ADDIS ABABA – For Samson Berhane, the news that Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed had won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize was deeply personal.
The 27-year old journalist credits Abiy’s peace deal with Eritrea last year for reuniting him with his father. Like thousands of other families they had been separated by two decades of hostility with Ethiopia’s longtime enemy.
Abiy, Africa’s youngest leader, was awarded the prestigious prize on Friday for his efforts that ended the border conflict.
“When I first heard that Abiy won the prize, I was doubting the trustworthiness of the news. I felt so happy confirming it,” Samson told Reuters in an interview.
While Samson is Ethiopian, his father was originally from Eritrea.
Samson’s office in Addis Ababa is filled with books on Eritrea’s history that he began reading to discover his roots after he first met his father.
After the peace deal, thousands of families were reunited for the first time since 1998, the year the war broke out.
“He (Abiy) made history by making peace, which is more valuable than anything. He reunited the two brotherly people,” Samson said.
YEARS OF SILENCE
Samson’s father, Berhane Ashmelash, left for Eritrea in 1997 to attend mandatory military service. Samson was five years old.
The father had planned to return to Ethiopia after having served but never made it back as the war broke out a year later.
His family did not hear from him for years as communications between the two countries were cut off. They thought he had died.
After the peace deal, direct international telephone connection and flights between the two countries were restored, enabling people to communicate and travel.
Samson decided in 2018 to fly to the Eritrean capital Asmara and look for his father. He went to the Ministry of Defence, which keeps a database on all those who served in the military, to seek information.
Together with the workplace and phone number of his father, Samson found out that he had seven half siblings as his father had remarried in Eritrea.
“It was a mind blowing moment,” he said.
“We both almost cried when we saw each other. For a moment, I couldn’t stop hugging and staring at my dad,” he said recalling the moment when they first met a day after his arrival in Asmara.
Samson’s father lives in Asmara, but they now regularly communicate with each other.
“We speak at least once in a week over the phone,” he said.