In a dramatic new step in a devastating yearlong war, Ethiopia’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning prime minister says, starting from Tuesday 23, November 2021, he will lead his country’s army from the front lines.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said in a statement posted on social media Monday night, “This is a time when leading a country with martyrdom is needed”. With rival Tigray forces moving closer to the capital of Addis Ababa, his government declared a state of emergency earlier this month.
Thousands of people have been killed in the war between Ethiopian and allied forces and fighters from the country’s northern Tigray region, who long dominated the national government before Abiy took office. International observers have warned that Africa’s second-most populous country could fracture and destabilise the Horn of Africa.
“Let’s meet at the battlefront,” the 45-year-old prime minister said. The statement by the prime minister, a former soldier, did not say where exactly he will go on Tuesday.
In response, the spokesman for the Tigray forces Getachew Reda tweeted that “our forces won’t relent on their inexorable advance towards bringing (Abiy’s) chokehold on our people to an end.” The Tigray forces say they are pressuring Ethiopia’s government to lift a months-long blockade of the Tigray region of some 6 million people, but they also want Ahmed out of power.
The prime minister’s statement also claimed that the West is trying to defeat Ethiopia, the latest pushback against what his government has described as meddling by the international community. Envoys from the African Union and the U.S have continued diplomatic efforts in pursuit of a ceasefire to the fighting and talks without preconditions on a political solution.
In a year’s time, Abiy’s government has gone from describing the Tigray conflict as a “law enforcement operation” to an “existential war.” With Ethiopia’s military reportedly weakened in recent months, and with its retreat from Tigray in June, ethnic-based regional forces have been stepping up and Abiy’s government has called on all able citizens to join the fight.
The prime minister chaired an executive meeting Monday of the ruling Prosperity Party, and Defense Minister Abraham Belay told state media that “all security forces will start taking special measures and tactics as of tomorrow.” He declined to elaborate.
Abiy’s announcement brought shock from the man who nominated him for the Nobel, Awol Allo, a senior lecturer in law at Keele University in Britain. “The announcement is replete with languages of martyrdom and sacrifice,” he said in a tweet. “This is so extraordinary and unprecedented, shows how desperate the situation is.”
The prime minister in his 2019 Nobel acceptance speech spoke passionately about war: “I crawled my way to peace through the dusty trenches of war years ago. … I witnessed firsthand the ugliness of war in frontline battles. … War is the epitome of hell for all involved. I know because I have been there and back.”
Abiy was awarded the Nobel for making peace with neighboring Eritrea, on whose border he fought while stationed in the Tigray region.
Eritrean soldiers have been blamed for some of the worst atrocities in the war, even as Abiy denied for months that they were inside Tigray.
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