Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed collected his Nobel Peace Prize in Oslo City Hall on Tuesday, in an event attended by the Norwegian royal family and public figures.
The prize-giving coincided with rising ethnic violence at home.
But 43 year-old Abiy, Africa’s youngest leader, declared he is ready for the challenges of peace: “For me, nurturing peace is like planting and growing trees. Just like trees need water and good soil to grow, peace requires unwavering commitment, infinite patience, and good will to cultivate and harvest its dividends.”
Hailed as a modern, reformist leader, Abiy’s decision to skip all events with the press dismayed his Norwegian hosts.
The Nobel Committee announced in October it was honouring Abiy for his efforts to resolve the long-running conflict with neighbouring foe Eritrea.
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 their countries in the wake of the 1998-2000 border conflict.
That was just three months after Abiy took office.
During the whip-fast rapprochement that followed, embassies reopened, flights resumed and meetings were held across the region.
Abiy’s actions sparked optimism on a continent marred by violence, and he went on to play an important mediation role in the Sudan crisis and attempted to revive a fragile peace deal in South Sudan.
In stark contrast to his authoritarian predecessors, the early days of his mandate also saw a wave of democracy-boosting measures in Ethiopia, as he lifted the state of emergency, released dissidents from jail, apologised for state brutality and welcomed home exiled armed groups.
He also established a national reconciliation committee and lifted a ban on some political parties.
Abiy’s reforms and visions lifted hopes far beyond his country’s borders, but the “Abiymania” hype has faded somewhat and he is now facing major challenges.
His vow to hold the first “free, fair and democratic” elections since 2005 in May could be threatened by ethnic violence.
Less than two weeks after the Nobel announcement in October, anti-Abiy protests left 86 people dead.
“The situation in Ethiopia has… new challenges but without challenges there is no way that we can do something new,” Abiy told Norwegian broadcaster NRK on his arrival in Oslo.
“We consider those challenges as a great opportunity to do something positive.”