The interdependent world is increasingly becoming more dangerous and violent, with unprecedented levels of societal ‘divides’ and susceptibility to unrest, in any part of the world. The wholly unrelated incident of a Yemeni Houthi drone attack on Saudi Arabian territory, not only interrupted oil supplies to India and rest of the world, but had the potential of depleting billions of dollars of crucial Indian foreign reserves. Oil prices are escalating. Similarly, the ongoing USChina trade wars are bound to have ripple effects that could mutate beyond the domain of commercial dissonance. The Global Peace Index published by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) confirms the deteriorating picture by noting the increasing cross-border conflicts, insurgencies and trends towards illiberalism.
This regrettable situation is also mirrored by the parallel emergence of global political leadership that betrays shades of hyper-nationalism, supremacism, populism and irreconcilability that threatens civility, democratic impulses and the very survival of humanity. The flashpoints of global unrest in places like North Korea, the Middle East, South China Seas, the Indian subcontinent, the African hinterland and Latin American countries have witnessed the active intervention by the political leaders of the United States, Russia, China and other major powers to broker ‘peace’. Yet, ‘peace’ has remained elusive, as the fundamentals of sustainable peace are either worsening, inadequate or simply missing. The cost of such global violence and its containment efforts was believed to be $14.8 trillion in 2015, which is equivalent to 13 per cent of the global GDP.
Efforts made by multilateral organisations like the United Nations, European Union, Organisation of Islamic Countries etc. have come a cropper, as these institutions have drifted towards diluted efficacy, relevance or funding. This has left most regional conflicts to be addressed by individual political leaders with vested interests, and given the predominance of the prevailing leadership traits of most ruling dispensations across the world, the stalemate in these conflicts has either continued or worsened. One rare example of success in brokering peace has been that of Abiy Ahmed, the young Prime Minister of Ethiopia. The 43-year-old has been found to be deserving of the Nobel Prize for Peace in 2019 for living up to, ‘the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses’, as defined in the will of Alfred Nobel.
Ethiopia or the erstwhile empire of Abyssinia, is a civilizational fount that is given to the oldest skeletal evidence of mankind, diversity of faiths/ethnicities and the challenges of poverty, societal inequities and unrest. Its infamy as a famine prone country concealed its other societal warts that were swept behind the iron curtains of the despotic leaders in the last few decades. Its implosive tendencies burst forth with the end of the Communist era in 1991, and the region of Eritrea broke away to form an independent country. The essential narrative of Ethiopian fissures did not change as expected post the end of Communist rule, and the subsequent governance was carried out by a coalition known as the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF).
The governance instinct of illiberality, political manipulations and belligerence that was both, internally and externally driven, ensured the dubious distinction of Ethiopia having the maximum number of displaced refugees in the world ~ a staggering 3.2 million, owing to violent conflicts and drought. The Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) stated, ‘Ethiopia is the definition of a forgotten crisis’ and that the, ‘crisis is under-reported, under-financed and under-assisted’. In this pall of gloom, it took a former military intelligence officer to do the unthinkable in terms of driving reforms and hope ~ the son of a Muslim father (from the most populous Oromo tribe) and a Christian mother (from the traditionally dominant Amhara tribe).
This typified the multiplicity of ethnic ‘divides’ that beset the Ethiopian reality. His counter-intuitive moves of ‘reaching out’ to dissidents, releasing political opponents, freeing the press and engagement with the marginalised sections of society earned him immediate plaudits. This was accompanied with more fundamental constitutional, economic and foreign policy reforms ~ the benefits of which can be transformational. However, the most pathbreaking initiative was to walkthe- talk of wanting to end the bloody conflict with Eretria that had cost an estimated 300000 lives. Importantly, Abiy Ahmed made the ‘peace’ pitch from a position of military strength when the Ethiopian troops were controlling the disputed area, and signed the ‘Joint Declaration of Peace and Friendship’.
The Norwegian Nobel Committee found Abiy Ahmed to be deserving of the coveted Nobel for Peace, ‘for his efforts to achieve peace’. The essential difference in Abiy Ahmed’s approach vis-à-vis other global leaders has been in the realm of personifying the finest democratic impulses, traditions and compromises when perhaps electoral considerations may have suggested a more muscular and intimidating style of governance. At the age of 43, Abiy Ahmed has seemingly gone beyond such personal and political considerations. Whereas, the peace-brokering style adopted by the likes of President Trump is more unilateral, mocking, optical and tribal in nature. China’s President Xi’s stifling of Hong Kong, Boris Johnson’s Brexit, Erdogan’s Kurd fixation etc., are all symptomatic of the smallness of spirit.
The template for the Nobel Peace Prize is certainly for a more inclusive, largehearted and liberal form of leadership. Today, Ethiopia is among the fastest growing economies in Africa and the portents of normalcy in the day-to-day affairs can only accelerate the recovery. Abiy must persevere and not fall into the trap of cult or perpetuating his own rule, as has been the bane of his predecessors. Ironically, the process of democratisation can unleash pent up ethnic tensions that test the patience, abilities and ambitions of a political leader. The Nobel Committee recognises the road ahead and, ‘hopes that the Nobel Peace Prize will strengthen Prime Minister Abiy in his important work for peace and reconciliation’, as Ethiopia deserves so, as does global politics in general for an alternative style of peace-brokering leadership.
(The writer IS Lt Gen PVSM, AVSM (Retd), Former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands & Puducherry)