There are 304 candidates for the Nobel Peace Prize for 2019 out of which 219 are individuals and 85 are organizations. One of the individuals is Abiy Ahmed, Prime Minister of Ethiopia.
As one of his first major actions after taking office in April 2018, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took steps to formally end the conflict with Eritrea, handing over the disputed border city of Badme and signing a “Joint Declaration of Peace and Friendship” on 9 July 2018 with his Eritrean counterpart Isaias Afwerki. In a similarly bold move, Abiy has engaged in dialogue with the many armed, regional Ethiopian opposition groups, succeeding in persuading the Oromo Liberation Front to commit to peaceful participation in the political process.
Progressive reforms following his rise to power include constitutional and security sector reforms, lifting the state of emergency, pardoning political prisoners, and establishing a ministry for peace. Himself of mixed Oromo and Amhara heritage, his mother being an Orthodox Christian and his father a Muslim, Abiy appointed a cabinet demonstrating a rare sensitivity to political inclusion. The president and half of the ministers are women, including a female minister of defense, and all major ethnic and religious groups are represented.
Ethiopia is amongst the countries ranked near the bottom of the Human Development Index, and Abiy’s ambitious program for economic and social reform arguably represents a broader, long-term conflict prevention agenda. Similarly, his initiatives to boost economic collaboration and trade in the region, including agreements securing Ethiopian access to ports in neighboring Djibouti, Sudan, Somaliland, and Kenya, bring hope for a more stable and prosperous development for the whole of the Horn of Africa.
Despite having initiated democratic reforms, Abiy Ahmed has yet to bring about free and fair elections in Ethiopia. In what is still effectively a one-party state, the country ranks below 150 on the V-Dem Liberal Democracy index. While there is precedent for the award of Nobel prizes for contributions to peace processes still underway, the absence of a committed and concrete plan for free and fair elections remains the most serious hurdle to a 2019 peace prize for Abiy.
A possible co-winner could be Eritrea’s president Isaias Afwerki, in acknowledgement of the peace agreement finally resolving the Eritrean-Ethiopian War.