“Love is greater than modern weapons like tanks and missiles… Love can win hearts, and we have seen a great deal of it today here in Asmara.”
Not many political leaders would admit to a vision of love over war and that may be why Abiy Ahmed, prime minister of Ethiopia, was the clear favorite for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.
At 43, Dr. Abiy Ahmed Ali highly impressed the Norwegian Nobel Committee not only for his eloquence but also for his accomplishments as the fourth prime minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia since his election in April 2018.
He sparked an historic rapprochement with neighboring Eritrea, restoring ties that had been frozen since a 1998-2000 border war. His comment, shown above, was followed by a long embrace between the two national leaders that was seen by millions. He also helped mediate a dispute between Kenya and Somalia and helped bring together the leaders of Sudan and South Sudan for talks.
Domestically, the prime minister introduced a series of sweeping political and economic adjustments, including granting amnesty to thousands of political prisoners, discontinuing media censorship and dismissing several high-profile figures suspected to be guilty of corruption.
He gave many Ethiopians a better life and brighter future, remarked the chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee Berit Reiss-Andersen. His efforts at peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea inspired hopes of regional security and stability, remarked U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, and his leadership “set a wonderful example for others in and beyond Africa looking to overcome resistance from the past and put people first.”
Praise has poured in from all corners of the continent. African Union chief Moussa Faki described Abiy’s award as a source of “great pride”—“a collective win for Ethiopians, and a call to strengthen our resolve in making Ethiopia … a prosperous nation for all.”
“It is not only great news for the Ethiopian prime minister,” said Sophie Moekoena, news editor of the South African Broadcasting Corporation, “but also for the continent. When I heard who were the contenders for this prize (including Donald Trump), I knew that this one was going to Africa.”
Nobel Committee Chair Reiss-Andersen acknowledged that “no doubt” this year’s prize would be seen by some as “being awarded too early” but stressed the commission’s belief that it was “now” that Abiy’s efforts deserved recognition and needed encouragement.
Still, Abiy’s work was “far from done,” said an Amnesty International spokesperson, and cautioned that still-present tensions within Ethiopia, a mosaic of ethnic, linguistic and religious groups, “threaten instability and further human rights abuses.”
Indeed, Abiy’s attempts to introduce reforms have been accompanied by a surge in violence—often along ethnic lines amid long-simmering tensions—that has partly been blamed for the displacement of an estimated 3 million people. The prime minister, himself, has already survived an apparent assassination attempt.
Abiy will receive the award in December in Oslo.