Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed has emerged as a leading contender for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize to be awarded on Friday.
The Nobel Peace Prize, first awarded in 1901, honors “the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between the nations and the abolition or reduction of standing armies and the formation and spreading of peace congresses” according to the Nobel Prize organization.
Previous winners from the African continent include Democratic Republic of Congo’s Denis Mukwege, Kenya’s Wangari Maathai and South Africa’s first black president Nelson Mandela.
It is my view that the contributions of young people should be highlighted in this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.
Abiy’s Nobel credentials
Abiy is credited with ending a two decades-old conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea, that has in turn inspired a series of diplomatic breakthroughs in the Horn of Africa region.
He has pursued a reformist agenda, that has included releasing political prisoners and granting amnesty to all that had fled the country for criticising the previous regimes.
Abiy, who took office in April last year, ended a state of emergency, lifted a ban on opposition groups from Parliament and pledged to liberalise the economy in order to attract investment.
He has also championed women empowerment by naming a gender-parity cabinet, in addition to appointing the country’s first female president, chief justice and electoral commision chief.
His reforms have earned Abiy praise and hate in equal measure, and he has already survived one assassination attempt: a grenade thrown at a rally last year.
“I will be happy if Dr. Abiy wins the Nobel Peace Prize and I believe he deserves it. If he wins, it will encourage him to do much better in the future for Ethiopia,’‘ Merry Meles, an Addid Ababa resident said.
“I am an Ethiopian born and raised here, but I have never seen a leader like him in our country in my life. He is a positive person and I hope he will have many followers who will bring our country to a better position,’‘ Bekele Bogale who also resides in the capital said.
His critics however say he relies on bold personal initiatives and charisma to drive change instead of working through government institutions.
“None of Abiy’s promised transformational reforms are going to have any solid foundations unless he works through the institutions,” said Comfort Ero, Africa programme director at the International Crisis Group think tank.
“In the first six or seven months, he undercut the institutions … The institutions were either not working or working against his agenda,” said Jawar Mohammed, an Oromo activist and informal adviser to the prime minister.
“I don’t think he could have travelled this far without doing that.”
Ethnic clashes including in his native Oromiya region have however undermined Abiy’s record at home.READ MORE: Ethiopia govt confirms thousands killed, millions displaced by ethnic clashes
Libya’s Hajer Sharief
Hajer Sharief has been actively advocating for peace in Libya since 2011, when she was 19. Shocked by events of the civil war, Sharief started Together We Build It, aimed at supporting a peaceful democratic transition.
The organization focuses on empowering women and youth in Libyan society.
Somalia’s Ilwad Elman
29-year-old Somali-Canadian Ilwad Elman has also been nominated for her work with the Elman Peace and Human Rights Center in Somalia, a non-governmental agency founded by her mother, Fartuun Elman.
“It’s an incredible honour to be considered,” says Elman, who grew up in Ottawa after she arrived with her mother and two sisters as refugees.
“I’ve been working in this area, especially in conflict zones where you always have your head down, and you forget that there are people actually watching you and what you’re doing.’‘
Elman’s father, Elman Ali Ahmed, who ran a campaign, urging young men to ‘Drop the Gun, Pick up the Pen’, was gunned down in the capital, Mogadishu, in March 1996.
Other Nobel contenders
Swedish teenager Greta Thunberg has also emerged as a favorite for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, following her climate change activism that has won her millions of admirers and followers.
The 16-year old would be the youngest recipient of the $930,000 award, and would be the first to win the prize for environmental work since former U.S. vice president Al Gore shared it in 2007 for raising awareness of climate change.
“The importance of youth activism has become increasingly apparent in recent years,” writes Henrik Urdal, director of Norway’s influential Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO).
“Young people are setting the agenda on issues of critical importance for peace and security both locally and globally, challenging established narratives and generational power dynamics … This theme has only become more timely since then, and it is my view that the contributions of young people should be highlighted in this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.”
Other contenders are Pope Francis, the United Nations Refugee Agency boss, Filippo Grandi and U.S. president, Donald Trump, who was nominated by members of the congress.
Organisations that could be recognised include the International Rescue Committee for its work with refugees in the Mediterranean, Reporters Without Borders, or the Committee to Protect Journalists, and groups that campaign for freedom of the press.
“There is very distinctly a case for this in the age of fake news,” said Dan Smith, director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
There are more than 300 nominees for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, with 223 being individuals and 78 organizations.
The winner is expected to be announced in Oslo on Friday.