The example that he has set is perhaps singularly astonishing, and quite unprecedented. The Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed, has promised to lead his country’s army from the “battlefront” after the rebels of Tigray threatened to march towards Addis Ababa.
Other senior government officials have also immediately responded to the call made by the Prime Minister to save Ethiopia and joined the campaign, he added. State media though has shown no images of Abiy, a 45-year-old former soldier and winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, at the battlefront. The government has not disclosed his location but a spokesman said he had arrived at the front on Tuesday and was joined by other government officials who heeded the call to “save Ethiopia”.
“The time has come to lead the country with sacrifice,” Abiy had said in a Twitter post late on Monday. “Those who want to be among the Ethiopian children who will be hailed by history, rise up for your country today. Let’s meet at the battlefront.”
Northern Ethiopia has been racked by conflict since November 2020 when Abiy sent troops into the Tigray region to topple the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) after months of tensions with the region’s governing party. The TPLF had controlled national politics for three decades until Abiy came to power in 2018.
He had promised a swift victory, but by late June the TPLF had regrouped and retaken most of Tigray, including its capital, Mekelle. Since then, the Tigrayan forces have pushed into the neighbouring Afar and Amhara regions and this week claimed control of Shewa Robit, just 220 km northeast of the capital, Addis Ababa, by road. The Tigrayan forces and their allies have threatened to march on Addis Ababa. They have also been fighting fiercely to try to cut a transport corridor linking landlocked Ethiopia with the region’s main port, Djibouti.
On Tuesday, US Special Envoy Jeffrey Feltman said the Ethiopian military and regional militias had been able to hold back Tigrayan attempts to cut the corridor, but Tigrayan forces had been able to move south towards Addis Ababa. Much of northern Ethiopia is under a communications blackout and access for journalists is restricted, making battlefield claims difficult to corroborate. Later on Wednesday, during a joint media interaction with Colombia’s President Ivan Duque, the UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, called for an end to the fighting.
“The peace process in Colombia today inspires me to make an urgent call to the protagonists of the conflict in Ethiopia for an unconditional and immediate ceasefire,” Guterres said, referring to the 2016 peace agreement between the Colombian government and FARC rebels. The country cries out for peace, with the yearlong crisis having led to a humanitarian crisis with hundreds of thousand Ethiopians facing near-famine conditions, even as thousands have died and millions displaced.