OSLO - Hailed as a visionary and reformer, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed won the Nobel Peace Prize on Friday for his efforts to resolve the long-running conflict with neighbouring foe Eritrea.
Abiy was honoured "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 said.
The award is seen as a welcome boost for Abiy as he faces worrying inter-community violence ahead of his country's upcoming parliamentary elections in May 2020.
"We are proud as a nation," his office wrote on Twitter, praising the award as a "timeless testimony to the... ideals of unity, cooperation and mutual co-existence that the Prime Minister has been consistently championing."
Since taking office in April 2018, the 43-year-old has aggressively pursued policies that have the potential to upend his country's society and reshape dynamics beyond its borders, after years of civil unrest.
On July 9, 2018, following a historic meeting in Eritrea's capital Asmara, Abiy and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki formally ended a 20-year-old stalemate between the countries in the wake of the 1998-2000 border conflict.
Abiy swiftly released dissidents from jail, apologised for state brutality, and welcomed home exiled armed groups.
'Winds of hope'
Africa's youngest leader has instilled a certain optimism in a region of Africa marred by violence.
"I have said often that winds of hope are blowing ever stronger across Africa. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is one of the main reasons why," UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said upon learning of the Nobel Committee's decision.
The peace agreement with Eritrea has "opened up new opportunities for the region to enjoy security and stability, and Prime Minister Ahmed's leadership has set a wonderful example for others in and beyond Africa looking to overcome resistance from the past and put people first."
The Nobel jury stressed that the Peace Prize was "also meant to recognise all the stakeholders working for peace and reconciliation in Ethiopia and in the East and Northeast African regions."
It singled out Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki for praise, noting that "peace does not arise from the actions of one party alone."
"When Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed reached out his hand, President Afwerki grabbed it, and helped to formalise the peace process between the two countries."
Many Ethiopians expressed joy with the awarding of the prize to their reformist prime minister. Even some who have pushed Abiy to do more praised him.
Prominent activist Jawar Mohammed said the award is "well-deserved recognition for ending the senseless stalemate with Eritrea" and ending one of Africa's longest-running conflicts.
But he added that much work remains to ensure Ethiopia's "peaceful and successful transition to democracy," saying Abiy's regional accomplishments depend on his own country's internal peace.
Leaders across Africa and the world responded with praise and encouragement.
Liberian President George Weah called it a "noble feat", and Ghana's President Nana Akufo-Addo called the award "a reminder to us all that peace is one of the most critical ingredients needed to make Africa successful."
Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed said Abiy is "a deserving winner." Somalia is just one of the countries in the long-turbulent Horn of Africa region that Abiy has targeted with diplomatic efforts since taking office in April 2018.
Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohamed Bin Zayed also weighed in, calling the prize "a well-deserved honour for an extraordinary leader."
Amnesty International welcomed the Nobel pick, but said the honour should spur Abiy to enhance reforms on human rights.
"This award should push and motivate him to tackle the outstanding human rights challenges that threaten to reverse the gains made so far," the group said, pointing to "ongoing ethnic tensions that threaten instability and further human rights abuses".
Ethnic violence has been on the rise in recent years, causing Ethiopia to record more internally displaced people last year than any other country.
And last June, Abiy faced the greatest threat yet to his hold on power when gunmen assassinated high-ranking officials including a prominent regional president and the army chief.
Recognising that some would consider the prize premature, the Nobel Committee stressed much was left to be done and said the award should also serve as encouragement.
"The Norwegian Nobel Committee believes it is now that Abiy Ahmed's efforts deserve recognition and need encouragement," it said.