Abiy Ahmed has been prime minister of Ethiopia since April last year.

‘When assuming office, he made it clear that he wanted to resume the peace talks with Eritrea. In close cooperation with the president of Eritrea, he initiated a foundation for a peace agreement, which they later signed, says Berit Reiss-Andersen, chair of the Nobel committee.

‘Created hope’

‘Abiy Ahmed has brought hope to many Ethiopians. There is no doubt he has been involved in a number of important processes, both nationally and as a diplomatic actor in the region,’ says NUPI Research Fellow Frida Bjørneseth.

Senior Research Fellow Jon Harald Sande Lie (NUPI), who has done extensive work on Ethiopia, agrees:

‘Abiy Ahmed is a choice that makes sense, because of his work nationally and with Eritrea in 2018, but the past six months have brought new challenges. Abyi created hope nationally and with the peace agreement, but it could be that too much has happened too fast,’ he says.

Tense situation

According to both researchers, the situation in Ethiopia is still tense and uncertain.

‘Once again there is turbulence, both within the government coalition and among the people in Ethiopia – especially between the regions of Amhara and Tigray. Abiy is criticized for not doing enough on a federal level to solve these conflicts. The Eritrea border is again closed, and the two parties don’t seem to agree on taxes, tariffs and migration to an extent that will enable opening the border,’ Lie says.

‘After Abiy Ahmed took his position in 2018, more women have entered the government, and civil society is about to open up. At the same time, it is too soon to say how long these changes will last. The Ethiopia-Eritrea border has been closed many times, and violent conflicts between ethnic groups have caused a record number of people to flee the area. Democratic processes in the years to come, and especially the election next year, will show if the Nobel Committee’s trust has been well-founded.


‘On the one hand, this is a good choice recognising significant and courageous reforms, but on the other hand we have learned from the Obama prize that it is very risky to award the prize to a leader that is still in office, because future developments in Ethiopia and the region are still uncertain,’ says Senior Research Fellow Cedric de Coning (NUPI).

Hence, the committee could risk a backlash from this award.

‘If Abiy Ahmed’s reforms unleash inter or regional violent conflicts, then people will criticise the prize for having been prematurely awarded to him. This may trigger criticism against the Nobel Committee for having awarded this prize prematurely.’

Next year, an election will take place in Ethiopia.

‘The 2020 election will be the litmus test for the domestic reforms and if he is serious about the promises made,’ says Lie.