A Nobel Peace Prize cannot be revoked; however, The Norwegian Nobel committee should add a measure to it’s statute to allow for the removal of this ultimate prize from its fallen angels, namely Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Since it was first awarded in 1901, the Nobel Peace Prize has been the ultimate stamp of approval for members of the international community. As specified in the will of its namesake, Alfred Nobel, it is given to an individual or organization “who during the preceding year, shall have conferred the greatest benefit on mankind.” Despite being bestowed upon some of the most peaceful individuals in modern history from Martin Luther King Jr. to Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela, Abiy Ahmed has failed to continue to benefit society and proven to be an active harm to Ethiopia. He has joined 1991 recipient of the prize, Aung San Suu Kyi, in the club of disgraced Nobel laureates.
Abiy Ahmed received the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for his work “to achieve peace and international cooperation, and his decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with Eritrea,” a crisis that had been raging since the late 1990s. When he entered office he quickly began democratizing Ethiopia by ending widespread censorship, the nation’s state of emergency, pardoning political prisoners, “legalizing outlawed opposition groups, dismissing military and civilian leaders who were suspected of corruption, and pledging to strengthen democracy by holding free and fair elections.”
All of the pro-democracy measures mentioned above have either been fleeting or have only applicable to portions of the population. They are best exemplified in the tension and brewing civil war between the Tigray, of the northern Tigray region, and the federal government. The situation severely intensified on November 4th, 2020. The event has flared preexisting tensions across ethnic lines (Tigray, Oromo, and other ethnic groups), causing fears of ethnic cleansing.
On the 4th while a majority of the world was glued to their TVs watching John King, Dana Bash, and Abby Phillip slowly but surely announce the results of the U.S. election, Abiy Ahmed launched an attack on Tigray. The military attack was claimed to be the symmetric response to an initial assault by the “forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (T.P.L.F)” on a government military base. To date, the intensification of the conflict has “killed thousands [in the region by the Ethiopian military], sent more than 45,000 refugees into Sudan, displaced many more within Tigray, and worsened suffering in a region where 600,000 people were already dependent on food aid.” It is important to note that the story provided by the government to explain the military operation cannot be corroborated due to the government preventing the flow of information out of the region by cutting phones, internet, and media. Without proof, it must be assumed that the operation is a violent manifestation of Abiy’s stated desire to strengthen the power of the federal government and diminish the political power of regional governments.
Tigray censorship fits into the rise of the persecution of journalists in Ethiopia since their short-lived respect of free speech, and is only one of many examples of constitutional retrogression that the Prime Minister once challenged and now embraces to stifle opposition. On November 4th, the Ethiopian government also declared a State of Emergency in Tigray, allowing for the government to enhance their power and severely limit the rights of the people. This was a calculated move by the man that previously ended the national State of Emergency.
The government has continued to charge, detain, and kill opposition leaders. One such leader is Jawar Mohammed, who was charged with “terrorism” and is believed to be Abiy’s most significant opposition. In addition, the government is accused of targeting Tigrayan officials with false claims of corruption. The charges of corruption are a prime example of stealth authoritarianism in which regimes charge opposition with non-political crimes to discredit the opposition while preserving the rule of law. The charging of Tigray officials also represents the danger of weaponization of corruption cases and their ability to undermine democracy. These are not the actions of a peaceful Prime Minister and his government.
The Prime Minister’s break from ideals of peace and reconciliation that won him the Nobel prize last year is also apparent in his decision to postpone parliamentary elections meant for August, indefinitely. Similar to other un-democratic officials globally, Abiy Ahmed cited the Coronavirus pandemic as justification to infringe upon the democratic process and weaken the opposition by preventing them to gain seats. The indefinite push of parliamentary elections was not accepted by the Tigray region. Elections were held in Tigray on September 9th, 2020, were deemed unconstitutional and illegal by the Prime Minister, and are believed to be a major catalyst for the current armed conflict.
Abiy has created a façade of political reform. His actions have led to the death of civilians, a refugee crisis, the arbitrary arrest of journalists and opposition leaders, the stifling of Ethiopian democracy, and are by no means consistent with being “a benefit to mankind” required to receive the Nobel Peace Prize. The democratization that was enacted at the start of his term has been reversed upon the Tigray to weaken the ethnic group. This attack on the Tigray and his political opponents could destabilize the entire horn of Africa. If this were to happen, Abiy’s one success – peace with Eritrea – could be undone.
On November 17th The Nobel Peace Prize committee issued a statement in response to the actions of their 2019 recipient: “The Norwegian Nobel Committee follows the developments in Ethiopia closely, and is deeply concerned.” Without the ability to revoke a prize, The Nobel committee is tainting the legacy of past and future winners while legitimizing the actions of Abiy Ahmed. A lackluster rebuke of his actions is not enough. An undo button is required.