The Prime Minister of Ethiopia, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, went out to the battlefront to take over a one year war as rival fighters approach the capitalhis government announced on Wednesday.
State media did not show images of Abiy ahmed, a 45-year-old former soldier, and his spokesperson Billene Seyoum dismissed a request for details on his location as “unbelievable.” He arrived at the front on Tuesday, according to a government spokesman.
Tens of thousands of people have died in the war between federal and allied Ethiopian troops and fighters from the Tigray region of the country. The prospect of the ancient nation breaking up has alarmed both Ethiopians and observers who fear what would happen to the often turbulent Horn of Africa in general. Countries like France, Germany and Turkey have told their citizens to leave immediately.
Abiy’s trajectory since he won the Nobel just two years ago so far potentially heading into battle has shocked many. But a move to the front would follow the tradition of Ethiopian leaders, including Emperor Haile Selassie and Emperor Yohannes IV, who died in battle in 1889, said Christopher Clapham, a retired professor associated with the University of Cambridge.
“It strikes me as a very traditional Ethiopian leadership exercise,” Clapham said. “It may be necessary to rescue what appears to be a very hesitant Ethiopian military response.”
The Tigray forces, which had long dominated the national government before Abiy came to power, appear to have the momentum. They have approached the capital of Addis Ababa in recent weeks with the aim of strengthening their negotiating position or simply forcing the prime minister to resign.
While unusual, the movement of a leader to the front has occurred in other parts of Africa, but sometimes with deadly results: Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno was assassinated while fighting rebels in April, according to the army.
“The situation is extremely dangerous,” said Adem Abebe, a researcher at the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. “If (Abiy) is injured or killed, not only will the federal government collapse, the military will too.”
The prime minister announced earlier this week that he would go to the front lines, saying that “this is a time when you need to lead a country with martyrdom.” The deputy prime minister is handling the government’s day-to-day operations in the meantime, spokesman Legesse Tulu said on Wednesday.
Abiy also invited Ethiopians to join him, the latest call for all capable citizens in the country of more than 110 million people to fight back. There have been reports of hasty military training and allegations of forced recruitment in recent months, while analysts have warned that, with the army apparently weakened, ethnically-based militias are on the rise.
“He may be seriously considering becoming a martyr.”said the man who nominated Abiy for the Nobel, Awol Allo, a senior law professor at Keele University in Britain.
Allo said the move fits with the prime minister’s view of himself and his sense that he was destined to lead. But he also didn’t rule out the possibility that Abiy simply left the capital for a safer place, not the front, and was leading the war from there.
The United States envoy, Jeffrey feltman, told reporters on Tuesday that he fears that the “nascent” progress in mediation efforts with the warring parties may be outweighed by “alarming” military developments.
The war began in November 2020, when a growing political rift between the Tigray leaders and the Abiyan government erupted into open conflict..
Tigray’s forces have said they want Abiy out, among other demands. The Abiy government wants the forces of Tigray, which it has designated as a terrorist group, to withdraw to its region as part of its conditions.
“Unless there is some kind of divine intervention, I don’t see any possibility of a peaceful resolution through dialogue. because the positions are very polarized, ”said Kassahun Berhanu, a political science professor at Addis Ababa University, adding that he believed Abiy’s announcement. about going to the front is aimed at “raising popular morale.”
Millions of civilians are trapped and starving amid the fighting. The Ethiopian government has blockaded the Tigray region for several months, saying it fears humanitarian aid will end up in the hands of fighters.while hundreds of thousands of people in neighboring Amhara and Afar regions are out of reach of significant aid as Tigray forces advance through those areas.
One target of the Tigray forces appears to be the supply line from neighboring Djibouti to the Ethiopian capital., and the US envoy warned the fighters not to block that road or enter Addis Ababa.
That could be “Catastrophic” for the countryFeltman told reporters Tuesday.
African Union envoy Olesegun Obasanjo has also been mediating, but has not spoken publicly about his work in recent days.
With information from AP