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Ethiopia’s Peace Prize Challenge

Ahead of next year’s election in Ethiopia – the country’s first since embarking on a transition to democracy in April 2018 – mistrust is rampant. To prevent sectarian forces from hijacking a historic opportunity, political leaders must urgently negotiate an agreement on the basic rules of the game for the post-election order.

ADDIS ABABA– As Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed collects this year’s Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo, his country is at a crossroads. In one direction lies a democratic transition, via a successful general election scheduled for May 2020. The other path would lead the country to instability, ethnic violence, and possibly a return to repressive authoritarianism.

For the last decade, Ethiopia has experienced strong, broad-based economic growth. The government has built on those gains, investing in infrastructure development and expanding social services, such as health care and education. Moreover, since April 2018, when Ahmed peacefully took power following the unexpected resignation of his predecessor, the government has been restoring political and economic freedoms.

Ahmed lifted the country’s state of emergency, ordered the release of thousands of political prisoners, allowed exiled dissidents to return, removed bans on political parties, and unblocked previously censored media. He also reached an agreement with Eritrea to end a 20-year military stalemate following their 1998-2000 border war – the reason for his Nobel Prize.