For weeks, the world had been wondering who would receive this year’s Nobel Peace Prize - one of the most prestigious awards in existence.
Would it be Greta Thunberg, the girl who inspired millions to raise awareness for climate change? Or maybe New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, who urged peace and unity after terrorist attacks in her country?
Last Friday, the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced its decision, awarding the prize to Abiy Ahmed Ali, the leader of the African country of Ethiopia, for signing a peace agreement with neighboring Eritrea. Let’s look back on the history of these countries and why Abiy deserves such a unique honor.
Two Wars And A Long Wait For Peace
The conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea dates back to the end of World War II in 1945. Eritrea had originally been part of Ethiopia, but in 1890, the Italian military took over Eritrea and made it a colony of Italy. When Italy lost World War II, it was forced to grant independence to all of its colonies, and Eritrea was reunited with Ethiopia.
However, many Eritreans believed that their country should be independent because it had different ethnic groups, languages, and religions (Ethiopia is majority-Christian, but about half of Eritreans are Muslim). Initially, Ethiopia promised to give Eritrea partial control over its own government. But in 1961, Ethiopia broke its promise and revoked Eritrea’s autonomy. Thus began the 30-year-long Eritrean War of Independence, which led to the deaths of over 250,000 people.
In 1991, Eritrea won its independence war, and the countries were officially split in 1993. However, Ethiopia and Eritrea disagreed over which country should control the town of Badme. This disagreement led to a new war between the countries, in which nearly 100,000 people died. In 2000, Ethiopia agreed to give up Badme, but later changed its mind and continued to occupy the town. For nearly 20 years, the countries threatened and distrusted each other, and it seemed that peace would never come to the region.
Abiy Resolves The Conflict
Abiy Ahmed was elected prime minister of Ethiopia in 2018, becoming the youngest leader in all of Africa. He immediately began to peacefully encourage the government of Eritrea, led by dictator Isaias Afewerki, to enter peace talks with Ethiopia.
In July of 2018, the leaders met in Eritrea and signed an agreement to formally end the conflict. Ethiopia promised to honor the 2000 agreement by returning Badme to Eritrea, and Isaias agreed to resume commercial flights and relations between the countries (which had not existed since the war). People in both Ethiopia and Eritrea celebrated the agreement and expressed pride in the leaders’ commitment to peace.
While Abiy has succesfully mended relations with Eritrea, he now faces the challenge of encouraging peace in his own country. Recently, Ethiopia has seen an increase in conflicts between its various ethnic groups, which have killed many people and displaced nearly 3 million more from their homes. While Abiy has taken steps to improve the situation in Ethiopia, the fighting has not stopped.
Leaders around the world have congratulated Abiy on winning the Peace Prize and hope that he will be able to establish peace within his country as effectively as he did on its border.
Sources: BBC, CNN, DW, VOX, newworldencyclopedia.org