Nobel Peace Prize Award 2019- Why Abiy Ahmed?
August 15, 2020

Nobel Peace Prize- Why Abiy Ahmed?

A ‘Nobel’ Honour

“It is a prize given to Africa, given to Ethiopia, and I can imagine how the rest of Africa’s leaders will take it positively to work on the peace-building process in our continent.”

On Tuesday, 10th December 2019 in the Oslo City Hall in Norway, the Nobel Prize Committee will be felicitating the Prime Minister of Ethiopia with the Nobel Peace Prize for his notable efforts in forging a peace deal and achieving international cooperation and peace between Ethiopia and its neighbouring country Eritrea. The Nobel Institute reiterated that, in 2002, Ahmed’s unequivocal willingness to accept the arbitrary ruling of an international boundary committee was an important premise for the breakthrough.

He worked on the peace agreement with Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki to put an end to the conflict that has lasted for two decades. The two poverty and conflict-ridden countries have now ended the 20-year war which resulted in devastating effects.

The young Ethiopian reformist and Prime Minister has become a distinguished figure for the cause of peace in the Horn of Africa, which is home to some of the most impoverished countries in the world. Abiy Ahmed emerged as the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize among 301 nominees. This number is the fourth highest in the 100-year history of the Nobel Peace Prize.

If one had to start listing the reasons why Abiy Ahmed was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, it would range from his remarkable achievements in governance to his profound commitment to friendly border relations and peace among the nations in the Horn of Africa region.

Ethiopia was at the precipice of a political and economic explosion, his reforms saved a nation 108 million strong and offered an embodiment of hope to an Africa that needed saving. His messages of tolerance, peace, love and understanding resonated far and wide- beyond just the borders of Ethiopia.

When the nominations were submitted earlier this year, Abiy had been in office only for a period of nine months.

His revolutionary methods surprised people worldwide as he took actions no one had expected-the political space had been opened up, the release of thousands of political prisoners was facilitated, invitations were extended to political groups labelled as ‘terrorist organisations’, the state of emergency was lifted, sealing a peace deal with Eritrea and appointing a gender-balanced cabinet to name a few- to encompass all that he did, it’s safe to say that he took several progressive steps making him a viable candidate to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The economic integration plan started at a grass-root regional level aiming to link the Horn of Africa region with better infrastructure through joint investment and vital strategic assets that are economically vital.

This amelioration is focused on improving relationships between nations and communities among the frontline stakeholders of the region, finally resulting in peace and stability. This stellar suggestion, the brainchild of Abiy Ahmed, captured the attention and imagination of the Ethiopian people and other people in the region.

The future of a peaceful and stable Ethiopia was only possible with the development of the Horn of Africa area as a whole. This required reconciliation and a spirit of unity and understanding amongst the Horn of Africa’s countries.

The establishment of a cabinet-level ministry to oversee federal law enforcement and a mandate to build peace was a priority for Abiy Ahmed. These domestic achievements were an important aspect of the bigger picture-his Nobel Prize nomination, in the words of the Nobel Committee, was “for his decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighbouring Eritrea”. When Ahmed expressed his commitment to end the impasse as part of his inauguration speech, crowds largely dismissed the gesture as one that would barely carry weight- this may have been a reaction to similar commitments being made by his predecessors and their failure to follow through.

The ending of the “no war, no peace” state between Ethiopia and Eritrea was just the beginning- Ahmed also put in efforts to mediate between Eritrea and Djibouti, Eritrea and Somalia and also Somalia and Kenya. He also attempted to push the several factions in the South of Sudan to see peace and give it a chance. Following the expulsion of Omar Al-Bashir, Abiy Ahmed also pioneered the brokerage of a power-sharing deal between the Transitional Military Council and the opposition alliance in Sudan.

The region is still an extremely unstable and volatile corner of the world- the process of peacebuilding there requires a comprehensive restructuring and realignment among the regional actors.

The unconditional acceptance of the terms of the Algiers Peace Agreement and the Ethiopia-Eritrea Boundary Commission on Abiy’s part, against a great deal of internal opposition, resulted in the signing of a peace deal which normalised diplomatic relations, opened phone lines, restored border crossings and air travel and reunited several families affected by the senseless 1998-2000 war. 

What Ahmed did was worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize as not only did he terminate active hostility between nations but he made the security, safety and dignity of the people living in the area an important factor.

