MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
The 2019 Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to Ethiopia's prime minister, Abiy Ahmed. He is credited for ending the 20-year conflict between Ethiopia and its neighbor, Eritrea. The Nobel committee cited in particular Abiy's, quote, "decisive initiative in resolving that border war." Well, for more on Abiy, NPR's East Africa correspondent Eyder Peralta is here. And I should note, you're actually in the studio in D.C.
EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Thank you. It's nice to see you.
KELLY: Yeah, so nice to see you in person. All right, so tell us more about Abiy Ahmed. Who is he? When did he come to power?
PERALTA: So he came to power about two years ago. And he came to power after a huge popular rebellion. I mean, it was more than a year of street protests - bloody, deadly street protests. And what Abiy did as soon as he came to power - no one sort of expected it because he was coming in from the ruling party - was he changed everything. And let me just give you an example is before Abiy, when I would go to Ethiopia, I would have to go in and say that I was reporting on the African Union and do everything secretly - record secretly, meet people secretly. And then Abiy came into power. And overnight, it just changed. People were on the streets. They were criticizing the government. I was able to have coffee in public with opposition figures with a big microphone in front of them.
KELLY: You could commit journalism in public on the streets.
PERALTA: That's right. And that was such a huge change in Ethiopia.
KELLY: Well, and this is fascinating because you're describing a man who had not been in the job for even two years ending a 20-year war, being credited with ending a 20-year war. I'm sure it's more complicated than that. How did he manage to do it?
PERALTA: He just declared it. I mean, he literally got on a plane and met with the president of Eritrea and somehow convinced Isaias Afwerki to fly to Addis Ababa and have these peace talks. And they did. And all of a sudden...
KELLY: So you have the president of a country with whom Ethiopia...
PERALTA: They're mortal enemies with.
KELLY: ...Is still at war, right...
KELLY: ...Being welcomed in.
PERALTA: And Abiy decided to pull away all the troops from the border area and open up the border, you know, switch on the phone lines that had been dead between these two countries for 30 years. And all of a sudden, what you saw was these just amazingly emotional reunions between brothers and sisters, you know, cousins who had not seen each other in decades. And these two men, Abiy Ahmed specifically, reached out and said, let's end this.
KELLY: So I suppose the question is, is this achievement for which the Nobel Committee has just honored Abiy Ahmed, will it endure? Is it premature to give the prize to somebody who - great - helped to end a war, but the war just finished?
PERALTA: I think that is the hardest question on both fronts. By the way, the borders have closed since then - not because there's conflict, but because Eritrea is still, until this day, one of the most authoritarian, repressive countries in the world. And then Abiy has a huge problem in his own country that is - it's just being split apart by ethnic violence. I mean, there have been more people displaced in the past two years from fighting in Ethiopia than there has been in Syria.
KELLY: In the same time period. Wow.
PERALTA: At the same time period. And Abiy is this kind of inspirational figure, but he has been unable to inspire his people to stop fighting amongst each other. And one political analyst I spoke to today said that what this prize does is it allows him to try and mend this country once again.
KELLY: That is NPR's East Africa correspondent Eyder Peralta talking about Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who today was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
Thank you, Eyder.
PERALTA: Thank you, Mary Louise
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