Hip Hip Hooray! Ethiopia, Africa’s elder nation and home to the African Union (AU), with 102 million people spread across of 1.13 million square kilometers (or 437,794 square miles), has won its first Nobel Prize. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was yesterday awarded the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for his role in ending the protracted Ethiopian war with Eritrea.
Ahmed took office on April 2, 2018 and within three months he signed the peace deal ending the two-decades-long border war.
Indeed, in his first year, Abiy scored many historic ‘firsts’ that put him squarely on course for the Nobel Prize. By April this year, he’d already won global acclaim for many things, including the following ten documented in a March 27, 2019 article by Amenna Dayo for ‘The African Exponent’ titled A Review of Ethiopia’s PM Abiy Ahmed’s Achievements at One Year in Office:
1. Peace Deal with Eritrea: True to his election campaign promise, he signed the peace deal in July 2018, putting to an end two decades of bitter relations. He had promised to withdraw forces from the borders and end the killings. In December, barely five months after the peace deal was signed, Ethiopia concluded all withdrawal arrangements.
2. Peace Deal with Somalia: He also reconciled his country with Somalia after 41 years; and airline flights to the neighbouring country resumed after four decades.
3. First Woman President: Ethiopia currently has the only female president in Africa after he appointed Mrs Sahle Work-Zewde in October 2018.
4. Re-positioned Ethiopian Airlines: He re-positioned Ethiopian Airlines, making it the current best airline and one of the biggest Pan-African brands in Africa.
5. First to Adopt Visa Arrival Policy: While other Africa leaders were still dragging their feet, Ethiopia became the first nation to adopt the AU’s Visa on Arrival policy for Africans across the continent.
6. Reduced Size of Cabinet and Increased Women Ministers: In anther first in Africa, he also reduced his cabinet members to just 20 and surprised the world when he appointed half as women.
7. Monthly Salary is $300: During a speech in October 2018, Abiy again shocked the world by revealing he was on a voluntary monthly salary of $300, while some other African leaders collected hundreds of thousands of US dollars’ worth per month.
8. Lifted Ban on Political Parties and Exiles: He promised to reach out to opposition both home and abroad and in November lifted the ban on political parties and exiled politicians.
9. Peacemaker in the Horn of Africa: He made himself an emissary in the Horn of Africa and has successfully united the region. The UN arms embargo and sanctions on Eritrea were lifted after he organized reconciliation between the country and neighbours with which it was in conflict.
10. Leading a Fast-growing Economy: Ethiopia was rated as one of the fastest growing economies in 2018.
In the past six months, Abiy has also opened the way for African Union (AU) intervention through negotiations following the recent Sudan disturbances after the overthrow of President Bashar Al Assad.
Abiy again grabbed international acclaim of late for his steadfastness in ensuring the on-time completion of the US $4 billion Ethiopian Renaissance Dam despite pressures and threats from Egypt over access to and control over the River Nile.
Abiy is also an extraordinarily talented — and quite trendy — very different Ethiopian leader: He leads his own party, as well as the four-party ruling alliance that he’s been changing the country by leaps and bounds with.
Prime Minister Abiy’s speed of policy change and implementation is described by some as behaving like trying to catch-up with the fact that the Ethiopian calendar is seven years behind the rest of the Christian world in determination of the date of the birth of Christ.
But he’s unified people and parties behind causes and has won hearts and minds across the only country in Africa that was never colonized by Europe, even if he’s been the target of an assassination attempt in his first year and recently had to put down a provincial rebellion that saw his defense minister and a top provincial leader killed.
Ethiopia now joins Saint Lucia, Trinidad & Tobago and Guadeloupe (the few Caribbean countries with Nobel Prizes in their name), even though Saint Lucia tops them all with two, making this 238 square-mile nation that with the highest number per capita in the world.
One thing that’s common to Saint Lucia, Trinidad & Tobago and most developing countries whose nationals have won Nobel Prizes is the extent to which that achievement has any trickle-down effect on how people appreciate the works of and the people who make their countries famous.
Saint Lucia’s two Nobel Prizes were for Economics and Literature and laureates Sir Arthur Lewis or Sir Derek Walcott only lived to see pruning efforts to convert their words and works into actions that would ensure their legacies are as fully appreciated at home — at least, a little more than everywhere else.
Volumes of Lewis’ collected works are quite difficult to find in his homeland, where bookshops and reading have become endangered trades and traditions and the Rat Island Foundation established to create and nurture more Walcotts from Helen remains a proverbial Dream on Monkey Mountain.
The future doesn’t look that good, though…
Artist Jallim Eudovic isn’t (as yet) as much appreciated at home as he is in China, where his sculptures stand tall in seven cities while others line-up for their turn to also erect any one of his pieces. But at home, erection of his latest masterpiece — especially sculpted for Saint Lucia — was (and still is) shrouded by the loud and sustained criticism of the inconvenience experienced by the city’s worst non-accident related traffic jam in living memory.
Now there are official complaints that citizens don’t sufficiently appreciate the value of statues erected, as they vandalize and disrespect them by their intrusive actions while seeking ‘selfies’.
But, what to expect when sculptures meant to encourage us to better appreciate our history are treated more like statues for tourists than monuments for locals and/or items to be exploited more for their political value than what their sculptors truly had in mind while chipping and shaping them into artistic reality?
Developing countries have a long way to go to truly and fully ensure their Nobel Prize Winners’ works and legacies are appreciated in ways that will have made them even more proud while alive.
But just as challenges always bring opportunities, this is yet another occasion when smallness can be turned into greatness.
As the world leader in Nobel Prize Winners per capita, Saint Lucia has yet another chance to prove we can continue to be the Leader of the Global Nobel Pack!