Ethiopian Prime Minster Wins Nobel Peace Prize

Reuven Rivlin visits Ethiopia. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Mazel tov, Ethiopia has arrived!

Kudos to the committee for recognizing the bold visions and action of Ethiopia’s youthful Prime Minister, Dr. Abiy Ahmed.

Yet the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize is not only for him, but for all 100 million Ethiopians and their far-flung diaspora who have taken part in Ethiopia’s transformation from one of the poorest African countries to one of the most dynamic African economies. The Prize will also provide much needed recognition and a boost to Africans across the continent committed to political reform, anti-corruption, economic and social development, the empowerment of women, and, yes, the environment.

Climate activists, disappointed that Swedish teen climate phenom Greta Thunberg didn’t win, will be delighted to learn that Ethiopia is a shining example of a country on the way to becoming 100% powered by renewable energy. (Ormat, an Israeli geothermal company, and Energiya Global, which I lead, are both investors in Ethiopia’s green energy revolution.)

The central accomplishment of Prime Minister Abiy that the Nobel Peace Prize is celebrating is the peace treaty with neighboring Eritrea, after a senseless war that has lasted a generation.

Meeting the Prime Minister in Jerusalem last month, I was taken with his energy, warmth and presence.  He is a friend of Israel and of the Jewish people. From my discussion with him, I only had time to cover one issue and I had to choose between two that are close to my heart.

Topic one: Our solar and wind energy investment for Ethiopian universities, which would also serve as living laboratories to train tens of thousands of engineers for the green jobs in Ethiopia’s future. Or to use his influence with the Eritrean President to release from prison the Orthodox Patriarch Antonios and the other religious leaders, and to curtail the military draft from lifetime servitude to two years, since, with the peace treaty with Ethiopia, there is no one to fight.

Topic one: Our solar and wind energy investment for Ethiopian universities, which would also serve as living laboratories to train tens of thousands of engineers for the green jobs in Ethiopia’s future. Or to use his influence with the Eritrean President to release from prison the Orthodox Patriarch Antonios and the other religious leaders, and to curtail the military draft from lifetime servitude to two years, since, with the peace treaty with Ethiopia, there is no one to fight.

I chose the first, and he gave his support to this green energy investment program and promised to cut the ribbon on the first university installation.  The Nobel Peace Prize, which he will formally receive in Oslo on December 10th, will give him the platform to accomplish the other issue.

By awarding the peace prize to Abiy, the Nobel Peace Prize committee is strategically shining a bright light onto the brutal dictatorship next door in Eritrea. The international community pre-maturely celebrated the peace treaty between Ethiopia and Eritrea by lifting the United Nations sanctions against dictator Isaias Afwerki, expecting him to end life-time military conscription, which the United Nations has branded “a crime against humanity.”

Instead, he cynically used the fig leaf of the peace treaty with Ethiopia to get away with imprisoning tens of thousands, including many religious leaders.   Now Prime Minister Abiy has a new powerful platform from which to help all Eritreans realize the benefits of peace, which will have a ripple effect throughout East Africa.

In his state visit to Israel in September, Abiy was warmly welcomed by Prime Minister Netanyahu and by President Rivlin—both of whom I had accompanied on state visits to Ethiopia, billed as reciprocal visits for when the Queen of Sheba was welcomed by King Solomon to the Temple in Jerusalem 3,000 years ago.

“The Ethiopian Prime Minister reaffirmed his commitment and readiness to elevate the ancient bonds by promoting common interest guided by strategic partnership in key areas,” says His Excellency Mr. Reta Alemu, the Ethiopian Ambassador to Israel.  He and his Israeli counter-part in Addis Ababa, Ambassador Raphael Morav, signed in Jerusalem a Joint Declaration on strengthening bilateral relations, especially economic ties.

What I was most touched by from the Prime Minister’s visit to Israel was his appreciation for the Ethiopian Jews in Israel, “who serve as a bridge” between the two countries.  He sensitively and appropriately waded into Israeli domestic affairs when he acknowledged the recent police shooting of Solomon Tekah, which set off demonstrations by the Ethiopian Israeli community about disproportionate use of force against Ethiopian citizens.  Prime Minister Abiy also briefly met the parents of Avraham Mengistu, who has been held by Hamas in Gaza for five years.  Surely a renewed intervention by the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner to Hamas may this time be more effective to finally free Mengistu.

Having Abiy win the Nobel Peace Prize will thankfully set back enlisting the Ethiopian Prime Minister’s help in Netanyahu’s efforts to renew the forced deportations of Eritreans, which was discussed in their meetings in Jerusalem. Enabling forced deportations of Africans from Israel would certainly not be Nobel-like behavior.

I was in Addis Ababa last year when Abiy announced that thousands of political prisoners would be freed and my local hosts were stunned at such a bold move.  (We then appealed to Abiy to release from prison Israeli businessman Menashe Levy, which he thankfully did)

On a more personal note, Abiy and his wife, Zinash, have four children, three girls and one boy who is recently adopted.

Ethiopia, the second most populous country in Africa, is home to the African Union and has historically played a central role in African politics.  Awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to its Prime Minister super-charges his reform efforts to bring economic and social development not only to the Tigrey region but to spread it out more equally across the country and to various ethnicities.  There are still internal and regional challenges.  But think of the awarding of the prize akin to what drove the Nobel Peace Prize committee to give it to U.S. President Barak Obama—as a down-payment for future actions and a legitimization of the historic nature of his election.

Ethiopians are a proud people, never having been colonized and with a rich history.  Awarding the Nobel Peace Prize to their Prime Minister puts them in a new league, which should be celebrated by all people of good will worldwide, including climate activists, African reformers and friends of Israel.  The only person not celebrating the Nobel decision is Eritrean dictator Isaias Afwerki, who worries that he may have to make human rights concessions before his counterpart ascends to the Nobel platform on December 10th.

Because the award ceremony in December will be during the UN Climate conference, which will be taking place in Santiago, Chile, expect the Prime Minister to challenge all nations to replicate Ethiopia’s march toward 100 percent renewables.  Greta, you’ll get it next year!

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