Did a Nobel Peace Laureate Stoke a Civil War?

After Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, ended a decades-long border conflict, he was heralded as a unifier. Now critics accuse him of tearing the country apart. Abiy Ahmed won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019. A year later, his army was implicated in human-rights atrocities.

By Jon Lee Anderson at The New Yorker: At the wheel of an armored Toyota Land Cruiser, trailed by a car full of bodyguards, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed drove me around Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia. With a politician’s pride, he pointed out some of his recent civic projects: a vast park and a national library; a handicrafts market; a planetarium, still under construction. Throughout the city were government buildings that he’d built or remade: the federal police headquarters, the Ministry of Mines, an artificial-­intelligence center, the Ministry of Defense. In the Entoto Hills, above Addis, he had established a complex of recreational areas to showcase his Green Legacy Initiative, aimed at making Ethiopia a pioneer in sustainable agriculture and renewable energy. He boasted of having planted eighteen billion trees. “If in five years the world does not recognize what we have done,” he said, as he negotiated a turn, “then I am not your brother.”

It was all part of his vision, he explained, to transform his country into a modern state. Ethiopia is Africa’s second most populous nation, with the largest economy in East Africa. But it is ethnically fractured, with more than eighty distinct groups, many of them beset by old enmities and overlapping territorial claims. Abiy came to power in 2018, promising to heal the country’s divisions. A former soldier and intelligence officer, he was born to parents from Ethiopia’s two main religious communities—his mother from the Orthodox Christian majority and his father from the sizable Muslim minority. His guiding principle was medemer, an Amharic term meaning “syn­­ergy,” or “coming together.”

Abiy, at forty-six, could be mistaken for a prosperous real-estate agent: medium height, trimmed goatee, and a wardrobe of khakis, casual shirts, and gold-rimmed Cartier sunglasses. He projects the self-assurance of a motivational speaker. Soon after taking office, he published a best-selling book about the transformative power of med­emer, which is sold at roadside stalls, alongside volumes by Tony Robbins and Jordan Peterson. In conversation, Abiy does most of the talking, but he demands constant feedback. It is not enough to nod along with him; he wants to know what you think, if only to disagree.

Abiy writes in his book that human beings have a “direct existential need” to be free of massacres and wars, and not long after his election he delivered a surprising advance. For two decades, Ethiopia had been in a hostile standoff with its neighbor Eritrea—the lingering aftereffect of a war that claimed as many as a hundred thousand lives. Abiy forged a peace deal, which ended the standoff and earned him a Nobel Peace Prize, in recognition of his efforts to “promote reconciliation, solidarity and social justice.” At the Nobel ceremony, in Oslo, he invoked both the Bible and the Quran: “Before we can harvest peace dividends, we must plant seeds of love, forgiveness, and reconciliation in the hearts and minds of our citizens.”

But the spirit of reconciliation did not flourish in Abiy’s Ethiopia. In November, 2020, just eleven months after he was awarded the Nobel, violence erupted in Tigray, a rebellious region in the north. Abiy’s army became embroiled in a conflict that involved gruesome ethnic killing, gang rapes, and mass executions. Hundreds of thousands of Tigrayans were soon on the brink of starvation, while others poured across the Sudanese border to find refuge in hastily built camps. More here.


Honorary contributors to DesPardes: Adil Khan, Ajaz Ahmed, Anwar Abbas, Arif Mirza, Aziz Ahmed, Bawar Tawfik, Dr. Razzak Ladha, Dr. Syed M. Ali, G. R. Baloch, Hasham Saddique, Jamil Usman, Jawed Ahmed, Ishaq Saqi, Khalid Sharif, Majid Ahmed, Masroor Ali, Md. Ahmed, Md. Najibullah, Mustafa Jivanjee, Nusrat Jamshed, Shahbaz Ali, Shahid Hamza, Shahid Nayeem, Syed Ali Ammaar Jafrey, Syed Hamza Gilani, Mushtaq Siddiqui, Shaheer Alam, Syed Hasan Javed, Syed M. Ali, Tahir Sohail, Usman Nazir