 The shift of focus towards the people was definitely a much-required step in the right direction for Ethiopia. Ahmed’s approach involved his considerable pragmatism, ethical and political commitment and involvement of stakeholders to ensure the public good. For Abiy Ahmed, this Nobel Peace Prize comes with great responsibility- this honour is to be used to bolster his peacebuilding efforts. 

Why Abiy Ahmed?

The devastation of 1998-2000 Ethiopian- Eritrean border war extended to an estimated 100,000 deaths and it squandered the potential of development for an entire generation. Since 2000, incurring large expenses, being cornered into an unfortunate stalemate following a failed intervention from the United Nations and a border demarcation that remained unimplemented, arriving at peace didn’t seem to be a reality, possible in the near future, for both of these countries.

This is where the 43-year old Prime Minister played an instrumental role in transforming the war-torn Horn of Africa region. His efforts were directed towards a landscape of building long-term peace. The Horn of Africa is home to some of the most impoverished countries in the world and Abiy Ahmed’s reformist effect has thrust Ethiopia and himself into the global spotlight. As is the case always, critics are quick to point out that this recognition came too early for the young reformist who has been the Prime Minister for just 18 months. His decisive initiatives orchestrated the transition towards peace and the resolution of the long-standing border conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea. His involvement in deeply protracted conflicts and the breakthroughs that he has made have been of paramount importance, over his tenure as Prime Minister. Within that short period of time, Ahmed has managed some real notable achievements.

‘Abiymania’: Hope or Hype?

 The young, democratic and dynamic leader who preaches peace that Ethiopia has been waiting for- can Abiy Ahmed live up to the ‘Abiymania’? Ever since he has been appointed as the Prime Minister in April, he has been quick to roll out one reform after another at a breathtaking pace. His popularity rose and the ‘Abiymania’ phenomenon gripped the African continent.

All across the continent from Kenya to South Africa, his achievements are being celebrated and his actions have given millions of Ethiopians and Africans a sense of hope and optimism regarding the future of their country. With the swell of ‘Abiymania’, the country anticipates a phenomenon that can simply be put as ‘brain gain’. People are returning back to Ethiopia to become a part of Africa’s fastest-growing economy.

On the other end of the spectrum, the main concerns that emerge regarding ‘Abiymania’ are based on a brief look at African history. In the past, a number of revolutionary African leaders who have preached of reform and democracy have led to disappointing the public who gave into their hasty optimism. And now, ‘Abiymania’ has gripped the nation. 

Early Years- The Making Of A Nobel Laureate

 What has made Abiy Ahmed the person he is today? On slight introspection of his life’s story, it is apparent that three passions have inevitably come to define this Nobel Peace Prize laureate- his inclination and passion for education, his leadership qualities, and his aspiration and skills in conflict resolution.

Abiy Ahmed (born Abyot Ahmed) was born on the 15th of August 1976 to Ahmed Ali and Tezeta Wolde in Oromia, Jimma region of Western Ethiopia. His father is an Oromo Muslim who, now well into his 80s, continues to be a respected member of the Beshasha community. His mother, on the other hand, was an ethnic Amhara who converted to Christianity. Being exposed to his country’s two major religions at a young age taught Abiy a lot about tolerance and diversity. Whenever there was violent unrest between the Christian and Muslim religious communities, Abiy directed his energy towards efforts of reconciliation through peace forums. Being mainly raised by his mother, he constantly highlights the role and influence of his beloved mother and the values she instilled in him throughout his childhood. She saw potential in her youngest son and envisioned him to grow up and do great things over the course of his life.


Throughout elementary and secondary school, the multilingual Abiy was a very focused student, enthusiastic about constantly learning and bettering himself. When Abiy completed high school, with the fall of the Derg regime, he joined the military in 1993. In the military, he first worked as an intelligence officer and eventually rose to the rank of a Major to a Lieutenant Colonel. His first degree in computer engineering from Micro Link Information College (Addis Ababa) was earned in 2001 when he was part of the Ethiopian National Defence. Following the 1994 Rwandan genocide, Ahmed was deployed as a member of the United Nations peace mission soon after which he served in the Ethiopia-Eritrea border war. It was here that he realised a future in politics; his peers claimed that he displayed strong willpower and he was charismatic and credible personality. He was also widely accepted by members of the opposition parties.

