Abiy Ahmed Ali Ill. Niklas Elmehed. © Nobel Media.

The Prime Minister of Ethiopia was awarded the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize Oct. 11. Abiy Ahmed has spent his first year in office working to create peace between Ethiopia and its neighbor, Eritrea. Kayla Glaraton writes on the sometimes controversial history of the Nobel Peace Prize and why it really honors.

For over 20 years, relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea have been tenuous. Families were separated and over 80,000 people died between 1998 and 2000 in the Eritrean-Ethiopian war. Although much of the violence ended at the same time as the war, an official peace agreement did not come until July 2018. 

Abiy Ahmed became the chairman of the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front in March 2018. The chairman typically becomes the prime minister, as the party holds every seat in parliament, effectively giving them total control of the government. However, Mr. Abiy, despite not being elected in, has talked of bringing free and fair elections to Africa’s second-most populous country.

Making peace official between the two nations just months after being sworn in as prime minister is impressive. It shows a commitment to progress and making the future better through action, not just talk. Although Mr. Abiy is the head of an essentially autocratic party, he is not interested in maintaining the status quo.

It is for those reasons that the Norwegian Nobel Committee chose him to win the prestigious honor. Becoming a Nobel Peace Prize laureate makes him part of an exclusive club. He joins a group that includes former U.S. presidents, global institutions like the International Committee of the Red Cross, and religious leaders. And like some of his fellow laureates, Mr. Abiy’s prize is not without controversy.

Nobel Peace Prize Controversies

Despite Mr. Abiy’s direct involvement in creating peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea, some do not believe his actions are worthy of such a high recognition. Mr. Abiy worked with his Eritrean counterpart, President Isaias Afwerki, to create the peace agreement. However, Mr. Isaias’s government is viewed as totalitarian.

There is still internal work that needs to be done in both nations before Ethiopians and Eritreans have total freedom. Both Mr. Abiy and Mr. Isaias need to do more as individual leaders and as partners. The Nobel Peace Prize is meant to encourage further action, but some fear it may embolden Mr. Isaias to keep a firm grip on Eritrea. They wonder how the Nobel prize can be awarded when there is still no peace in Eritrea.

Former U.S. President Barack Obama’s award in 2009 and Mr. Abiy’s 2019 award were controversial in the same way. Both won the Nobel Peace Prize less than two years after being sworn in. Mr. Obama’s award was meant to support the new president and honor the promises he made on the campaign trail, such as prioritizing climate change.

However, Mr. Obama had to either have been nominated before his inauguration or just days after, given the nomination deadline. At that point, his only true contribution towards peace in America was becoming its first African-American president. Although this was a necessary and important step for the United States, many saw the honor as undue and ultimately unsuccessful in its desired goal of strengthening Mr. Obama’s presidency.

Perhaps the greatest failure by the Nobel Peace Prize committee was Mahatma Gandhi. Despite being nominated five times, the great political activist and champion for freedom, civil rights and nonviolent protests never became a Nobel laureate. However, following his assassination in 1948, the Norwegian Nobel Committee decided to not award anyone that year as, “there was no suitable living candidate.”

Prize Honors The Impact Beyond Action

One of the main arguments against Mr. Abiy receiving the Nobel Peace Prize is that his actions have done little to change the everyday lives of both Ethiopians and Eritreans. Yet, the main reason behind this honor seems to be last year’s peace agreement brought about by the prime minister’s work to restore relations between himself and Eritrea’s president

 As the committee put it, “Peace does not arise from the actions of one party alone.” Mr. Abiy needed to extend his hand in fellowship to start the process towards an end to the nearly 20-year stalemate. The award is meant to honor the greater impact of his actions, not the immediate situation achieved or, more importantly, not achieved. 

Alfred Nobel’s will says that the peace prize should go to those who “have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations.” Past Nobel Peace Prize winners have always pushed for greater collaboration between mankind for the success of all. They are those who have stood for more freedom, stronger civil rights and, ultimately, peace. 

The Nobel Peace Prize should not be viewed as a popularity contest. It should not hinder any current peace-making efforts by labeling the situation as “all clear.” The prize should celebrate steps taken towards greater harmony between mankind. Through Mr. Abiy, the committee is sending a message to the region that its efforts towards peace in Africa, although difficult and time-consuming, are not going unnoticed.

That being said, those who believe they deserve the award, regardless of if they have done something worthy of recognition, should not expect to win. Lasting peace requires sacrifice, patience, selflessness, and a commitment towards a better future, even if you do not live to see it. Simply put, President Trump, becoming the “Leader of the Free World” does not mean you yourself should receive a Nobel Peace Prize.

Kayla Glaraton is a Generation Z Voice at The Pavlovic Today. Her interests include human rights, American politics and policy, the environment and international affairs. Kayla is studying journalism and...

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