Abiy Ahmed: From Nobel Peace Prize Winner to Leader of Discriminatory War

By Kendyl Brower

In 2019, Abiy Ahmed received the Nobel Peace Prize, gaining national recognition as a peacemaker. In 2021, Ahmed oversees a violent civil war, gaining national recognition as the leader of a near genocide. When Ahmed assumed power in 2019, hopeful people all over the world believed he would heal the ethnic divides in Ethiopia and steer the country toward democracy. However, years later, Ahmed is suppressing the opposition, silencing journalists, and shutting down internet services—all tell-tale signs of a repressive regime. How did this man obtain his position, and what exactly is happening in Ethiopia?

T.P.L.F. begins as a small militia established in the mid-1970s with goals to dismantle Ethiopia’s Marxist military dictatorship. The majority of members are ethnic Tigrayans, a minority marginalized by the government. Joining an alliance that overturns the government in 199, T.P.L.F. quickly rises to power. Repressed politician competitors, tortured detained citizens, limited free speech—life under T.P.L.F. rule was brutal. Such terrible conditions sparked anti-government sentiment and protests; this environment gave Mr. Abiy a platform. Ahmed emerges as an activist who frees political prisoners, mediates conflicts, and eventually, becomes Prime Minister in 2018. Ahmed’s administration quickly charges the Tigrayan leaders with coruption and various human rights abuses. Most notably, Abiy befriends the president of Eritrea, Isaias Afwerki, ending years of violence and resulting in a Nobel Peace Prize. Isaias is known to show hostility toward the Tigrayan population. 

In light of Abiy’s new control over the country, T.P.L.F. retreats to the northern mountains. However, some Tigrayans still in office defy Abiy’s commands in September of 2020: they hold parliamentary elections that Abiy had postponed because of COVID-19. Consequently, lawmakers cut funding to Tigrayans in the northern mountains. On November 4, 2020, T.P.L.F. responds by ransacking military bases and stealing various weapons. Abiy promptly orders an offensive military attack on the T.P.L.F. rebels. The government is divided, as soldiers from different backgrounds, Tigrayan and not, begin to battle with one another. More severe violence erupts between T.P.L.F. and Abiy, aided by Eritrean soldiers. 

Today, security rounds up Tigrayans, who are distinguishable by their accents, surnames, or appearance, and places them in detention camps. Regardless of gender or age, Tigrayans are swept up into these dismal camps, even if they have no affiliation with T.P.L.F. rebels. With no bathroom, minimal food, and abusive guards, detainees suffer in the overpacked concrete cells.

Thousands lay dead on the streets of Tigrayan cities, parts of the country face devastating famines, and more than 2 million citizens are displaced from their homes. Abiy only ignites the fire with passionate rhetoric, describing the Tigrayan forces as “weeds” and “cancer.” Ethnic cleansing, massacres, and sexual assault occur from both sides of the war, leaving Ethiopia more divided than ever.