He went on to pursue a Masters of Art in Transformational Leadership a little later from the University of Greenwich. In 2013, he earned his MBA in collaboration with the Leadstar College of Management and Leadership. In 2017, Dr Abiy Ahmed Ali completed his doctorate from the Institute of Peace and Security Studies, Addis Ababa University and his PhD thesis was titled ‘Social capital and its role in traditional conflict resolution in Ethiopia; the case of intra religious conflict in Jimma Zone’. It explored themes focusing on conflict resolution in cases of intra religious cases close to his hometown Jimma.

Owing to his vast knowledge and experience in radio communications and information technology, Ahmed was handpicked to be a founder member of the cyber intelligence service Information and National Security Agency (INSA). They aimed to safeguard the country’s cyberspace, mould Ethiopia’s cyber power and offering insights on intelligence matters concerning national interest.

Political Inclinations

Soon after heading the INSA, he made an advance into the spectrum of politics and not before long, rose to the ranks of the Oromo People’s Democratic Organisation (OPDO). He was soon elected as a member of the House of Representatives and over the course of the next six years, he was appointed to the rank of the Federal Minister of Science and Technology in Addis Ababa. After a short tenure of a year in this position, Ahmed returned to Oromia and took up the position of the OPDO Secretariat Head. In later 2015, he found himself at the centre of a violent illegal land-grabbing dispute in Oromia. At this juncture in his life, Ahmed was tasked with the mammoth task of guiding Ethiopia through the tumultuous political storm between Oromia and Somalia which has had its reins on the country since then. The fallout of the controversial ‘Addis Ababa Master Plan’ continues to this day but this transformed Abiy into one of the central figures of a sense of Oromo nationalism. His involvement helped resettle the displaced Oromo people from Somalia.

At the young age of 14, he showed an inclination towards politics and enrolled himself as a member of the Oromo People Party. Unable to control the unrest and resistance movements within the country, in February 2018, the then Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalgn resigned from this post and from the post of Chairman of EPRDF. This set off a domino effect of transformations in the Ethiopian political sphere- starting off with the first-ever highly contested leadership race amongst the four major EPRDF coalition parties. At the end of this, Abiy Ahmed was appointed as the Chairman of the EPRDF and became the Prime Minister of the country.

He emerged as a Prime Minister when the nation was deep within the clutches of social, political and economic crises. His decisions were driven towards offering stability to a deeply shaken nation. Some of the methods he used to transform this were revolutionary- he dropped charges against the country’s opposition leaders and extended invitations to exiled journalists, politicians and religious leaders. What came next was an intense and rapid foreign policy of making peace with Eritrea to create a harmonious relationship among the leaders of the nations within the Horn of Africa. His optimistic mindset has driven the nation towards saving itself.

Ahmed’s Unexpected Yet Ineludible Rise To Power

In 2017, apart from a few unassuming videos on social media, Abiy Ahmed was globally a rather unknown figure. His fairly simple yet authentic and powerful message of peace and togetherness ushered him into the scene with a bang. His message was distinct, it was based on local cultural and religious sensibilities- it stood out and lent a sense of optimism to the people of the region.

The nation that Abiy inherited was one that was riddled with political disarray. The anti-government protests had resulted in the death of hundreds of people. Soon after Ahmed took office from Hailemariam Desalegn in April 2018, the political reforms came at a rapid pace. Abiy Ahmed put forward his conviction that bold ideas are what the country needs, not violence. Another notable achievement that Ahmed made sure of within his tenure was the championing of the role of women, especially in the country’s politics- now bringing up their share in the cabinet to 50%. Considering the tensions and complexities of Ethiopia’s political landscape, Ahmed’s rise to power along with the achievement of a more peaceful political course in the country is commendable. His political outlook is distinct and disparate from his party; resulting in opting for an internal transformation. He has remained within the system and still stuck to his belief systems; he has broken away from a powerful political machine and he promotes the notion of ‘Medemer’ from within the party itself.

Over the course of his time as Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, one of Ahmed’s biggest achievements has been bringing an end to the Ethiopia-Eritrea conflict. An example in successful international diplomacy, Ahmed has ended a decade-long conflict between two nations that share common cultures, language and ways of life. All it has brought the two poverty-stricken countries was immense misery, especially to those living on the border whose families were split by the war. With the signing of a treaty, the state of war between Ethiopia and Eritrea ended- a new era of peace, cooperation and friendship was declared owing to his efforts- and this is just the beginning.

