12 Oct 2019

Ethiopian PM wins Nobel peace prize ahead of Thunberg, Ardern

6:29 am on 12 October 2019

The 2019 Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed who made peace last year with bitter foe Eritrea.

(FILES) In this file photo taken on April 11, 2018 New Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed waves during his rally in Ambo, about 120km west of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed says he shares his Nobel Peace Prize with the African continent. Photo: AFP

He was awarded the prize for his efforts to "achieve peace and international cooperation".

Mr Abiy's peace deal with Eritrea ended a 20-year military stalemate following their 1998-2000 border war.

He was named as the winner of the 100th Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, where he will receive the award in December.

It is worth some $NZ1.4 million.

There had been great speculation over who would win the prize, with climate activist Greta Thunberg widely tipped as the favourite. Under the Nobel Foundation's rules, nomination shortlists are not allowed to be published for 50 years, and the organisation says any speculation ahead of the announcement is "sheer guesswork".

Hours before the announcement, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern was showing as third favourite with the betting agency, William Hill. She was nominated for the work she did to unite the country following the 15 March mosque attacks in Christchurch.

Following the announcement, Mr Abiy said he was "humbled and thrilled".

"Thank you very much. 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 on our continent," he added in a phone call with the secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

A total of 301 candidates had been nominated for the prestigious award, including 223 individuals and 78 organisations.

A picture of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali is on display at the Nobel Peace Center in Oslo on October 11, 2019.

A picture of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali is on display at the Nobel Peace Centre in Oslo. Photo: AFP

Abiy Ahmed introduces reforms, promotes women

After becoming prime minister in April 2018, Mr Abiy introduced massive liberalising reforms to Ethiopia, shaking up what was a tightly controlled nation.

He freed thousands of opposition activists from jail and allowed exiled dissidents to return home. Under him, several women have also been appointed to prominent positions.

Most importantly, he signed the peace deal with Eritrea.

But his reforms also lifted the lid on Ethiopia's ethnic tensions, and the resulting violence forced some 2.5 million people from their homes.

Why did he win?

Mr Abiy, 43, was honoured for his "decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighbouring Eritrea", the Norwegian Nobel Committee said.

"The prize is also meant to recognise all the stakeholders working for peace and reconciliation in Ethiopia and in the East and Northeast African regions," they said.

"Peace does not arise from the actions of one party alone. When Prime Minister Abiy reached out his hand, President Afwerki grasped it, and helped to formalise the peace process between the two countries. The Norwegian Nobel Committee hopes the peace agreement will help to bring about positive change for the entire populations of Ethiopia and Eritrea."

Since the Eritrea deal, Mr Abiy - the youngest head of government in Africa - has also been involved in peace processes in other African countries, the committee said. This has included helping to broker an agreement between Sudan's military leaders and civilian opposition after months of protests.

Mr Abiy's office said the award was testimony "to the ideals of unity, cooperation and mutual coexistence that the prime minister has been consistently championing".

Warm reaction

African leaders were among those to congratulate Mr Abiy following his win.

Somalia's President Mohamed Farmaajo described Mr Abiy as a "deserving winner" as he congratulated him on Twitter. "I have enjoyed working with him on strengthening regional co-operation," he wrote.

Liberia's President George Weah expressed his "warmest felicitations for this noble feat", while Ghana's President Nana Akufo-Addo said the award was "a reminder to us all that peace is one of the most critical ingredients needed to make Africa successful".

The head of the Norwegian Refugee Council, Jan Egeland, congratulated Mr Abiy but said he must now "make resolving ethnic tensions within Ethiopia a priority".

Human rights group Amnesty International welcomed Mr Abiy's reforms and efforts towards peace, but said his work was "far from done".

"He must urgently ensure that his government addresses the ongoing ethnic tensions that threaten instability and further human rights abuses," it added.

Bisrat Hadte, a 45-year-old businessman in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, told Reuters news agency that Mr Abiy also needed to "improve the economy and drive down the cost of living".


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