As Abiy wins Nobel Peace Prize, Afwerki’s Eritrea remains in the shadows


Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed was named the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday. Africa’s youngest leader beat 301 candidates for the award, including 16-year-old Swedish climate change activist, Greta Thunberg, Brazilian environmentalist, Raoni Metuktire, and Hong Kong pro-democracy activists.

While the list of candidates is meant to be kept a secret, some nominators inadvertently reveal their choices during the build-up to the annual event.

One name missing from the speculation prior to this weekend’s award ceremony was Eritrean President, Isaias Afwerki, the other man who signed the same peace deal as Abiy Ahmed last year that brought an end to two decades of conflict with Ethiopia.

In 1994, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to three parties: former Israeli president Shimon Peres, then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin and Palestine’s leader at the time, Yasser Arafat “for their efforts to create peace in the Middle East”. However, in 2019, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has only recognised the efforts of Abiy Ahmed without a mention for the role Isais Afwerki played in signing last year’s peace deal.

Abiy Ahmed recognised as a peacemaker at the top stage

Abiy Ahmed’s nomination for the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize was known prior to the ceremony this weekend and few people would have been in doubt regarding his contention for the prize this year. Indeed, the Ethiopian prime minister was the bookmakers’ second favourite to win the prize, after 16-year-old climate change activist, Greta Thunberg.

In the end, the prize justifiably went to Abiy Ahmed who truly has been a peacemaker during his short time in power as Ethiopia’s PM. In the words of Berit Reiss-Andersen, the Norwegian Nobel committee’s chair, he received the prize “for his efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation, and in particular for his decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighbouring Eritrea.”

Aside from securing the landmark peace deal with Eritrea last year, he also played a key role in mediating a peace deal in neighbouring Sudan after long-time ruler Omar al-Bashir was ousted from power in April.

He’s also played a key role in improving relations between Horn of Africa nations, which has been dogged by diplomatic rifts for decades, constantly speculating the threat of war.

For a man who was called in to deal with political insecurity inside Ethiopia, the international impact of Abiy Ahmed’s premiership was unprecedented.

No award for Eritrea’s Isais Afwerki

While Abiy Ahmed’s efforts in reaching a peace deal with Eritrea were highlighted as a key reason for his nomination and receival of the Nobel Peace Prize, it takes a minimum of two people to sign a peace agreement.

In fact, the Norwegian Nobel Committee itself acknowledges that “peace does not arise from the actions of one party alone”.

“When Prime Minister Abiy reached out his hand, President Afwerki grasped it, and helped to formalise the peace process between the two countries. The Norwegian Nobel Committee hopes the peace agreement will help to bring about positive change for the entire populations of Ethiopia and Eritrea.”

That’s as much recognition Isais Afwerki is granted by this year’s Nobel Prize and the most disappointing aspect is that nobody can be surprised.

Abiy Ahmed has embarked on a sweeping campaign of reforms since coming into power last April, addressing some of the country’s most pressing issues, such as human rights and political freedoms. Meanwhile, Afwerki’s Eritrea remains one of the worst countries in the world for its record on human rights.

Last year’s landmark peace deal sparked optimism that Eritrea’s reclusive leader might be ready to step out of isolation from the international community and address his country’s atrocious human rights record.

This simply hasn’t happened.

In July, UN experts warned there no signs of any improvements since the peace deal was signed. UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Eritrea, Daniela Kravetz, said at the time:

“The dividends of peace are not yet benefiting ordinary Eritreans, nor are there any signs to suggest they will. Eritrean authorities remain unwilling to tolerate any expression of dissent.”

Rights groups have heavily criticised the country for failing to address any of its ongoing human rights issues, despite benefiting politically and financially from last year’s peace deal. Economic agreements with Ethiopia featured heavily in peace talks and sanctions lifted by both the UN and the EU.

In October 2018, Eritrea was even elected as a member of the UN Human Rights Council by the UN General Assembly, despite having one of the world’s worst records. The country still holds this seat while having made no recognisable progress on the issue of human rights or showing any intention to do so.

The Eritrea-Ethiopia peace deal was signed by the countries’ two leaders in July 2018. Yet, while Abiy Ahmed becomes the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Isais Afwerki’s Eritrea remains in the shadows – and rightfully so until genuine progress is made on human rights in the country.

Featured image: By Odaw – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

About Aaron Brooks

Aaron Brooks is a UK journalist who wants to cut out the international agendas in news. Spending his early years in both England and Northern Ireland he saw the difference between reality and media coverage at an early age. After graduating from the University of Chester with a BA in journalism, his travels revealed just how large the gap between news and the real world can be. As Editor-in-Chief at East Africa Monitor, it’s his job to provide a balanced view of what’s going on in the region for English-speaking audiences.