Eritrea: Diverse International Views on the Nobel Peace Prize Awarded to PM Abiy Ahmed
Here is a story that was published on BBC Tigrinya Service website on 16 Oct 2019 concerning the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to Ethiopia's PM, Dr. Abiy Ahmed.
The story is based on the on-going discussions that are taking place within Eritrean and Ethiopian circles. The three views we have presented are provided by a Dutch journalist, Norwegian and English academics.
Professor Kjetil Tronvoll: “The Prize must be seen as support to an on-going [peace] process, and not for work accomplished.” Kjetil Tronvoll is a professor of peace and conflict studies. He has published numerous books on Ethiopia and Eritrea.
Professor Alex de Waal: "The prize is a test for PM Abiy Ahmed." Alex de Waal is a British researcher on African elite politics. He is the executive director of the World Peace Foundation at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University
Koert Lindjer: "The Prize may give Abiy Ahmed confidence in the months ahead." Koert Lindjer is based in Nairobi and he has been Africa correspondent for NOS News and NRC Handelsblad since 1983.
Here are their views in their entirety:
1. Professor de Waal: Some awards of the Nobel Peace Prize are for a lifetime of accomplishments by a person or an institution. Some are given as much in hope as in recognition: an example of the latter was the 2009 award to President Barack Obama, who at the time was a powerful symbol of change rather than someone with a proven record of achievement of peace.
For Obama, the Prize became more of a burden than an asset; it was a standard which he struggled to live up to, rather than a beautification. There is good reason why the Catholic Church only awards sainthood when the recipient has already passed on.
The award of the Nobel Peace Prize to PM Abiy Ahmed is like that to President Obama. It is primarily in recognition of the promise that he holds out, rather than for his consolidated accomplishments. The Peace Prize is a test, and the people of Ethiopia and the neighbouring countries will all be hoping that he passes the test.
It will be tempting for PM Abiy and his supporters to use the Peace Prize to uniformly legitimize his programme and his actions, and to delegitimize his adversaries. That would be a mistake: much better is to see it as a high standard to which the Ethiopian PM will be held accountable.
He will continually be tested against this high standard: he and his followers are now required to reach out with open arms of forgiveness and reconciliation to their adversaries; should they follow the customary path of political rough and tumble, let alone ever using violence, they will be called out more readily and rigorously than before.
One other thing is striking about this award. In the past, when two countries, long-standing enemies, have come together to make peace, it is customary for the Nobel Peace Prize to be awarded jointly. In this case, the blaring headline that the Ethiopian PM has been awarded the Nobel Prize is accompanied by the equally blaring silence: breaking with Nobel tradition, the Eritrean President has NOT been awarded the prize.
2. Professor Tronvoll: “Granting of the Nobel Peace Prize to PM Abiy Ahmed brings the prize back to the core values of the Nobel testament: in support of reconciliation between peoples (brotherhood), organization of peace congresses (or processes), and disarmament. Throughout the history of the prize, one could on many occasions question the justification of the Nobel Committee to award the prize to a certain person, based on the original will of Alfred Nobel. This time around, however, no one can cast in doubt that the achievements of PM Abiy during his short term in power all fall well within the original intention by the founder of the Prize. However, this should neither be read as an official endorsement or praise for all his policies and actions, or rather lack thereof.
In its reasoning to offer the Prize to PM Abiy, the Nobel Committee emphasized his initiative to solve the Eritrea-Ethiopia stalemate, to open up for political reforms in Ethiopia, as well as his regional engagement for peace and stability; all points well-grounded in what PM Abiy actually has undertaken. However, the Committee also recognizes that this is very much “work in progress”, and in that regard the Prize must be understood as support to an ongoing process, and not for work completed.
Reasonably, the Prize has sparked a lot of debate on whether PM Abiy deserves it or not, considering the unrest, instability, and displacement many people of Ethiopia have experienced during his tenure. This is a legitimate concern from the people affected, and the Prize should be an incentive for the PM to increase his efforts to focus on domestic reconciliation and the internal security predicament of the country, rather than concentrating on regional processes.
But, it is also known that the federal EPRDF government is severely weakened and does not hold the political power, will, or capability to adequately launch security interventions at regional and local level throughout the country to arrest or mitigate a conflict process, or has the necessary local legitimacy to operate as an “objective” peace-maker. In this regard, although PM Abiy is the ultimate responsible political executive in the country, he cannot be directly blamed for many of the conflicts the country is currently experiencing.
In relation to the stalled Eritrea “peace” process, it is clear that it “takes two to tango”. My understanding is that it is President Isaias Afwerki who is holding back to institutionalize the peace process and normalize the bilateral relations.
Ethiopia has submitted at least three bilateral agreements to Asmara for ratification, without any concrete action by Eritrea to that effect. Of course this has its own reasoning and harks back to the original objectives of President Isaias Afwerki to enter into dialogue with PM Abiy; objectives which do no necessarily have anything to do with peace consolidation. To move this process forward, all parties to the conflict (TPLF included) needs to be part of the negotiations; basically because the key element to solving the conflict (both territorially, socially, and economically) involves the people and government of Tigray.
Paradoxically, many Eritrean human rights activists have criticized the Prize, as they claim it “white-washes” President Isiaas Afwerki. I think this is a rather simplified interpretation, and it overlooks the historicity of the Nobel Peace Prize. Usually when the Peace Prize is awarded for a peace process, both sides to the original conflict and peace process are recognized and awarded. This time not so. By very consciously not granting the Prize to President Isaias Afwerki, it must be interpreted as an explicit statement of criticism by the Nobel Committee against President Isaias Afwerki and his regime in Eritrea, for the dire human rights situation in the country and the lack of democratic reforms.”
3. Mr Lindjer: Every year, around this time, the foreign desk of my newspaper, as well as all our correspondents around the world, are on standby for the announcement of the Nobel Prize for Peace. This year I could not descry any possible candidate from Africa; so I let the usual tension pass me by. To my big surprise the honour went to Abiy Ahmed.
I had told my colleagues that the man with the smile on his face and the word “love” repeatedly used is his speeches, was a project in progress, not a success yet. Yes, he made revolutionary announcements, but not enough has been achieved to warrant such an important prize.
The peace pact with Eritrea has not materialised yet with the borders closed and no trade has been resumed between the two nations. More important, important segments of Ethiopian society have their doubts about reconciliation with Eritrea.
His internal policies were very radical for the conservative nation. In his honeymoon months he symbolised hope for the Ethiopians. The opening up of the political arenas and allowing freedom of speech to burgeon were quite revolutionary. But by opening up the space he also released xenophobic ethnic-nationalist sentiments, which did lead to violence and hundreds of thousands of displaced civilian.
The elections next year could well be another spark in this explosive mix of ethnic politics. More over: the ruling EPRDF is still in power and is headed by Abiy Ahmed. It was the EPRDF that made the governments so unpopular in the past. The big change all Ethiopians were waiting for, namely the end of the EPRDF, still has to take place.
Maybe the best thing that this Nobel price can do, is give Abiy Ahmed confidence in the months ahead. Because Ethiopia is facing very difficult times, full with danger and threats to peace.