OSLO • Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize yesterday for his peacemaking efforts which ended two decades of hostility with longtime enemy Eritrea.
Though Africa's youngest leader still faces big challenges, he has, in under two years in power, begun political and economic reforms that promise a better life for many in impoverished Ethiopia and restored ties with Eritrea that had been frozen since a 1998-2000 border war.
"We are proud as a nation," the Prime Minister's Office said in a statement, hailing a "collective win for all Ethiopians, and a call to strengthen our resolve in making Ethiopia - the new horizon of hope - a prosperous nation for all".
The Nobel Committee said Mr Abiy had won the prestigious prize for "efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation, and in particular for his decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighbouring Eritrea."
It said the prize was meant to recognise "all the stakeholders working for peace and reconciliation in Ethiopia and in the East and North-east African regions".
News of the award trickled slowly down to the streets of the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. Mr Bisrat Hadte, a 45-year-old businessman, said he was glad but the government still had much to do to improve daily life in the country of about 100 million.
"The Prime Minister also has to work on to improve the economy and drive down the cost of living," he told news agency Reuters.
The Nobel Committee's decision appeared designed to encourage the peace process, echoing the 1994 peace prize shared by Israeli and Palestinian leaders and the 1993 award for moves towards reconciliation in South Africa, said Mr Dan Smith, head of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
"It is a case of wanting a constructive intervention in the peace process... to give leverage and encouragement," he told Reuters.
Mr Abiy had been bookmakers' second favourite to win, behind Swedish teen climate change campaigner Greta Thunberg.
Mr Abiy, now 43, took office in April 2018 after the resignation of Mr Hailemariam Desalegn following three years of street unrest.
From partial liberalisation of the state-controlled economy to overhauling the security forces that had helped the ruling coalition maintain a tight grip on power since 1991, the promises have raised hopes in the country and abroad.
Mr Abiy's landmark achievement to date is securing peace with neighbouring Eritrea.
What remains to be seen is whether Mr Abiy - who rose through the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front coalition over the past two decades - can reshape Ethiopia and open it up to the world from within the current system.
He faces resistance to change from vested interests within his coalition and the possibility that violence in the country could escalate.
The Nobel Peace Prize will be presented in Oslo on Dec 10, the anniversary of the death of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel, who founded the awards in his 1895 will.