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2019 Nobel Peace Prize Winner Is Ethiopia's Prime Minister


Ethiopia's prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, has won the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to resolve the border conflict with neighboring Eritrea.

Berit Reiss-Andersen, the chair of the Nobel committee, praised Abiy for moving to address this long-running conflict soon after coming into office in 2018.


BERIT REISS-ANDERSEN: Abiy Ahmed quickly worked out the principles for a peace agreement to end the long, no-peace, no-war stalemate between the two countries.

GREENE: NPR's Frank Langfitt has been following the story this morning from London. Hi there, Frank.

FRANK LANGFITT, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: Remind us of the context here - this historic conflict and the prime minister's role in coming into office and trying to resolve it.

LANGFITT: Yeah. Well, this has been going on for a really long time, David - the conflict between the two countries - and, as she was saying, has been a stalemate. Ethiopia is the second-most populous country on the continent - Eritrea, this tiny neighbor. And there was a period of time over two years where border violence between the two cost about 80,000 lives.

Well, Abiy came in. He's 43 years old now. He came into office, and he really kickstarted the peace process after this long, long, grinding conflict. And they basically signed a peace accord about more than a year ago, I think. They resumed diplomatic relations, direct flights.

But there was also meaningful change for human beings, you know. Families have been split across this border, and they were able to restore phone service, so families were able to connect with each other and then be able to go back-and-forth. So it - after a long, grinding stalemate, there was suddenly a big change that really meant something to people.

GREENE: I mean, it's amazing how quickly this has happened. And that raises a question. Like, the Nobel Committee said it's not over. There's still a lot of work to be done in this conflict. Is there some skepticism about giving this award less than two years after the prime minister actually took over and came to power?

LANGFITT: Sure. The Nobel has often seen these awards, David, as kind of a push or a way of kind of catalyzing change. If you remember when President Obama won this award a number of years back, he'd only been in office a brief time. And there was a lot of criticism of that. Here's Reiss-Andersen responding to that concern.


REISS-ANDERSEN: No doubt some people will think this year's prize is being awarded too early. The Norwegian Nobel Committee believes it is now that Abiy Ahmed's efforts deserve recognition and need encouragement.

GREENE: Oh, interesting, so the committee actually responding to that very skepticism.

LANGFITT: Oh, sure.

GREENE: Step back for us. What's been the impact of this peace prize?

LANGFITT: It's mixed, David. I mean, if you look at some people who've won it, they clearly had accomplishments that have stood the test of time. You would think about Mikhail Gorbachev of the Soviet Union and the changes that he made, Lech Walesa of the Polish Solidarity leader, obviously Martin Luther King.

Other choices, though, have been a lot more controversial and, over time, have not proven to go that well. Henry Kissinger is a great example when he was negotiating peace in 1973 - took longer with North Vietnam to resolve that. And then, you know, Kissinger was involved in secret bombings of Cambodia and Laos. And so some - many of his critics see him actually as a war criminal.

Of course, the Arab-Israeli conflict has also been mixed, as well. Some - Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin won in '78, and that peace has held. But obviously with the Palestinian conflict, that has actually, in fact, worsened since the award was given in '94.

GREENE: Wow, it's like a tour through history. And we should say this year there were other people who were kind of in the running - German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and also the bookies' favorite was the 16-year-old climate change activist Greta Thunberg, right?

LANGFITT: She was, and I think that would have been a very popular choice. In fact, right now in London, there are climate change activists who are occupying Trafalgar Square. They blocked - I was getting into the BBC this morning where we have a studio. They were blocking entry here. So they would have been thrilled if that had been the result this morning.

GREENE: NPR's Frank Langfitt reporting from London. Thanks, Frank.

LANGFITT: Happy to do it, David. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Frank Langfitt is NPR's London correspondent. He covers the UK and Ireland, as well as stories elsewhere in Europe.