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A Nobel Peace Prize With No Peace: Is Ethiopia the Next Rwandan Genocide in the Making?
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The current state of Ethiopia is shocking, marked with ethnic strife and conflict, with no end in sight. Yet, on October 11, 2019, the Norwegian Nobel Committee awarded Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali the Nobel Peace Prize. Abiy Ahmed is the first Prime Minister of Ethiopia to come from the Oromo ethnic group—the largest ethnic group in the country—and certainly deserves to be recognized for his efforts to promote peace within the nation. But this prize has been given too soon. Though some long-standing problems have been solved, new and existing problems have taken a stronghold in the country. A Nobel Peace Prize is a significant achievement but without real peace in the country, could the prize lead to complacency among Ethiopian leaders to stop the conflict? Ethiopia may be the next Rwanda as the ethnic conflict in the country has grown in unprecedented ways.

Ethiopia is heading in a frightening direction as the ethnic conflict in the nation continues to escalate. The country’s reliance on ethnic federalism is a failure that continues to exacerbate the ethnic conflict in the country. Over 85 people died as a result of one conflict between the major ethnic groups. From Oromia to Gambella and Afar to Somalia, the deadly ethnic conflicts in these regions of the country threaten to destabilize the nation. Though Ethiopia is home to diverse ethnic groups, unity is what keeps the country from disintegrating. Prime Minister Abiy needs to focus his attention on the violence wreaking havoc in the country and work to bridge the division.

With the first Oromo prime minister in power and with Oromos finally having a seat at the table, conflict between them and other ethnic groups have worsened. There are many Oromos who believed that finally having an Oromo prime minister would have allowed for their desires to be heard. One of their demands is changing the official language of the country from Amharic to Afan Oromo. In 2018, the prime minister invited exiled Oromo, the controversial Jawar Mohammed to return to Ethiopia. Mohammed has amassed a large following based off of an Oromo nationalist rhetoric. The latest violence took place on October 23 after Mohammed alleged that there was a state-orchestrated attempt on his life which prompted his Oromo youth followers, known as the “Qeerroo”, to begin protesting. As a result, in Adama, groups of Amhara men—the second largest ethnicity after Oromo—confronted the Qeerroo. In the following days, the violence continued to spread across the country and in just a short time, an estimated 80 people died.

Not only is there ethnic conflict between the major ethnic groups, but there is an intra-Oromo power struggle taking hold of the nation as the rivalry between Jawar Mohammed and the prime minister continues to grow. For the past three decades, the Tigrayans who make up about six percent of the population, have had control over the government. Now, with the Oromos finally in power after years of oppression, Amharic speakers and other minorities fear that Oromo nationalism could lead to unprecedented marginalization.

Violence tends to take on a life of its own when given enough time to fester. The conflict in Ethiopia has created hatred among ethnic groups that encourages violence and war.  The country has a treacherous journey ahead of it and the prime minister still has other promises to fulfill and pressing issues to address. The future of Ethiopia is uncertain but one thing remains clear: the ethnic violence is worsening.  The government needs to acknowledge this harsh truth and take dramatic action, such as moving from ethnic federalism, a system that divides based on ethnicity,  to a proportional representative democracy. Unless Ethiopian leaders and the international community want another Rwanda on their hands, they can no longer stand by idly handing out peace prizes as violence among the ethnic groups escalates.

Salem Amare is a December 2019 graduate of the College of William & Mary. She graduated magna cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Government and a minor in History. She immigrated to the United States from Ethiopia with her family in 2005 and will be attending law school in the fall. 

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