Militant groups and global military powers both pose a threat to peace and stability in the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said on Tuesday after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize for forging a peace accord with Eritrea.
Abiy won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize in October for his peacemaking efforts, which ended two decades of hostility with Ethiopia’s longtime enemy Eritrea.
In a speech delivered at Oslo City Hall before dignitaries including Norway’s King Harald V, Abiy praised the “good will” of Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki and described the two countries’ commitment to peace as “iron-clad”.
But Abiy, who at 43 is Africa’s youngest political leader, also spoke of the dangers facing his region.
“The global military superpowers are expanding their military presence in the area. Terrorist and extremist groups also seek to establish a foothold,” Abiy said, without specifying which countries or groups he had in mind.
“We do not want the Horn to be a battleground for superpowers nor a hideout for the merchants of terror and brokers of despair and misery,” he added.
As a soldier during the 1998-2000 war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, Abiy said he had witnessed the “ugliness of battle, its cruelty and what it can do to people”.
“War is the epitome of hell for all involved. I know because I have been there and back,” he said.
“I have seen brothers slaughtering brothers on the battlefield. I have seen older men, women, and children trembling in terror under the deadly shower of bullets and artillery shells.”
Since taking power in 2018, Abiy has implemented sweeping political reforms that won him praise but also lifted the lid on long-repressed tensions between Ethiopia’s many ethnic groups.
“We have laid the groundwork for genuine multi-party democracy, and we will soon hold a free and fair election,” he said. Elections are scheduled for May 2020.
Abiy said his administration had released all political prisoners, shut detention facilities and stopped jailing journalists.
Critics of Abiy say his attempts to impose unity - including forming a single national political party - are doomed, given that Ethiopia’s 105 million citizens belong to more than 80 ethnic groups.
Eighty six people were killed during protests in October against the treatment of a prominent activist, while 409 people were detained over the unrest.
Last year, ethnic violence forced more than two million people from their homes and killed hundreds, the United Nations and monitoring groups say.