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What was the conflict that earned the Ethiopian Prime Minister the Nobel Peace Prize?

by Ace Damon
What was the conflict that earned the Ethiopian Prime Minister the Nobel Peace Prize?

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(Aron Simeneh / Wikimedia Commons)

Current Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali had barely taken office in April 2018 and soon forged an effective and long-awaited peace treaty. Three months after becoming an agent, he sealed a pact with neighboring Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki to end two decades of military tension between the two countries.

By the same act, Abiy received the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize today. According to the chairman of the committee that elects the prize winner, Berit Reiss-Andersen, the Ethiopian politician was honored for his “efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation, and in particular its decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighboring Eritrea. ”

But where did the conflict that culminated in the Nobel come from?

Understanding between countries formalized the end of a war that broke out between 1998 and 2000 between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Two years of intense confrontation have caused tens of thousands of deaths and cost hundreds of millions of dollars, weakening both economies.

In 2005, an international commission assessed that it was Eritrea that initiated the friction – which began with the invasion of Ethiopian territories. In response, however, the Ethiopian troops returned in kind. And ultimately, they were the ones who took the most land from the neighboring country.

The roots of this hostility all come from the 20th century. Ethiopia lost its independence in 1935 when it was invaded and occupied by fascist Italy. Only in 1942, in an alliance with the United Kingdom, Ethiopia was once again a sovereign country – under the rule of an emperor, Haile Selassie.

In the post-WWII phase, Ethiopia underwent a modernization campaign, which included the abolition of slavery. Ten years later, in 1952, Eritrea comes into play in Ethiopian politics: countries rehearsed a partnership of the great and almost became a union of federal states (more or less like the United Arab Emirates – several countries organized in one).

The project was abandoned ten years later, in 1962. Ethiopia dissolved and moved on to a far less diplomatic initiative: it annexed the state next door, starting a 30-year-old movement fighting for Eritrea's independence.

Selassie was overthrown in 1974 and took over a Soviet-backed communist dictatorship. Dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam, who ruled the country with an iron fist between 1977 and 1991, was sentenced to death for war crimes and lives in exile in Zimbabwe.

With the fall of the Soviet Union, the regime ceased to receive military support and also fell, beginning in 1991 the democratic federal republic that lasts to this day. That same year, Eritrea finally gained its independence, formally recognized two years later.

The problem is that the history of the two countries was not that friendly at this point – the interest in expanding borders was historical, and it only made things more complicated by defining which portions of the territory would be left with which country. This was the process that ultimately culminated in the war of the end of the decade.

Nobel winner himself

Abiy Ahmed Ali won the Nobel Peace Prize for his Eritrea deal, but is also famous for other reasons. First, because he is the youngest head of state in African countries: he is 43 years old. And second, by applying democratic measures to modernize Ethiopia's complicated political record: Abiy granted amnesty to political dissidents, freed jailed journalists, appointed women to 50 percent of his cabinet, and led the campaign to plant 350 million trees. in Ethiopia.

With a career in the Ethiopian army and cyber intelligence specialist, Abiy reached the rank of lieutenant colonel before joining politics in 2010. As a teenager, he became involved in resistance against the Mengistu Haile Mariam regime. In addition to his military career, he has a master's degree in transformational leadership and a doctorate in peace and security studies.

He was minister of science and technology before taking power and mediated conflicts between Christians and Muslims by creating a forum for religious dialogue. “I feel honored and excited… thank you very much. It is a prize awarded to Africa, Ethiopia, and I can imagine how other African leaders will receive it positively to work on the peace-building process on our continent, ”said Abiy of the Nobel.

Other Nobel Peace Prize winners this year were Swedish teenager and climate activist Greta Thunberg, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and pro-democracy activists from Hong Kong. Since 1901, a total of 99 individuals and organizations have been honored with the honor that seeks to promote world peace. The $ 900,000 medal, diploma and award ceremony will be held in Oslo, the capital of Norway, in December.

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