NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) – Ethiopia’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning prime minister went to the front, his government announced Wednesday, after the leader said martyrdom may be necessary in a year-long war with rival fighters approaching the capital.
State media did not show images of Abiy Ahmed, a 45-year-old former soldier, and his spokesman Billen Seiyum dismissed a request for details of his whereabouts as “incredible.” According to a government spokesman, he arrived at the front on Tuesday.
Tens of thousands of people have died in the war between the federal and allied forces of Ethiopia and militants from the Tigray region of the country.
The prospect of the ancient nation breaking up has alarmed both Ethiopians and observers alike, who fear what might happen to the often turbulent Horn of Africa as a whole. Countries including France, Germany and Turkey ordered their citizens to leave immediately.
Just two years ago, Abiy was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for radical political reforms and for peace with neighboring Eritrea. His path from Nobel Prize to potential entry into battle shocked many.
But going to the front will follow the tradition of Ethiopian leaders, including Emperor Haile Selassie and Emperor Johannes IV, who was killed in action in 1889, said Christopher Clapham, a retired professor associated with the University of Cambridge.
“It seems to me that this is a very traditional expression of leadership in Ethiopia,” said Clapham. “It may be necessary to salvage what looks like Ethiopia’s very volatile military response.”
Tigray’s forces, which long dominated the national government prior to Abiy’s rise to power, appear to be gaining momentum. In recent weeks, they have moved closer to the capital, Addis Ababa, with the aim of strengthening their bargaining power or simply forcing the prime minister to step down.
Unusually, the leader’s move to the front took place in other parts of Africa, but at times with fatal consequences: Chadian President Idriss Debi Itno was killed in a battle with insurgents in April, according to the military.
“The situation is extremely dangerous,” said Adem Abebe, a researcher at the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. “If (Abiy) is wounded or killed, not only the federal government will collapse, but the army as well.”
The prime minister announced earlier this week that he will go to the front, stating that “this is the time to lead the country with a martyrdom.” Meanwhile, the deputy prime minister oversees the day-to-day activities of the government, an official from Legesse Tulu said on Wednesday.
Abiy also invited Ethiopians to join him – the final call for every capable citizen of a country of over 110 million people to fight. In recent months, there have been reports of hasty military exercises and allegations of forced conscription, while analysts have warned that ethnic militias are growing in strength with the apparent weakening of the military.
“He may be seriously considering becoming a martyr,” said the man who nominated Abiy for the Nobel Prize, Avol Allo, a senior lecturer in law at Keele University in the UK.
Hallo said the move is consistent with the prime minister’s image of himself and his sense of being destined to lead. But he also did not rule out that Abiy, perhaps, simply left the capital for a safer place, and not to the front, and led the war from there.
US envoy Jeffrey Feltman told reporters on Tuesday that he fears “nascent” progress in mediation efforts with warring parties may outstrip “troubling” military developments.
The war began in November 2020, when the growing political rift between the Tigray leaders and the Abiy government escalated into open conflict. Abiy discreetly allowed soldiers from Eritrea to enter Tigray and attack the ethnic Tigers, leading to some of the worst atrocities of the war. He denied the presence of Eritreans for several months.
Tygra’s forces have stated that they want to withdraw Abiy, among other things. The Abiya government wants the Tigray forces, which it has designated as a terrorist group, to withdraw to their region according to their terms.
“Unless there is some divine intervention, I see no chance for a peaceful settlement through dialogue because the positions are highly polarized,” said Kassahun Berhanu, professor of political science at Addis Ababa University, adding that he believes in Abiy’s statement. about going to the front “is aimed at raising the morale of the people.”
Millions of civilians are trapped and starving in the fighting. Ethiopia’s government has blockaded the Tigray region for months, saying it fears that humanitarian aid will end up in the hands of militants, while hundreds of thousands of people in the neighboring regions of Amhara and Afar are unable to receive significant aid as Tigray forces advance. through these areas.
One of the targets of Tigray’s forces appears to be a supply line from neighboring Djibouti to the Ethiopian capital, and the US envoy has warned the militants not to block that road or enter Addis Ababa.
This could be a “disaster” for the country, Feltman told reporters on Tuesday.
African Union envoy Olesegun Obasanjo also mediated, but in recent days has not spoken publicly about his work.