BY BEREKET KIDANE
The Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded the prestigious peace prize for 2019 to Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali and cited his efforts to resolve the 20-year Ethio-Eritrea border conflict. However, in a departure from past precedents, the committee left out the other main protagonist and Prime Minister Abiy’s partner in peace, President Isaias Afewerki of Eritrea. This is unprecedented and an international slight of major proportions.
In 1994, for instance, when the Nobel Peace committee wanted to recognize the peacemaking efforts of Israeli and Palestinian leaders, Chairman Yasser Arafat of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and Israeli Foreign Minister Shimon Peres were made co-winners of the Nobel Peace Prize award despite the protests of some committee members who said Yasser Arafat was a terrorist.
Similarly, in 1979, the Nobel Peace Committee awarded both Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin for the courage they showed and the risk they took in signing the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.
The Horn of Africa is Africa’s Middle East. The Horn is Africa’s most conflict-prone region where there have been long-simmering conflicts and wars. At last, however, the courageous and bold actions that Prime Minister Abiy and President Isaias took in the summer of 2018 have begun to stabilize the region. It would have made sense to recognize the efforts of both men and make them co-winners as was done in the past when the award went to Middle Eastern politicians.
It is not surprising in a way that the Nobel Committee would continue the international slight against Eritrea because Eritrea is always held to a different standard. Often times, Eritrea is held to a standard that does not exist in international diplomacy. Otherwise, it is inexplicable how Berit Reiss-Andersen, the Chair of the Nobel Committee, in her presentation speech could declare,
“Peace does not arise from one party alone. When Prime Minister reached out his hand, President Afewerki grasped it, and helped to formalize the peace process between the two countries” but then proceed to leave him out from half the award.
If the Nobel Committee was interested in learning about Eritrea’s peacemaking efforts in the region, all it had to do was look to the Sudan. Over the past two decades, Eritrea was seen as the only trusted mediator between the different Sudanese factions because Sudanese politicians understood that Eritrea only had the Sudanese people’s best interest at heart.
Similarly, Eritrea worked hard in mediating between the Ethiopian opposition members based in Eritrea and the Federal Government of Ethiopia during the summer of 2018. With respect to Somalia, Eritrea always maintained that the only way peace can come to Somalia is if outside interferences stop and all Somali stakeholders are brought to the table to work out their differences. Eritrea has been proven right in much of what it said about Somalia.
Eritreans are truly excited that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, a son of the Horn, and a man of peace won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize. He came in peace on his maiden voyage to Asmara in July 2018 and was given a raucous welcome by Asmarinos. Eritreans love Abiy Ahmed and see him as a Godsend. A big, fat congratulations are in order for brother Abiy Ahmed Ali of Ethiopia.
Nonetheless, it is disappointing to see the international slights continue against Eritrea. The West just has it out for Eritrea because it’s an African country that marches to a different tune. We know how often the world makes unfair sovereignty surrendering demands on Eritrea that it does not make on other countries that are in situations of conflict. Eritrea is always held to a different standard when it comes to matters of sovereignty and international diplomacy. Apparently, even precedents and long-established traditions don’t apply to Eritrea.