Lessons from 2019 Nobel Peace Prize Winner- Abiy Ahmed Ali

Resolving intractable conflicts is what we do as peacebuilders. No matter how long conflict has lasted, it can be resolved if you are committed to the conflict resolution process. Dr Abiy Ahmed Ali, the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, was awarded the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for “his efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation, majorly for resolving the border conflict between his country- Ethiopia and neighbouring Eritrea”

“Moses of Ethiopia, taking us to the promise land” is how Dr Abiy Ahmed is described by majority Ethiopians.

Abiy was born in Beshasha, Ethiopia on 15 August 1976 to a Muslim father and an Ethiopian Orthodox mother. He was educated in Computer Science and went on to bag a Masters degree in Transformational Leadership from Greenwich University, London in 2011 and another Masters in Business Administration from the Leadstar College of Management and Leadership in Addis Ababa in 2013. He holds a PhD in Peace and Conflict Studies from the Institute for Peace and Security Studies at the Addis Ababa University in 2017. As a young man, he actively participated in the armed struggle against the communist regime in Ethiopia and then served in the Ethiopian army. Dr Abiy Ahmed was elected into the Ethiopian parliament in 2010 and he later became prime minister in 2018.

Involvement in Peace Process

Upon becoming prime minister, Abiy made efforts to bring about democratic processes that will improve the Ethiopian economy, resolving the country’s long border conflict with Eritrea. In 2018, Abiy announced that his government will adhere to the 2002 peace agreement that sought to put an end to the border conflict that had raged for over a decade. By this singular act, Abiy improved the relationship between the two countries leading to a restoration of diplomatic ties in trade, economics and communications. Borders were equally opened, a fit signifying the end of over 20 years of hostility between the two countries.

As a peace practitioner, Abiy had participated in some peace and reconciliation processes within the African continent, serving as a mediator in some conflicts. Abiy mediated in conflicts between Kenya and Somali, Sudan’s civil conflict, and in Eritrea and Djibouti.

Building bridges and demolishing walls became a virtue been preached and practised by one of the youngest leaders on the African continent, a former intelligence officer and ultimately, a peace lover and maker. Dr Abiy’s peacebuilding work provides the following lessons:

1. Promote “MEDEMER” concept of coming together to solve a conflict

“Medemer” is an Amharic term popularised by Abiy that means “addition” or translated as synergy or coming together. Immediately Abiy was made prime minister, he reminded Ethiopians that, with only with forgiveness, love and hope could Ethiopia as a country go forward. This philosophy proposes that when different groups come together to seek common ways of resolving a conflict, they can reach a compromise and move forward. This concept is important to bear in mind as peacebuilders so we ensure to convene inclusive peace processes that generate broadly accepted solutions.

2. Political Inclusiveness and Reforms

Abiy granted amnesty to around 60,000 political prisoners and opposition figures. He abolished press censorship and committed to legal reforms of repressive and oppressive laws thereby paving the way for the respect of human rights. He also invited opposition members previously labelled terrorists to participate in the democratization process. He appointed a leading opposition figure as the Chairwoman of the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia. Abiy’s work reminds us to make decisions that are representative of the diversity in our local communities.

3. Gender Balance and Religious Tolerance

Abiy empowered women by appointing 50% of women in his cabinet. By empowering women politically, he demonstrated his understanding of the unique potentials of women in society. He manages the age-long fragmented conflicts along the religious divides majorly between the Ethiopian Orthodox Christians and Muslims. This could be a result of his mixed parenting and understanding of the tenets and principles of both religions, an experience he uses when mediating.

There’s so much to learn from Dr Abiy in the field of global peace. Dr Abiy is a global role model that can serve as an inspiration to today’s African peacebuilders. What do you think of his life and times?

Written by:

Olayiwola Lawal,
Member, Programs Unit,
Building Blocks for Peace Foundation.

Building Blocks for Peace Foundation (BBFORPEACE) is a youth-led NGO working on conflict prevention, peacebuilding and sustainable development in Nigeria.