Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed awarded Nobel Peace Prize

"A peaceful, stable and successful Ethiopia will have many positive side-effects, and will help to strengthen fraternity among nations and peoples."
Image: Eritrea's President Isaias Afwerki receives a key from Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed during the inauguration ceremony marking the reopening of the Eritrean Embassy in Addis Ababa
Eritrea's President Isaias Afwerki, right, receives a key from Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed during a ceremony marking the reopening of the Eritrean Embassy in Addis Ababa on July 16, 2018.Tiksa Negeri / Reuters file

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By Linda Givetash

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for his work on peace and reconciliation with neighbor Eritrea.

"Abiy Ahmed has initiated important reforms that give many citizens hope for a better life and a brighter future," the Nobel committee said in a statement.

Ethiopia and Eritrea, longtime enemies who fought a war from 1998 to 2000, renewed relations in July 2018 after years of tension and conflict that saw some 80,000 people killed.

Abiy, 43, a reformist prime minister, took office in April 2018 on a platform of resuming talks with Eritrea. Working with President Isaias Afwerki, Abiy steered the countries towards peace agreements, the second of which was signed in September 2018.

"Peace does not arise from the actions of one party alone," the Nobel committee said in a statement.

Ethiopian soldiers on the road outside Barentu, an Eritrean town.Alexander Joe / AFP/Getty Images file

Africa’s youngest leader took office following widespread protests against the previously repressive ruling coalition. His surging popularity among the electorate has been dubbed “Abiymania.”

Within weeks of coming to office in April, 2018, Eritrea’s leader Isaias visited Addis Ababa, which led to the restoration of communication and transport links between the two countries and the reunification of families long divided by the countries’ borders.

The animosity between the countries was cemented during the transition from colonial rule. Eritrea, established as an Italian colony, was handed over to Ethiopia by the British in 1952. Less than a decade later, rebels began a struggle for freedom that continued until Eritrea's independence in 1993.

The now improved relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea pushed the United Nations Security Council to lift sanctions against Eritrea in November 2018. The sanctions were implemented in 2009 over Eritrea supplying weapons to Somali extremists. At the time, Abiy's office said at the time that lifting sanctions would have far-reaching effects in building stability and peace in the Horn of Africa.

Abiy launched dramatic changes within Ethiopia too — releasing tens of thousands of political prisoners, including journalists, legalizing previously-banned opposition groups and acknowledging past abuses and corruption. He has also lifted restrictions on the media and communications, allowing the public to freely express themselves online, and vowed to hold a free election in 2020.

Abiy has also supported the advancement of female lawmakers. Last year, a record 50 percent of his Cabinet were women, including the country's first female defense minister, and the first female president was elected.

But Abiy is not been universally popular, and survived an assassination attempt in July that saw one civilian killed.

In 2018, the Nobel was awarded to Denis Mukwege and Nadia Murad for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon in war.

The prize is delivered by a five-member committee appointed by Norway's legislative assembly, unlike the four other Nobel prizes which are delivered in Sweden.

Associated Press and Reuters contributed.