Militant groups and global military powers pose a threat to peace and stability in the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said after receiving the Nobel Peace Prize.
Abiy won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize in October for his peacemaking efforts, which ended two decades of hostility with Ethiopia’s long-time enemy Eritrea.
In a speech at Oslo City Hall before dignitaries including Norway’s King Harald V, Abiy praised the “goodwill” of Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki and described the countries’ commitment to peace as “ironclad”.
Abiy, at 43 Africa’s youngest political leader, spoke of the dangers facing his region.
“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 countries or groups.
“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 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 deadly showers of bullets and artillery shells.”
Since taking power in 2018, Abiy implemented sweeping political reforms that won him praise and 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 hold a free and fair election,” he said. Elections are scheduled for May 2020.
Abiy said his administration released political prisoners, closed detention facilities and stopped jailing journalists.
Critics say his attempts to impose unity – including forming a single national political party – are doomed, given Ethiopia’s 105 million citizens belong to more than 80 ethnic groups.
Eighty -six people were killed during October protests 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 said.