Nobel Peace Prize for Ethiopia PM Abiy Ahmed called ‘well-deserved honor’

Landmark: Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s leading role in ending his country’s bitter dispute with neighboring Eritrea was highlighted by the Norwegian Nobel Committee in its peace prize award. (EDUARDO SOTERAS / AFP)
Updated 13 October 2019

Nobel Peace Prize for Ethiopia PM Abiy Ahmed called ‘well-deserved honor’

  • Norwegian Nobel Committee cites 'decisive initiative' to resolve border conflict with Eritrea
  • Abiy faces high expectations from young Ethiopians who want jobs and opportunities

DUBAI: “It is a prize given to Africa, given to Ethiopia and I can imagine that the rest of Africa’s leaders will take it positively to work on (the) peace-building process on our continent.” This was the reaction of Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia’s prime minister, when he was told by the secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee that he was the winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.

The announcement on Oct. 11 by the committee was far from a surprise. Abiy, 43, had been bookmakers’ second favorite to win, behind the teenage Swedish climate change campaigner Greta Thunberg.

Still, the decision amounted to profound recognition of the efforts and success of an indefatigable peacemaker in a continent wracked by conflict and violence.

The Ethiopian leader’s biggest achievement to date is ending two decades of hostility and restoring ties with long-term enemy Eritrea that had been frozen since a 1998-2000 border war. “I have said often that winds of hope are blowing ever stronger across Africa. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is one of the main reasons why,” said UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.




The Nobel Peace Prize will be presented in Oslo on Dec. 10 on the anniversary of Alfred Nobel’s death. (AFP)

During the border war, Abiy, who was born in Ethiopia to a Muslim father and Christian mother, led a spy team on a reconnaissance mission into areas held by the Eritrean Defence Forces. But when he became prime minister, he was quick to launch a peace offensive.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee said Abiy was honored for his “decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighboring Eritrea.”

However, it added that the prize is “meant to recognize all the stakeholders working for peace and reconciliation in Ethiopia and in the east and northeast African regions.

“Peace does not arise from the actions of one party alone. When Prime Minister Abiy reached out his hand, President (Isaias) Afwerki grasped it, and helped to formalise the peace process between the two countries.

“The Norwegian Nobel Committee hopes the peace agreement will help to bring about positive change for the entire populations of Ethiopia and Eritrea.”

IN NUMBERS

9 million - Value of the Nobel Peace Prize in Swedish crowns

301 - Candidates who were nominated for the award

The principles of the agreement are set out in the declarations that Abiy and Afwerki signed in Asmara, the Eritrean capital, and in Saudi Arabia’s Jeddah in July and September of last year.

Dan Smith, head of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, said by choosing Abiy, the committee is seeking to encourage the peace process, echoing the 1994 peace prize shared by Israeli and Palestinian leaders and the 1993 award for moves toward reconciliation in South Africa.

“It is a case of wanting a constructive intervention in the peace process ... to give leverage and encouragement,” he said.

“The challenge now is internal for Abiy, with Ethiopia needing to deal with the consequences of long-term violence, including 3 million displaced people and the need to continue the political process.”

Abiy took office in April 2018 after the resignation of Hailemariam Desalegn following three years of violent anti-government protests in Africa’s second-most populous country.

The ruling coalition had already begun making conciliatory measures, but it was Abiy who sped up the reforms.




Ethiopian students welcome PM Abiy Ahmed, Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki and Somali leader Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed in 2018. (AFP)

After securing peace with Eritrea, he swiftly released dissidents from jail, apologized for state brutality and welcomed home exiled armed groups. Those actions sparked optimism in a region blighted by violence.

Since then, Abiy has played a significant role in bringing peace to the Horn of Africa region, from Sudan to Somalia and Djibouti, all of which at some time have had border disputes. Small wonder, then, fellow African leaders were among the first to congratulate him.

The “warmest felicitations” were sent by Liberian President George Weah, who said in a tweet: “I hereby join the rest of Africa and the world at large in celebrating with the great people of Ethiopia and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed for winning the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize Award.”

Somalian President Mohamed Farmaajo called Abiy a “deserving winner” via Twitter, adding “I have enjoyed working with him on strengthening regional cooperation.”

Meanwhile, Ghanaian President Nana Akufo-Addo said the award was “a reminder to us all that peace is one of the most critical ingredients needed to make Africa successful.”

