BY BEREKET KIDANE
A remarkable thing happened this week in the troubled Horn of Africa. The President of Eritrea, Isaias Afewerki, and the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed, signed a Joint Declaration of Peace and Friendship to end the 20-year conflict between their two states and secure a future without war and tension to the war-exhausted people of Eritrea and Ethiopia.
Some have already started talking about a Nobel Peace Prize nomination for Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, but doesn’t it make sense to extend the honor to both men? After all, you can’t make peace by yourself. It takes two to tango.
President Isaias is Prime Minister Abiy’s partner in peace. Prime Minister Abiy’s outstretched hand and unequivocal offer of peace, friendship, and cooperation by dramatically breaking from his government’s past verbal acrobatics and obstacles to peace was accepted by Eritrea’s President Isaias, the other main protagonist.
Both men fully deserve the honor for the risk they have taken for peace. The end of the 20-year conflict’s announcement and the opening of trade and visitations between the two countries was greeted with elation in both Eritrea and Ethiopia.
Eritreans and Ethiopians were glued to their television sets this past weekend to watch coverage of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s visit to Asmara, a UNESCO World Heritage City, and the warm embrace he received everywhere he went in Asmara and its outskirts.
With his bold visit to Asmara, Prime Minister Abiy cut the Gordian knot at a single stroke.
Prime Minister Abiy’s critics and detractors, namely TPLF extremists in Tigray, condemned his policy of reconciliation and outreach to Eritrea’s President Isaias but the population at large in both countries has received news of the end of the 20-year conflict with elation.
Both President Isaias and Prime Minister Abiy have seen the dehumanizing and devastating effects of war up close and arrive at the peace table by way of military backgrounds. President Isaias was a leader during the 30-year war of independence while Prime Minister Abiy was a young army officer during the devastating 1998-2000 Ethiopia – Eritrea border war that saw some 20,000 Eritreans and 100,000 Ethiopians killed.
Essential negotiations will continue on port usage, currency exchanges, visa requirements, and other vital topics that aim to take advantage of the peace dividend. The negotiations may prove difficult at some points. However, such doubts have been overshadowed by the outpouring of excitement from the citizens of both countries as well as the congratulatory messages and praises both leaders are receiving for their courage in choosing peace rather than condemn future generations of Ethiopians and Eritreans to war, tension and misery.
Nobel candidates can be nominated by national assemblies, some university professors, members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee and members of international peace and judicial bodies.
President Isaias Afewerki is Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s partner in peace. If chosen for the prize, both men will be the first East Africans to win the prize.
The political impact of a Nobel Peace Prize for the Horn of Africa and the wider East Africa cannot be overstated. The Ethio-Eritrea conflict has been described by many political observers as one of the world’s most intractable conflicts. The journey of peace and reconciliation the leaders of Ethiopia and Eritrea have embarked on will be an important example for the rest of the warring countries in the region such as South Sudan and Somalia.
If nominated, I have no doubt that both President Isaias and Prime Minister Abiy will be found worthy of a Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of their efforts to bring peace to their region and relegate the legacy of war between their countries to the dustbin of history. The citation that accompanies their joint prize might read as follows:
“The Norwegian Nobel Committee has awarded the Peace Prize for 2018 to Isaias Afewerki, President of Eritrea, and Abiy Ahmed, Prime Minister of Ethiopia, for their contribution to the Joint Declaration of Peace and Friendship, and laying a foundation for future peace and reconciliation between Eritrea and Ethiopia, which was signed in Asmara on July 9, 2018.
The people of Eritrea and Ethiopia yearn for peace. If Prime Minister Abiy’s and President Isaias’s Declaration of Peace and Friendship succeeds, a new era will be opened in the Horn of Africa: an era of flourishing and growth, of development and progress.