The leader of the Norwegian Nobel Committee made it clear on Friday that this year’s Nobel Peace Prize isn’t just aimed at recognizing and encouraging Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali for his efforts to secure peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea. It’s also meant to help resolve conflicts in the region, and is the latest in a long line of Peace Prizes to leaders in Africa.
“The Norwegian Nobel Committee hopes the peace agreement will help to bring about positive change for the entire populations of Ethiopia and Eritrea,” stated Berit Reiss-Andersen, the Norwegian lawyer who leads the Oslo-based committee that awards the Nobel Peace Prize. She noted, however, how Abiy also “has engaged in other peace and reconciliation processes in East and Northeast Africa,” between, for example, Eritrea and Djibouti, Kenya and Somalia and in Sudan. The prize announcement itself cited Abiy’s efforts to “achieve peace and international cooperation.”
Andersen stressed, however, that “many challenges remain unresolved” in Abiy’s own Ethiopia, as ethnic strifes continues to escalate. Abiy also has yet to bring about free and fair elections in the country.
“No doubt some people will think this year’s prize is being awarded too early,” Andersen read from the committee’s official prize statement. “The Norwegian Nobel Committee believes it is now that Abiy Ahmed’s efforts deserve recognition and need encouragement.”
The Nobel Peace Prize has a long history of being aimed at encouraging peace processes in addition to merely recognizing efforts made or achieved. There have been disappointments, for example involving leaders in South Korea, Burma/Myanmar and the US. Andersen said the committee hopes that this year’s Peace Prize will “strengthen Prime Minister Abiy in his important work for peace and reconciliation. Ethiopia is Africa’s second-most populous country and has East Africa’s largest economy. A peaceful, stable and successful Ethiopia will have many positive side-effects.”
She also felt obliged to once again to stress that the prize to Abiy was also in line with the terms of Alfred Nobel’s will because it will “help strengthen fraternity among nations” and peoples in the region. The Nobel committee has regularly been criticized, not least by Oslo lawyer Fredrik Heffermehl, for failing to abide by the terms of Nobel’s will when choosing prize winners.
Heffermehl, of the organization Nobel Peace Prize Watch, responded on Friday by stating that he and the organization recognized “the great contributions of Abiy Ahmed to local peace agreements, but we had hoped the Norwegian awarders would by now have understood that Nobel had a greater ambition, of cooperation on disarmament and a world peace order.” Heffermehl claimed that “Nobel’s wish to liberate all nations from weapons, warriors and war is again missing in the 2019 prize.”
Abiy had, however, figured highly on various lists of both likely and worthy candidates for this year’s prize. The Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) was among those with Abiy on its shortlist of worthy candidates, for his “progressive reforms” in Ethiopia, his “rare sensitivity” to political inclusion and his ambitious program for economic and social programs aimed at lifting Ethiopia up from the bottom of the international Human Development Index. It’s hoped that the Peace Prize will prod along the reforms, spur elections and quell ethnic violence.
The Peace Prize will be formally awarded to Abiy in Oslo on December 10, the anniversary of Nobel’s death.