Speaking to CNN, Biniam Getaneh, an Ethiopian poet and writer, described the award as a “big win” not only for Abiy and Ethiopia but for Africa, too. “Despite the shortcomings of the reform he introduced and the man himself, I believe he is deserving of this international recognition simply for his peace efforts with Eritrea,” he said.

Congratulations came in from Arab leaders, too. “My sincere congratulations to my dear friend Dr. Abiy Ahmed on winning the #NobelPeacePrize,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, crown prince of Abu Dhabi, said in a tweet.

“He is a wise man who has brought peace and hope to his country and region. The prize is a well-deserved honour for an extraordinary leader.”

Abiy visited the Gulf in July last year, when he and Afwerki were honored with the UAE’s highest civil honor for their reconciliation efforts. Sheikh Mohammed had conferred the Order of Zayed on the two leaders on that occasion.




A woman sits amid ruins in the Ethiopian town of Zala Ambesa following a clash with Eritrean forces during a border war between the two countries in the late 1990s. (AFP)

In addition to resolving the border dispute with Eritrea, Abiy’s government has promised to liberalize the bureaucratic, state-controlled Ethiopian economy, overturned bans on many political parties and dismissed or arrested many senior officials accused of corruption, torture or murder.

Despite the abundant international recognition for his work, however, Abiy faces big challenges, with many wondering if he can control the political forces he has unleashed in a country of 100 million people.

The biggest threats appear to come from elements within the ruling coalition who feel disempowered and from new, ethnically based parties eager to flex their muscles in next year’s elections.

Abiy survived an assassination attempt amid riots in June 2016 and faced down a mutiny from his own military by challenging — and then defeating — them in a push-up competition.

The loosening of political freedoms means that many regional power brokers are demanding more influence and resources, fueling ethnic conflicts around the country.

In June, a rogue state militia leader killed the head of the Amhara region and other senior officials in what the government described as a regional coup attempt.

Abiy also faces high expectations from young Ethiopians who want jobs, development and opportunities, and feel the government still has much to do to improve daily life in the country.

The same sentiments were echoed by Berit Reiss-Andersen, the chair of the Norwegian Nobel Committee, who said: “There is a lot achieved already in reforming Ethiopia to a democracy, but there is also a long way to go. Rome was not made in a day and neither will peace or democratic development be achieved in a short period of time.”


Sindhi, Baloch ‘separatists’ forming ties in Sindh, Pakistani officials say

Updated 13 July 2020

Sindhi, Baloch ‘separatists’ forming ties in Sindh, Pakistani officials say

  • Follows little-known Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army carrying out attacks

KARACHI: Investigations into a spate of recent attacks in southern Sindh province have led Pakistani officials to believe there are growing links between Sindhi separatists and militant groups from the insurgency-racked Balochistan province, officers with knowledge of the investigation have told Arab News.

However, experts warn that it may be too early to assume a “nexus” between the groups.

Late last month, gunmen attacked the Pakistan Stock Exchange building in the city of Karachi, the capital of Sindh, killing two guards and a policeman before security forces killed all four attackers.

Counterterrorism officials said that the attack had been claimed by the Baloch Liberation Army (BLA), a separatist group from the southwestern province of Balochistan, which has been designated as a terrorist organization by the US and the EU.

Just weeks earlier, three consecutive explosions killed four people, including two soldiers in Sindh. A shadowy secessionist organization, the Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army (SRA), which wants the province to break away from the Pakistani federation, claimed responsibility for the attacks. This week, SRA also claimed a grenade attack on a Karachi bakery in which a retired paramilitary Rangers official was killed. 

SRA and two other Sindhi groups were banned by the government in May this year. 

Speaking to the media after the attack on the stock exchange building,  Sindh Rangers  chief  Major General Omer Ahmed Bukhari said that the attacks proved that “hostile intelligence agencies” were working to forge a “nexus” between Sindhi and Balochi insurgent groups, adding that he believed current investigations would establish this beyond doubt. 

In a statement emailed to the media after the stock exchange attack, the BLA admitted that it had “complete support” from Sindhi groups. 

“Today both the nations (Baloch and Sindhi) are fighting for the independence of their homelands against Pakistan,” the BLA statement said. “We had the complete support of the Sindhi nation in today’s attack, and it shows a strong brotherly bond between both the nations.”

Separatists have been fighting security forces for years in Balochistan over what they see as the unfair exploitation of the province’s vast mineral wealth. Insurgents are also opposed to — and attack projects linked to — China’s Belt and Road infrastructure initiative in the resource-rich province. 

Pakistan has regularly blamed India for supporting Baloch separatists, a charge that Delhi denies.

