The Nobel Committee wanted to stop false rumors about Ethiopia’s prime minister. The statement is “embarrassing and clumsy”, according to a Norwegian Ethiopian expert.

Journalist Vegard Tjørhom, August 12, 2020

Nobel Committee
Olav Njølstad (left) wrote in a statement in June that the Nobel Committee is still fully behind the decision from last year. One of Norway’s foremost experts on Ethiopia believes that this is unwise given the polarized political debate in Ethiopia. Tore Meek / NTB scanpix

(Aftonposten (Google Translation)) — The Nobel Committee wanted to stop false rumors about Ethiopia’s prime minister. The statement is “embarrassing and clumsy”, according to a Norwegian Ethiopian expert

In the midst of a heated political debate in Ethiopia, the Nobel Committee was forced to refute false rumors. They should not have done that, says Kjetil Tronvoll

The statement can be read as if Abiy Ahmed has authority and full support from the committee to do exactly what he wants in the situation Ethiopia is in, says Kjetil Tronvoll.

The professor at Bjørknes University College has had Ethiopia as a special field for a number of years and first thought that the statement sent out by the Nobel Committee in June was false.

«Clumsy treatment»
It is especially the wording in the first part of the statement that Tronvoll is critical of. It says that the Nobel Committee is fully behind the decision from December last year when Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was awarded the Peace Prize in Oslo City Hall. They also write that they have never reconsidered their decision.

In the second paragraph, the Committee makes it clear that it is not possible to withdraw a peace prize.

– The second paragraph could have been enough to explain. But then they added a first paragraph, and it says that they are “fully and completely” behind Abiy Ahmed, says Tronvoll.

He believes many Ethiopians will perceive this as the committee taking a clear stand in a complex conflict, and he calls it all “clumsy treatment”.

– You should stand still and not step around when standing in the middle of the salad. And that is where the committee has ended up in this situation, says Tronvoll, who believes that what has happened in Ethiopia in the last year is an “embarrassing affair” for the Nobel Committee.

Facts: The Abiy Ahmed Peace Prize

Ethiopia’s prime minister was one of the favorites to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019. He received the award because Ethiopia made peace with neighboring Eritrea after decades of conflict.

He has also participated in other peace processes in East Africa and the African Horn.

Part of the committee’s justification was that Abiy Ahmed had started several reforms in his home country, which, among other things, led to more women in key positions of power and for having released prisoners from prison.

Even when Abiy Ahmed received the award, many in Ethiopia were skeptical. And there were signs of unrest. These have now grown larger, and some believe that the political award winner’s political ideology does not deal with long-standing ethnic discrimination in Ethiopia.

Nobel Committee
In recent months, many troublemakers have protested against Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and his plans to create a single Ethiopian identity. SIMON DAWSON / Reuters / NTB scanpix

Not full support from another expert

His “Ethiopian expert colleague”, Lovise Aalen at Chr. Michelsen’s Institute, is not as critical.

She agrees that the committee could have limited itself to factual information that the prize cannot be withdrawn, but does not believe that the statement will be given as much weight as Tronvoll believes.

– I am not so sure that the statement itself will increase the polarization. The debate is already polarized, and the fact that he received the award is initially perceived as polarizing for those who do not support Abiy, says Aalen.

– Difficult balancing
Ethiopia has recently experienced a lot of political unrest. Opposition to the Prime Minister’s plans to unite the entire people under one common identity is unpopular among the Oromo people. They are the country’s largest ethnic group and have experienced discrimination due to similar thinking from previous regimes in Ethiopia. The unrest has, among other things, led to controversial imprisonments of opposition and violent clashes.

It also led to the Nobel Committee being contacted by the Associated Press and several Ethiopian media. They quoted Ethiopia’s former Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin as saying that members of the Nobel Committee were considering a withdrawal of the award.

Secretary of the committee and director of the Nobel Institute, Olav Njølstad, says that they felt it was necessary to counter the false allegations.

– We experienced it as a difficult trade-off. If the committee had not done something, it could have been taken to income because the allegations were substantiated. And had we gone out and answered named people directly, we could have become entangled in a hopeless controversy. So we ended up sending out a statement that the committee stands by the award to Abiy Ahmed.

– No green light
When it comes to the wording, and especially the statement that the committee is still “fully and completely” behind its decision, Njølstad believes that it is only natural.

This is the “math teacher” that both parents and children will love
– It is not surprising that the committee is “firmly behind” its own decision. You get the price for what you have done until the price is announced.

Njølstad also does not believe that Abiy Ahmed has been given the green light to do what he wants, since the committee has also written that they “so far” have had no reason to discuss the decision.

Njølstad also believes that it was necessary to have more than one general statement that the price cannot be withdrawn. Since the allegations were specific, the refutation also had to be specific.

It is rare for the Nobel Committee to issue statements like the one they sent out in June. The committee has recently received several inquiries from critics of Abiy Ahmed,

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