Ethiopia’s nobel laureate

On Tuesday, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali became the latest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize.

According to the Norwegian Nobel Committee, this recognition was primarily due to Abiy’s “efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation, and in particular for his decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighbouring Eritrea”.

Indeed, the breakneck speed with which Abiy has begun to reform Ethiopia has stunned both this fellow citizens as well as the rest of the world—a feature I wrote about in this column earlier this year.

The news following his selection for this prestigious award has focused renewed attention on Abiy’s leadership skills in resolving ethnic disputes and promoting inclusive and peaceful development in the region.

There is now increased attention on the type of leaders Africa needs to fast-track development. Abiy is not only a youngish leader (43 years) but also one that is trying to articulate a Pan-Ethiopian vision that seeks to move beyond traditional ethnic divides.

While the Ethiopian government has undertaken several bold initiatives— radically increasing the appointment of women in key official positions, freeing political prisoners and initiating peace talks with Eritrea—many Ethiopians worry that Abiy’s honeymoon may not last for very long. There are already critical voices pointing to an overreliance on charisma and the announcement of major initiatives without adequate preparation and anticipation of potential consequences. Some within the Ethiopian foreign policy establishment are also worried about a leader who acts on personal whims, disregarding expert advice in the process.

Ethiopia’s considerable international reputation in recent years has been shaped by its major contributions to UN peacekeeping operations, which has strengthened its identity as an important security provider externally while at the same time guaranteeing peace and stability for international investors within the country. A revised refugee policy that has welcomed more than 900 000 people from South Sudan, Eritrea and Somalia has also received positive media coverage.

perhaps it is the reputation of being one of the world’s fastest growing economies, despite its landlocked status and an economy not dependent on a natural resource boom, that has made the world notice Ethiopia’s rise as potentially the only true “developmental state” in Africa. In addition to rapid economic growth, signature development projects such as the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam have given rise to comparisons with East Asian successes such as South Korea and Taiwan.

As I watched Abiy accept his award in Oslo, I was also reminded of the challenges ahead —conflict with Egypt over water-sharing agreements, viability of democratic reforms, survival of Ethiopia’s federal political setup and the future of the peace process with Eritrea. Ethiopians expect much from Abiy. I hope he is successful.

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