Last month, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan told parliament that he had no doubt India was behind the attack on the stock exchange building, which India promptly denied. Khan offered no evidence for his allegation, but he said that there had been intelligence reports warning of attacks in Pakistan and he had informed his Cabinet about the threats.

Sindhi separatists such as the Sindhudesh Revolutionary Army have carried out low-intensity attacks in the past, including blowing up train tracks. Their attacks, however, have been less violent than that of neighboring Balochistan where separatists have attacked a Chinese consulate, a leading hotel chain and on many occasions killed security officials patrolling a coastal highway.

Now, officials fear that Sindhi groups might be able to enhance their capacity to carry our deadlier attacks with help from Baloch militants and other hostile groups. 

“It can be a source of lawlessness in the future if this nexus is not broken,” said a police officer involved in investigating a “possible nexus between Sindhi and Baloch insurgent groups, backed by India.” He requested anonymity as he was not authorized to speak to the media about the issue.

The police official said that Baloch groups already had “some capability” to launch damaging attacks, “but once there is a nexus, it can also be helpful for Sindhi nationalists, and that’s worrisome.”

A senior intelligence officer, who also declined to be named, said there had been a noticeable increase in the frequency of attacks by Sindhi groups, which pointed to the fact that they might have more experienced helpers.

“Increase in capability (through a nexus with Baloch groups) will only be proved if they launch more sophisticated attacks,” he said. “Law enforcement agencies are absolutely aware and alert to the dangers posed by the growth of this nexus.”

Raja Umar Khattab, a senior counter-terrorism officer in Karachi, said that while teaming up with other groups might enhance the capacity of Sindhi nationalists, he did not see the nexus posing a significant threat in the near future. 

“The nexus can supplement the capacity of Sindhi sub-nationalists,” Khattab said, “but they will not be able to create any big law and order situation due to the preparedness of the law enforcement agencies.”

Sindh’s chief of Rangers has also said that Baloch and Sindh separatists were cosying up to the London faction of the Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM), a Pakistani political party whose leader Altaf Hussain lives in exile in London. 

“Hostile intelligence agencies strive to make a nexus of the cells, sleeper cells and facilitators of the remnant terrorist organizations (separatists), which include the remnants of the MQM,” Bukhari said during a press conference after the stock exchange attack.

The MQM, one of Pakistan’s most prominent political parties, is mostly comprised of descendants of Muslim Urdu-speaking people who migrated to Pakistan around the time of the partition of India in 1947. 

Once able to control Sindh province with an iron grip, the party’s fortunes have waned in recent years, particularly since 2013 when the military launched a crackdown against criminal groups and militants as murder rates soared and mutilated bodies were dumped in alleyways daily. Many saw the operation, centered in Karachi, as a pretext to wrest control of the port city from the MQM, an accusation that security forces deny.

While Karachi crime rates have dropped sharply and many local businesses have welcomed the operation, allegations of brutal and illegal methods have remained. 

The UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances has in the past referred dozens of cases of illegal abductions of MQM workers to the Pakistan government, concluding a “pattern of specific targeting” of the MQM by Rangers, which the paramilitary force denies.

Before the 2013 operation, law enforcement agencies and many Karachi residents accused the MQM of racketeering, the abduction, torture and murder of opponents and holding the city to ransom by calling mass strikes at will.

On Wednesday, the MQM’s Qasim Ali Raza denied that the party had any links to separatists or attacks in Sindh and urged the state to stop the “blind and fraudulent” process of blaming the party. 

The Karachi-based political analyst, Mazhar Abbas, said that a nexus between the MQM and separatist groups, if it existed, would not work. 

“The workers of MQM neither accepted the alliance with Sindhi nationalists (in the past),” he said, “nor will they subscribe to the current idea of a friendship.”

Other analysts said that there was as yet no “solid” evidence to claim the nexus existed. 

“Politically, there has been some closeness between Sindhi and Baloch nationalists, but speaking about a military nexus, one needs to have solid evidence at hand,” said Sohail Sangi, a Karachi-based analyst who closely observes separatist groups.

However, Anwar Sajjadi, a Quetta-based security analyst, said that he believed a growing nexus was a possibility, adding it was no coincidence that Sindhi groups had recently started voicing opposition to Chinese projects being built under the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) umbrella, which Baloch groups have long opposed.

“We have seen uniformity in their stances,” Sajjadi said. “Same stance on CPEC and other (rights) issues is bringing all these groups closer.”

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