Regional politics was a priority of the Abiy Ahmed administration too- he was instrumental in bringing leaders of South Sudan and Sudan to begin negotiating; he also mediated a maritime territory dispute between Kenya and Somalia. His popularity within Ethiopia is a given, his global recognition has blown up too- he’s greeted with the reception of a rockstar rather than a head of state.

At A Glance

First 100 days as Prime Minister

An insight into the stellar accomplishments that have happened since Abiy Ahmed has been sworn in into the position of Prime Minister of Ethiopia lends an outlook on how much can be done in a matter of 100 days. His performance within the first 100 days seems extremely promising, the speed with which he has executed his numerous innovative measures are nothing short of exceptional! Abiy Ahmed has often been rightly described as ‘one of the most dynamic and charismatic politicians to emerge in modern Africa’.

His actions were directed towards fostering and strengthening internal stability and he’s now emerged as a harbinger of optimism with regards to the future of the country for a majority of Ethiopians. His appearance on the front of Ethiopian politics was in the midst of a terrible long-drawn social and political crisis in the country. The enforcement of the marital law by the government for the second time in two years- with numerous demonstrations, roadblocks and conflicts taken to the streets and violence flaring up in the urban and rural areas. It advanced to the outskirts of Addis Ababa, interfering with public affairs on a daily basis. Despite the desperate involvement and attempt of EPRDF to curb the unrest which led to the resignation of the chairperson and the eventual election of Abiy Ahmed into the role following a tightly contested inter-party election.

One of the primary objectives for Abiy Ahmed during his tenure was to stabilize the troubled Ethiopian nation. He made his way to local communities and his regional visits made apparent what was important to the people of his nation. He donned local attires, delivered his messages in languages familiar to the people and followed their customs; his actions reflected a local need that had been overlooked so far. His visits focused mainly on the areas that were most affected by the anti-government demonstrations- he lent an ear and made sure that all voices across his nation were heard. The unconventional and disarming method of delivery of his message of peace and unity made a mark on the nation’s people and had a tangible impact on the people’s expectations of his leadership.

The Change Of Women’s Roles After Abiy Ahmed

Another important modification that Abiy Ahmed made to his administration was to appoint women to half of the government’s ministerial posts. The Defense Minister, Minister of Peace and Finance Minister positions are a few of the ministerial posts in the Ethiopian government currently filled in by women. Equal gender representation has been adopted by Rwanda in the past and Ethiopia is now the only second African state to display the same. In addition to gender inclusivity, this new cabinet is also more ethnically diverse than ever before.

The Message Of ‘Medemer’- Ahmed’s Approach To Peacemaking

Medemer which translates to “addition” or “synergy” in Amharic, is a concept that Abiy Ahmed believes is pivotal to driving development in Ethiopia in the right direction. It is focused on building on the rich heritage of the country and adding to that to build up a favourable future for the country.

In his book, Abiy Ahmed goes on to further elaborate on the Medemer concept. He draws parallels between Medemer and the principle of BODMAS in Mathematics. In BODMAS, the first thing to get rid of is the bracket- he compares this to the wall of hate which must be destroyed. He also explains that the Medemer concept is so much more than just mathematics as ‘you’ and ‘I’ adds up to become ‘we’ in this scenario. There’s an aspect of subtraction too- elimination of trespassing, evil, resentment, laziness, dishonesty and hate are pivotal. The weapons used to apply this are mercy, forgiveness, love and compassion. Division comes in the form of dividing or sharing kindness, wisdom, love and money.

The Process of Democratisation

The government led by Dr Abiy Ahmed initiated a process of democratisation with assurances and promises of a democratic election in May 2020. This process began with the appointment of a member of an opposition party previously listed as a terrorist group, an open space for participation and competition wherein anyone can speak about politics in public without fear of detention. He has also ensured that the regional governments get full autonomy. This process is an ongoing one but it is a step in the right direction. For a country that has never experienced democracy before, a lot of effort is necessitated.

Ethiopia’s Future- Ahmed’s Vision

At age 42, Abiy is the youngest leader across Africa. He intends on showcasing Ethiopia’s fascinating history by building a digital museum, a mini-Ethiopian theme park and a zoo with approximately 250 animals. He anticipates a footfall of thousands of paying visitors on a daily basis.

These claims following his remarkable work done over the course of his time in the office are the swiftest delivered political liberalisation efforts in Ethiopia’s 2000-year history.

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