President Barack Obama was named winner of this year's Nobel Peace Prize on Friday, boosting to eight the number of laureates of immediate African descent who have won the world's most prestigious award for peace-making.
In a decision which took commentators on the peace prize by surprise, the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced in Oslo that it had decided to award the 2009 prize to Obama "for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples."
The committee added: "The Committee has attached special importance to Obama's vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons."
Past African winners of the prize are Chief Albert Luthuli, leader of South Africa's African National Congress, former President Anwar al-Sadat of Egypt, the then Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa, Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk of South Africa, for their work in taking South Africa towards democracy, former United Nations chief Kofi Annan and Kenyan environmentalist Wangari Maathai.
The Nobel committee celebrates top American diplomat Ralph Bunche, who won the prize in 1950, as the first person of colour to become a Nobel peace laureate. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., won the award in 1964.
The surprise nature of the Obama award was occasioned by the fact that it comes so early in his term, when his pronouncements on the need for peace are aspirational and it is far from clear how much he will achieve.
But although the Nobel committee often recognises lives of substantial achievement - such as that of former U.S. President Jimmy Carter - it has also in recent years explicitly given awards to encourage peace processes. In awarding the 1993 prize to Mandela and De Klerk before apartheid had ended, the committee said it would "always have to enter into processes in one way or another." It added of the two men: "They have given peace a chance. Whether peace will prevail, time will have to show."
The Nobel Peace Prize is traditionally presented on December 10, Human Rights Day, at a ceremony in Oslo.
The full text of the Norwegian Nobel Committee's announcement follows:
"The Norwegian Nobel Committee has decided that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2009 is to be awarded to President Barack Obama for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples. The Committee has attached special importance to Obama's vision of and work for a world without nuclear weapons.
"Obama has as President created a new climate in international politics. Multilateral diplomacy has regained a central position, with emphasis on the role that the United Nations and other international institutions can play. Dialogue and negotiations are preferred as instruments for resolving even the most difficult international conflicts. The vision of a world free from nuclear arms has powerfully stimulated disarmament and arms control negotiations. Thanks to Obama's initiative, the USA is now playing a more constructive role in meeting the great climatic challenges the world is confronting. Democracy and human rights are to be strengthened.
"Only very rarely has a person to the same extent as Obama captured the world's attention and given its people hope for a better future. His diplomacy is founded in the concept that those who are to lead the world must do so on the basis of values and attitudes that are shared by the majority of the world's population.
"For 108 years, the Norwegian Nobel Committee has sought to stimulate precisely that international policy and those attitudes for which Obama is now the world's leading spokesman. The Committee endorses Obama's appeal that "Now is the time for all of us to take our share of responsibility for a global response to global challenges."
Since this report was first posted, it has been expanded to give more background about the rationale behind the Nobel committee decisions, and corrected to include the names of all Africans and African Americans who have been awarded the prize.