Nairobi, Kenya – Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has been a veteran who surprised the world in just three years in power. This week he announced again that after a year of war, he will lead it on the front lines.
Abiy seemed to come from nowhere in 2018, vowing to carry out major reforms to the long-repressed national government and quickly take office. He also announced that after years of intense conflict, he will reconcile with neighboring Eritrea. For this, the young prime minister won the Nobel Peace Prize.
Then, less than a year later, Abiy announced that his army was at war with the leader of the Tigray region in northern Ethiopia, who had taken control of the previous national government but soon had friction with the prime minister. The political differences turned into a shootout in November 2020.
Since then, tens of thousands of people have lost their lives, and nearly 500,000 people in Tigray are now facing the world’s worst famine crisis in a decade, which the United States calls “completely man-made”.
A government spokesman said that Abi, now 45, was now in battle and arrived on the front lines on Tuesday.
The Prime Minister is no stranger to war. As a teenager, he joined the fighters who eventually overthrew the Marxist Dege regime in the country, and then joined the army of the new government. He participated in the Ethiopian war against Eritrea as a radio operator, served at the Tigray border, and later became a lieutenant colonel.
Now the role has undergone a dramatic reversal. Abi, the Tigray warrior who was once called a friend, is now an enemy, and the Eritrean soldiers he once fought were allowed to join the war as allies of Ethiopia.
After many years of his career transitioning from military to politics, Abi faced a battlefield challenge he had never faced before: commanding the army.
But the prime minister is known as a person with a sense of destiny.
Christopher Clapham, a retired professor at the University of Cambridge, said that he “obviously personally believes that he has the right to be the ruler of Ethiopia and assume the responsibilities it brings.”
Clapham said that overseeing the division of Ethiopia, a 3,000-year-old country, would be a “huge blow” to Abiy, and going to the front line is following the emperor’s traditions.
But the emperor will collapse, and the government will collapse. The hostile Tigray forces have advanced to the Ethiopian capital in recent weeks, causing the country to enter a state of emergency. They hope to see Abi leave and use force if necessary.
This pious prime minister took office to promote national unity and represent national unity. As the son of a Christian and Muslim with mixed racial origin, he apologized for the abuse of the previous government and shocked Africa, the second most populous country. Tigrayans recalled cheering for him at first.
“For all participants, war is the epitome of hell,” Abbey said in his Nobel speech earlier.
Nowadays, the hard-line stances of the two warring parties have their own opinions and test the efforts of the mediators of the United States and the African Union. US special envoy Jeffrey Feltman said this week that Abi believes the Tigray forces will be pushed back to their area. But he added, “I question this confidence.”
Feltman said that the front is gradually approaching the Ethiopian capital, and the Tigray fighters have recently moved to Debresina, less than a day’s drive from Addis Ababa. The militants also tried to cut off an important supply line from neighboring Djibouti, which further threatened the diplomatic capital of Africa.
Therefore, more and more countries require their citizens to leave immediately. The United States has repeatedly told the Americans that they will not withdraw like Afghanistan.
In announcing his entry to the front, Abi said that this war “is a struggle to determine whether we exist. But we will definitely win. Ethiopia is defeated is unthinkable. We are in an era where we need to lead our country through sacrifice.”
He called on fellow Ethiopians to meet with him there.