OSLO: Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed collected the Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo on Tuesday, as ethnic violence flares in his country and reconciliation efforts with neighbouring Eritrea have stalled.
Abiy won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize in October for his peacemaking efforts, which ended two decades of hostility with Ethiopia’s longtime enemy Eritrea. The prize also honoured his mediation efforts in eastern Africa and the democratic reforms he has undertaken in his country.
In a speech delivered at Oslo City Hall before dignitaries including Norway’s King Harald V, Abiy praised the “good will” of Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki and described the two countries’ commitment to peace as “iron-clad”.
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The 43-year-old is Africa’s youngest leader. Abiy also spoke of the dangers facing his region. “The global military superpowers are expanding their military presence in the area. Terrorist and extremist groups also seek to establish a foothold,” Abiy said.
“We do not want the Horn to be a battleground for superpowers nor a hideout for the merchants of terror and brokers of despair and misery,” he added.
As a soldier during the 1998-2000 war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, Abiy said he had witnessed the “ugliness of battle, its cruelty and what it can do to people”.
“War is the epitome of hell for all involved. I know because I have been there and back,” he said.
“I have seen brothers slaughtering brothers on the battlefield. I have seen older men, women, and children trembling in terror under the deadly shower of bullets and artillery shells.”
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Abiy has implemented sweeping political reforms that won him praise but also lifted the lid on long-repressed tensions between Ethiopia’s many ethnic groups.
“We have laid the groundwork for genuine multi-party democracy, and we will soon hold a free and fair election,” he said. Elections are scheduled for May 2020.
Abiy said his administration had released all political prisoners, shut detention facilities and stopped jailing journalists.
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Last year, ethnic violence forced more than two million people from their homes and killed hundreds, the United Nations and monitoring groups say.
“There is no ‘Us and Them’,” he said. “There is only ‘Us’, for ‘We’ are all bound by a shared destiny of love, forgiveness and reconciliation.”
On Tuesday, Abiy was quick to praise the role of his Eritrean “partner and comrade-in-peace” in his Nobel Prize. “We understood our nations are not enemies. Instead, we were victims of the common enemy called poverty,” he said.
The Nobel festivities have been tainted by Abiy’s refusal to field questions from the media. Abiy’s entourage responded that it was “quite challenging” for a sitting leader to spend several days at such an event.
The Nobel Peace Prize consists of a diploma, a gold medal and a cheque for nine million Swedish kronor (850,000 euros, $945,000).
The other Nobel prizes for literature, physics, chemistry, medicine and economics will also be handed over on Tuesday, but in Stockholm.