiopia! O Ethiopia! You gem of the colored! O Ethiopia! You Blessed One that produced children Negash, Muezzin Bilal and Mary Magdalene who saved both major religions of the world, Christianity & Islam! O Ethiopia! O Ethiopia! Whose gallant children defied all odds and showed the rest of the colored from Africa to Asia and Latin America how to stand up to a colonizer bully and beat the living daylight out of him!!! The Almighty Our Creator Has Shed His Grace On Thee!!! O My Beloved Ethiopia!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Last week it was our boys and girls at Doha who knocked it out of the park for me and this also is another homerun for me! With all bases loaded, baby! I’m good now! I’m good for a long time!!!

  15. The Noble Peace Prize was also given to the very Obama that friended and wined and dined with mass torturers and mass-murderers of millions of innocent lawabiding Ethiopians — the bloidyhand TPLF mafia members!!
    As much as I want to see Abiy or any other Ethiopian win a Noble Peace Prize, BUT It looks like the members of the Noble Peace Prize once again didn’t do their homework about the dire situations in Ethiopia under Abiy’s administration: the unprecedented displaced Ethiopians that have been thrown like trash…, the on going unfair treatments of peaceful jornalists…, the continuations of ethnic cleansing.., the unprecedented unfair treatments of Ethiopian Orthodox Christians…, the burning of 30 Ethiopian Orthodox churches…, the unwarranted arrests, mistreatments, the ambushes, and killings of innocent Amharas and others as we speak, etc. the lack of justice for Ethiopians that have been victimized by TPLF and OLF bloodthirsty criminals…, the lack of bringing OLF hoodlums and the organized TPLF mafia thieves, mass tortureres, and massmurderers of innocent Ethiopians to court…, on and on and on…!!! Abiy might be better than the barbaric TPLF mafia, but Abiy’s administration haven’t been able to control and stop all disturbing police brutalities, unfair treatments of lawful jornalists and ordinary citizens, Orthodox Christians, ethnic cleansing, killings of innocent Ethiopian citizens at the hands of barbaric TPLF and OLF BLOODTHIRSTY DESENSITIZED CRIMINALS!!!

  16. Ali Roble

    You said “ mentioned localities “ . Did you forget their names? They are called

    1) Burayu 2) Legatefo 3) Sululta . There you have them in alphabetical order. You don’t have any problem to what those Ethiopians are going through because they are not Oromo?
    You seem to care for Mrs. Habiba and Mrs Rosa Omer two criminals simply because they are covered head to toe with Moslem garb and you are the same religion with them. The whole world saw them giggling on Jewar Mohamed’s TV shows and telling what they did to those poor people who are still homeless.

  17. Sodo

    There we hundreds of other places that similar atrocious crimes took place long before and after even in Burayo and Sululta. Remember the Stomali Awday massacre in Awaday and Gadeo ethnic cleansing where Lamma Magarsa and Shiimeles were directing among others? So what this has to do with religion and particular names?

  18. Sodo

    There were hundreds of other places that similar atrocious crimes took place long before and after even in Burayo and Sululta. Remember the Somali massacre in Awaday and Gadeo ethnic cleansing where Lamma Magarsa and Shiimeles were directing and condemning it among others? So what this has to do with religion and particular names?

  19. Ethiopian government in early 1998 was best friends with the Eritrean government. Within a matter of few months Eritrean government became worst enemies with the Ethiopian government.
    Unless the core reason of the Ethio-Eritrean war is adressed not one but hundreds of peace prizes do not bring lasting peace between the two countries. Both sides need to figure out what it was that turned the best of friends relationship they had into the worst of enemies that quick , then both countries leaders must instill in themselves and in their whole countries people to do a conscious effort the reason that brought the Ethio Eritean war doesn’t happen again.

    Sugar-coating the real reason of why the Ethio-Eritrean war started, by saying the reason was the two cousins family feud (Meles Zenawi’s and Isayas Afeworki’s) personal feud war or border war over Badme, is not the way peace is achieved.

    The real truth of why the war started need to be addressed.

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