Abiy Ahmed

By Donnelly McCleland

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who assumed the office in April 2018 (after three years of often deadly protests forced his predecessor Hailemariam Desalegn to resign), has earned international praise for an ambitious reform agenda that has included freeing thousands of political prisoners, reining in the country’s security services, lifting a state of emergency and restrictions on the media, and resolving a long-running border conflict with neighbouring Eritrea. The results of the peace deal, signed in July 2018, have been profound. Diplomatic relations have been restored, borders opened for people and goods, and disputed land around the town of Badme returned to Eritrea.

He was awarded the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize: “for his efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation, and in particular for his decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighbouring Eritrea.” the Nobel Committee went on to commend him also for his contribution to the normalisation of diplomatic relations between Eritrea and Djibouti and dialogue between Kenya and Somalia over a disputed maritime area. They also highlighted his encouraging domestic reforms. There are many who fear that the peace prize was premature. The Nobel committee itself acknowledged that “many challenges remain unresolved,” noting especially the vast number of people forced to flee their homes amid rising ethnic tensions. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, Ethiopia currently leads the world with 2.9 million people displaced by violence.

The award vindicates his approach to peace in the Horn of Africa and strengthens his ability to achieve further reforms in this own country. However, it does not guarantee smooth sailing, and 2019 has been a challenging year after a momentous 2018.

Quote: “Love always wins. Killing others is a defeat, to those who tried to divide us, I want to tell you that you have not succeeded.”


BORN: Abiyot Ahmed Ali
15 August 1976 (age 43)
Beshasha, Ethiopia
SPOUSE: Zinash Tayachew (m. 2003)
CHILDREN: 4, daughters – Deborah, Rakeb, and Amen; and adopted son, Million
EDUCATION: Microlink Information Technology College (BA in computer engineering)
University of Greenwich (MA in transformational leadership)
Ashland University (MBA)
Addis Ababa University (PhD Philosophy)
[Published research article on de-escalation strategies in the Horn of Africa in special journal issue dedicated to countering violent extremism]
LANGUAGES: Afaan Oromo, Amharic, Tigrinya, and English
MILITARY: Lieutenant Colonel in Ethiopian army (service 1991-2010)
POLITICAL PARTY: Oromo Democratic Party
PRIME MINISTER: 2 April 2018 – present
AWARDS: Special “peace and reconciliation” award (presented by Ethiopian Church for helping to reconcile two branches of the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, which split in 1991 for political reasons) 2018

Nobel Peace Prize 2019

RELIGION: Evangelical Pentecostal Christian


A challenging year…and a half

2 April 2018: Elected prime minister and immediately launches a comprehensive programme of political reform at home and diplomatic bridge-building abroad.

May – June 2018: Government releases thousands of political prisoners, and lifts state of emergency

July 2018: Ethiopia and Eritrea declare their war is over as Ethiopia agrees to evacuate disputed territory

October 2018: Government signs peace deal with separatist Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), ending 34-year armed rebellion

Parliament elects Sahle-Work Zewde as Ethiopia’s first woman president, and first female head of state since Empress Zawditu (1928-1930)

June 2019 June: Army chief Seare Mekonnen and Amhara State Governor Ambachew Mekonnen killed while putting down coup attempt against the federal government

July: At least 25 killed in Sidama protests – activists from Sidama ethnic group were set to declare their own federal state, accusing the government of failing to hold a promised referendum on the issue

23 October: High-profile activist and media mogul, Jawar Mohammed, accused government of plotting an attack on him at his home, leading to deadly protests against Mr Abiy’s government – 86 have died to date

21 November: Sidama vote overwhelmingly in favour of autonomy in referendum


“I see Abiy as an answer to prayer,” said Frew Tamrat, principal of Evangelical Theological College in Addis Ababa. “He tries to live by biblical values. He is a preacher of peace, reconciliation, and forgiveness.” Ethiopia is a country of various religious groups, primarily Christian and Muslim communities. Both inter-religious and intra-religious divisions and conflicts continue to be a major concern, where both the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church and the Ethiopian Islamic Council have experienced religious and administrative divisions and conflicts. In 2018, Mr Abiy was given a special “peace and reconciliation” award by the Ethiopian Church for his work in reconciling rival factions within the Church.

Yet, despite the tremendous start, Mr Abiy’s work is far from done. Ethiopia remains an immensely complex country defined by ethnic diversity and regional disparity. Troubling ethnic tensions threaten stability. His reforms have prompted resistance and in June, fatal rebel attacks in the Amhara regional capital of Bahir Dar and Addis Ababa offered the most significant challenge to the new era yet. Ethnic tensions continue to threaten his vision of a country that is unified on the one hand and ethnically diverse on the other. Recent political conflicts have also had religious consequences. Since Mr Abiy took over leadership, more than 30 churches have been violently attacked, and more than half were razed to the ground. Approximately 45 clergy and church members have also been killed while defending their churches against mob attacks from ethno-nationalist groups. The hostility towards Ethiopian Orthodox churches is deeply tied to ethnic identity politics in the country.

Meron Tekleberhan, a graduate of the Ethiopian Graduate School of Theology concludes: “Abiy is just one man. As much as he tries to wring change by the force of his personality, a lot of what is happening is longstanding. These ruptures have existed for generations.” The Ethiopian Church has experienced incredible growth in the midst of tremendous challenges and persecution over the years, and one can therefore anticipate that the Church will continue to be instrumental in the outworking of Ethiopia’s current challenges.

Mr Abiy and his government will need much prayer and tremendous support from Ethiopian believers to overcome the divisive elements in their country. What an incredible testimony it would be if Ethiopian believers of all the various ethnic groups could be “one” as Jesus prayed in John 17:22-23: “I have given them the glory that You gave Me, that they may be one as We are one—I in them and You in Me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me.”

Pray with us for the following:

  • For protection for Mr Abiy as he strives to pursue Godly solutions to his nation’s challenges, and those of the region
  • For Godly counsellors to surround Mr Abiy
  • For greater freedom for Ethiopian and Eritrean believers as relations between the nations improve