Ideas & Debate

LETTERS: Lessons from Abiy’s Nobel Peace Prize win

On 2nd April 2018, Abiy Ahmed became the 15th Prime Minister of Ethiopia and Chairman of both the ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), and the Oromo Democratic Party (ODP). During his acceptance speech, he made a number of promises to his people.

He promised to: promote the unity of Ethiopians; to reach out to the Eritrean government to resolve the then long standing Eritrean-Ethiopian border conflict; to reach out to the political opposition inside and outside of Ethiopia; and to ensure political reforms in Ethiopia.

In his first 100 days, Prime Minister Abiy had lifted the country’s state of emergency, granted amnesty to thousands of political prisoners, discontinued media censorship, legalised outlawed opposition groups, dismissed military and civilian leaders suspected of corruption, and increased the influence of women in political and community life. A fact that was well considered by the Nobel Peace committee.

One year later, Prime Minister Abiy had actualized most of his promises and burnished his name in history books as a peace maker.

This is no mean fete especially in a country and region characterised by prolonged episodes of conflict, intolerance and political strife of varying magnitudes.


The pursuit of peace in a region where stability is a scarce commodity is seldom a hole in one! Long living examples have repeatedly cemented this hypothetical belief so much so that politically, any attempt at deconstructing it is meted with scientific doubt. Yet, barely one year into his leadership, the Norwegian Nobel committee announced Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed as Nobel peace prize nominee and eventual winner.

While announcing the reasons for awarding Abiy this year’s Nobel peace prize, the Nobel committee whose decision is final and without appeal, justified the award based on solid gains achieved by the Prime Minister. In fact, it seemed as if they had a marking scheme against which they graded Abiy’s vision as laid out in his acceptance speech.

The Nobel Peace committee cited a litany of initiatives and achievements, chief among these are Abiy’s work to bring to an end the border dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea; restoring a raft of freedoms, and releasing thousands of political prisoners.

Tellingly, Abiy’s government boasts of a 50 percent female cabinet, and the only female president in Africa. The head of Ethiopia’s National Electoral Board is female too. For this, Prime Minister Abiy noted that having women in leadership will continue to help Ethiopia achieve peace and stability.

The build up towards his nomination and subsequent win is grounded on a number of fetes, strategies, sacrifices, and vision. Abiy’s mantra is grounded on the belief that opinions whether they are anti, or pro government should never be causes of division in Ethiopia. This vision is well documented and expressed further in his recently launched book, Medemer.

The honesty, humility, passion, strength, vision and courage which he possess are a seal of approval and reminder of what leadership is about. No amount of diplomatic make up will convince and cover up for any inadequacies. It is no wonder then that in Ethiopia, and the Horn of Africa region at large, a problem that was quite literally begging for a solution seems to have likely got one.

While at it, we acknowledge that there is no single solution that would slay the problems inside Ethiopia all at once. There are outstanding political and economic challenges which have been in existence for a long time and taken deep root in our society. Like elsewhere, they are not unique to Ethiopia. They may take some time to overcome, but we are committed to succeed.

We belief that our neighbouring countries, and our sister state Kenya can help us to surefootedly engrave wholesale adoption of peace in the region. Together we can overcome the common economic challenges. This win is not only for Ethiopia but for Africa as a whole.

While receiving her Nobel Peace prize in 2011, Ellen Sirleaf Johnson said, ‘if your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough’ It is apparent Prime Minister Abiy was listening.

Meles Alem, Ethiopian Ambassador to Kenya.