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Abiy Ahmed: Why Buzz Is Growing About Nobel Peace Prize For Africa’s Youngest Leader

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Abiy Ahmed holding up his hand after winning with suit and tie

Just few months ago, unrest that had been growing for years gripped Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populace country and the fastest growing economy in the vast continent. Now, the sense of optimism throughout the country and the global Ethiopian community is overwhelming. How? It mainly has to do with Africa’s youngest and newest leader: Dr. Abiy Ahmed.

The Who

Dr. Abiy Ahmed just celebrated his 100th day as Ethiopia’s Prime Minister. The 41-year-old came into power after the former Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn abruptly resigned. Opposition to the ruling party had been growing for years in Ethiopia, becoming more powerful and violent in the months before Desalegn’s resignation. The person elected to replace Desalegn from the four coalitions that make up the ruling party EPRDF was Dr. Abiy Ahmed.

Dr. Ahmed was born and raised in the Jimma region of Ethiopia. He was born into a mixed religion family, with his father being Muslim and his mother Christian. He went on to serve in the Ethiopian National Defense Force and holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Engineering, two Masters, in Transformational Leadership and Business Administration, and a PhD.

After the death of his brother in the hands of the Marxist-Leninist regime that ruled Ethiopia for seventeen years, he joined the Oromo People’s Democratic Organization, a small organization that resisted the government and later on joined up with bigger forces to defeat Ethiopia’s ruling communist party.

Dr. Ahmed served in the military for years, mostly in the intelligence and communications department. He was the acting director of the Ethiopian Information Network Security Agency (INSA) for few years and quit that post to become a politician. He became an elected member of the House of Peoples’ Representatives in 2010.

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His rise to power and recognition? Dr. Ahmed became one of the central figures in the fight against illegal land-grabbing activities in the Oromia Region. Although he is ultimately a member of the coalition that makes up the ruling party in Ethiopia, he did not shy away from criticizing the government or listening to the frustration of the people he was representing. He was seen as one of the most popular politicians in Ethiopia for not only his openness to criticism but his ability to build bridges between opposing sides.

Then, it was no surprise Abiy Ahmed was elected by the members of the leading party to head a country with growing tribal and religious divide.

The Why

So why is the internet buzzing already with calls for the Nobel Peace Prize for Africa’s youngest leader? Here are just a few things he has been able to accomplish, in just his first 100 days.

-During the previous leadership, thousands of opposition party members, journalists, and harsh critics of the government were imprisoned. Soon after taking power, Dr. Ahmed presided over the release of most of these prisoner, including a prominent opposition party leader, Andargachew Tsege. The Oromo region alone pardoned 7,600 prisoners!

-In his several addresses to the parliament since taking office, Dr. Ahmed announced his plans to review various laws that he believed needed fixing, including a divisive system of ethnic federalism and the country’s anti-terrorism laws that lead to the jailing of many government critics.

-In June, the ruling coalition announced plans for a large-scale privatization of many stat-owned enterprises, including telecommunications, aviation, electricity, and more.

-Dr. Ahmed traveled to Egypt, Kenya, Sudan, Djibouti, and Abu Dhabi for an agreement to have Ethiopian prisoners released. As a result, over 3700 prisoners have been released so far. 


The Biggest Why

Ethiopia and Eritrea were once one country. After the fall of the Derg regime in Ethiopia , Eritrea was able to gain the independence it had pursued for over 30 years. The year was 1993. 

In May of 1998, a war broke out between Ethiopia and Eritrea over small boarder territories including the town of Badme, a disputed territory Eritrea believed belonged to them. The war lasted until June of 2000, but relations between the two countries had been hostile ever since. The countries remained in a “no war, no peace” state. 

Ethiopian citizens living in Eritrea were deported to Ethiopia and vise versa during the two years of war. Many families that were separated were never able to reconnect. Phone lines between the countries were cut, the boarder was closed, and no flights took place between the two countries. Heartbreaking stories of separation due to this war became common.  

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Then, the Ethiopian government, under the leadership of Abiy Ahmed, unexpectedly announced that the country was ready to fully accept and implement the terms of the Algiers Agreement, a peace agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea reached back in 2000 to end the war but never got implemented. It was also announced that Ethiopia would accept the outcome of the 2002 UN-baked Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission ruling which awarded the disputed territories including Badme to Eritrea. 

Eritrea leader Isaias Afwerki acknowledged the positive gesture and sent Eritrean delegation to Ethiopia, a group that included Eritrea’s Foreign minister Osman Saleh.  

One month later, an event many believed would never take place in their lifetimes took place: Dr. Abiy Ahmed and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki were embracing, laughing, and giving each other compliments in a summit that took place in Asmara, Eritrea’s capital city. 

Thousands and thousands of Eritreans filled the streets of Asmara to welcome Dr. Ahmed. 

An official end of war declaration was signed between the two countries and they agreed on re-establishing trade and diplomatic ties. Phone lines opened up and family lines were able to call each other for the first time in twenty years. Even strangers were calling each other to say hello! 

Ethiopian journalist Shishay Wores got a call from his sister in Eritrea. “For a moment my heart stopped beating, my voice shaking and I was struggling for words,” Wores said. “It took me a while to calm down and talk to my sister.”   

Although there is a long way to go to establish lasting peace in the region, the work has began, thanks to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. 

In one of his many arousing speeches, Dr. Ahmed said, “Love always wins. Killing others is a defeat, to those who tried to divide us, I want to tell you that you have not succeeded.”