Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday 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.
“I am so humble and thrilled … It is a prize given to Africa, given to Ethiopia,” Abiy Ahmed said in a recorded phone call with the secretary of the award committee that was posted online.
Abiy was meeting Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok when he was informed he had won the prize, Abiy’s spokeswoman said.
The Nobel Committee said 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 Northeast African regions.”
News of the award trickled slowly down to the streets of the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa. 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 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 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.
“The challenge now is internal for Abiy Ahmed, with Ethiopia needing to deal with the consequences of long-term violence, including three million displaced people and the need for continuing the political process.”
Abiy had been bookmakers’ second favourite to win, behind the teenage Swedish climate change campaigner Greta Thunberg.
“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,” said United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
“His vision helped Ethiopia and Eritrea achieve a historic rapprochement.”