Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed wins 2019 Nobel Peace Prize

Abiy Ahmed won for his role in ending the war between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

October 11, 2019, 6:10 AM

LONDON -- Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee, which is responsible for selecting the Nobel Peace Prize recipients each year, decided to award this year's prize to Abiy "for his efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation, and in particular for his decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighboring Eritrea."

"The prize is also meant to recognize all the stakeholders working for peace and reconciliation in Ethiopia and in the East and Northeast African regions," the committee said in a statement Friday.

Along with the notoriety, Abiy will receive a cash award of 9 million Swedish krona, or about $915,000.

In Ethiopia, the prime minister wields the executive power; and the position of president, while it carries significant social influence, is largely a ceremonial post.

Abiy, 43, became the prime minister of Ethiopia in April 2018. He spent his first few months in office freeing thousands of the country's political prisoners, lifted media censorship and appointing women ministers to a record 50 percent of his cabinet. He also spearheaded a peace agreement to end 20 years of frozen conflict between his nation and Eritrea.

FILE PHOTO: Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed speaks at a news conference at his office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Aug. 1, 2019.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed speaks at a news conference at his office in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Aug. 1, 2019.
Tiksa Negeri/Reuters

Following a 1998 conflict over their shared border, which killed more than 80,000 people and separated thousands of families, Ethiopia and Eritrea became locked in a stalemate of neither peace nor war -- until last year. On July 9, 2018, Abiy flew to Eritrea's capital and embraced the country's president, Isaias Afwerki, to usher in a new era of peace and friendship. The two leaders jointly declared an end to the hostilities and announced the reopening of the Ethiopia-Eritrea border, resuming trade, telecommunications, transportation and diplomatic ties.

The move was life-changing for the thousands of people who hadn't been able to call or visit their loved ones across the border in two decades.

"Peace does not arise from the actions of one party alone," the Norwegian Nobel Committee said in its statement Friday. "When Prime Minister Abiy reached out his hand, President Afwerki grasped it, and helped to formalize the peace process between the two countries."

The committee acknowledged that "many challenges remain unsolved" in Ethiopia, Africa's second most populous country, where ongoing ethnic violence as well as conflict over land and resources have displaced millions of people. The committee said it hopes that the Nobel Peace Prize will strengthen Abiy "in his important work for peace and reconciliation."

"In Ethiopia, even if much work remains, Abiy Ahmed has initiated important reforms that give many citizens hope for a better life and a brighter future," the committee said. "No doubt some people will think this year’s prize is being awarded too early. The Norwegian Nobel Committee believes it is now that Abiy Ahmed’s efforts deserve recognition and need encouragement."

PHOTO: In this July 15, 2018 file photo, Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed hold hands as they wave at the crowds in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
In this July 15, 2018 file photo, Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, second left, and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, center, hold hands as they wave at the crowds in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Once official rivals, the leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea have embraced warmly to the roar of a crowd of thousands at a concert celebrating the end of a long state of war. The 2019 Nobel Peace Prize was given to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Oct. 11, 2019.
Mulugeta Ayene/AP

Last year's Nobel Peace Prize was awarded jointly to Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad "for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war and armed conflict."

Peace was the fifth and final prize category that Swedish inventor and scholar Alfred Nobel mentioned in his last will and testament. He left most of his fortune to be dedicated to the series of awards, the Nobel Prizes.

The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded annually to “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses," as described in Nobel's will.

All Nobel Prizes are awarded in Stockholm, Sweden, except for the Nobel Peace Prize, which is presented in Oslo, Norway.

To date, the youngest Nobel Peace Prize laureate is Malala Yousafzai, who was 17 years old when awarded the 2014 Peace Prize. Of the 106 individuals awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, just 17 are women.

Only one person has declined the Nobel Peace Prize -- Vietnamese politician Le Duc Tho -- who was awarded the prize with former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger in 1973 for negotiating the Vietnam peace agreement.

Ten years ago, former President Barack Obama won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize for what the Norwegian Nobel Committee called "his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples."