A man chants slogans during a celebration rally in Ambo, Oromia region of Ethiopia, for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed after he won the Nobel Peace Prize. Picture: Tiksa Negeri/Reuters
Undoubtedly, Africa celebrates with Abiy Ahmed, the Ethiopian prime minister, as he joins 11 other African Nobel Peace Prize laureates. The others are Albert Luthuli, Anwar al-Sadat, Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela and FW de Klerk, Kofi Annan, Wangari Maathai, Mohamed ElBaradei, Leymah Gbowee, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Denis Mukwege.

Ahmed was honoured for “his important work to promote reconciliation, solidarity and social justice. The prize is also meant to recognise all the stakeholders working for peace and reconciliation in Ethiopia and the East and Northeast African regions efforts to achieve peace and international co-operation, and in particular his decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighbouring Eritrea”.

However, why did the Nobel committee depart from its well-established tradition of giving the warring parties joint awards? In South Africa, the heroic Nelson Mandela was honoured alongside his questionable rival FW de Klerk.

Similarly, Yasser Arafat, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin won the 1994 Nobel Prize regardless of thousands of innocent people dying in the Israeli-Palestine conflict. Abiy did not single-handedly achieve peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea.

He painstakingly worked closely with President Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea. Although Afwerki remains the villain, diplomatically isolated and with sanctions levelled against his country, he is a critical player needed to sustain the Ethiopia-Eritrea boarder dispute.

Giving the award to Ahmed and denying Afwerki will be one of the biggest mistakes made by the Swedish Nobel committee. Already, the much-healed peace between the countries has hit a snag. Eritrea simply closed the boarder. The trade deal signed by these leaders is also accumulating dust in Asmara.

In essence, there won’t be any durable peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea without placing Afwerki squarely at the centre of the game.

This is precisely what was done in the South African and Israeli-Palestine conflicts.

In a close look at home, Abiy Ahmed’s achievements are indeed highly visible and commendable unlike his predecessors, Meles Zenawi and Hailemariam Desalegn, who preferred Leonid Brezhnev’s perestroika (opening up the economy) over glasnost (political reforms). Ahmed was very bold to simultaneously implement both perestroika and glasnost in Ethiopia. Mikhail Gorbachev’s attempts to do the same resulted in the collapse of the former Soviet Union empire.

Ethiopia is not the Soviet Union, however, its ethnic Federalism remains a major challenge. Ahmed has freed political prisoners and continued to build on his predecessor’s achievements.

There are worrying signals, however, that if Ahmed fail to manage Ethiopia’s ethnic federalism political system sensitively, national unity might collapse. In recent months, he has failed to resolve the rising high levels of ethnic tensions resulting in thousands of deaths.

The failure by Prime Minister Ahmed to institutionalise the peacemaking process should be another major red flag. The entire Ethiopia-Eritrea peace process came through inter-personal discussions between Ahmed and Afwerki. It appears that the Ethiopian foreign affairs ministry was not involved.

The danger of an individual-based peacemaking process is that the day Ahmed leaves power, it will be hard to both sustain and guarantee signed treaties. It is imperative that Ahmed’s peacemaking processes are institutionalised.

Nelson Mandela was equally charismatic; he nonetheless, anchored his personal efforts within the ANC and government. In the case of the Burundi peace process, Mandela’s efforts were continued by Jacob Zuma. In any peace process there’s a need to build strong institutional memory - something many think Ahmed is not doing.

* Monyae is the director for the Centre for Africa-China Studies at the University of Johannesburg.

** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.