Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy went to the forefront of the war (state)

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Ethiopia’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning prime minister has gone to the front lines, his government said on Wednesday, after the leader said sacrificing himself may be necessary in the year-long war with rival fighters who approaching the capital.

State media did not show any images of Abiy Ahmed, a 45-year-old former soldier, and his spokesperson Billene Seyoum dismissed a request for details of his location as “unbelievable.” He arrived at the front on Tuesday, according to a government spokesperson.

Tens of thousands of people have died in the war between Ethiopian federal and allied troops and fighters in the Tigray region. The prospect of the ancient nation breaking up has alarmed both Ethiopians and observers who fear what will happen to the often turbulent Horn of Africa as a whole. Countries like France, Germany and Turkey have asked their citizens to leave immediately.

Abiy received the Nobel Peace Prize just two years ago for his sweeping political reforms and for making peace with neighboring Eritrea. His trajectory from winning the Nobel to being able to go into battle has shocked many.

But a move to the front would follow the tradition of Ethiopian rulers, including Emperor Haile Selassie and Emperor Yohannes IV, who was killed in action in 1889, said Christopher Clapham, a retired associate professor at the University of Cambridge.

“It feels like a very traditional Ethiopian leadership exercise to me,” Clapham said. “It may be necessary to rescue what looks like a very faltering Ethiopian military response.”

The forces of Tigray, which dominated the national government for a long time before Abiy came to power, seem to be on the rise. They have approached the capital Addis Ababa in recent weeks with the aim of strengthening their negotiating position or simply forcing the prime minister to step down.

Although unusual, the displacement of a leader to the front has occurred elsewhere in Africa, but sometimes with deadly results: Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno was killed while fighting rebels in April, according to the army.

“The situation is extremely dangerous,” said Adem Abebe, researcher at the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. “If (Abiy) is injured or killed, it is not just the federal government that will collapse, the military will too.

The prime minister announced earlier this week that he would be heading to the front lines, saying “this is a time when ruling a country with martyrdom is necessary”. In the meantime, the deputy prime minister manages the day-to-day operations of the government, spokeswoman Legesse Tulu said on Wednesday.

Abiy also called on Ethiopians to join him – the latest call for all capable citizens in the country of over 110 million people to fight back. Reports have pointed to hasty military training and allegations of forced conscription in recent months, while analysts have warned that with the army apparently weakened, ethnic militias have escalated.

“He may be seriously considering becoming a martyr,” said the man who nominated Abiy for the Nobel Prize, Awol Allo, senior lecturer in law at Keele University in Britain.

Allo said the move was in line with the Prime Minister’s view of himself and his feeling that he was destined to lead. But he also didn’t rule out the possibility that Abiy had simply left the capital for a safer location – not the front line – and was leading the war from there.

US envoy Jeffrey Feltman told reporters on Tuesday he feared “nascent” progress in mediation efforts with warring parties could be overtaken by “alarming” military developments.

The war began in November 2020, when a growing political disagreement between the leadership of Tigray and the government of Abiy erupted into open conflict. Abiy quietly allowed Eritrean soldiers to enter Tigray and attack Tigrayans, resulting in some of the worst atrocities of the war. He denied the presence of Eritreans for months.

Tigray forces have said they want Abiy’s withdrawal, among other demands. Abiy’s government wants the Tigray forces, which it has designated as a terrorist group, to withdraw to their region on their terms.

“Unless there is some kind of divine intervention, I see no chance of a peaceful resolution through dialogue because the positions are very polarized,” said Kassahun Berhanu, professor of political science at the Addis Ababa University, who added that he believed Abiy’s announcement to go to the front “aims to boost people’s morale.”

Millions of civilians are trapped and go hungry in the midst of the fighting. The Ethiopian government has blocked the Tigray region for several months over fears that humanitarian aid will end up in the hands of combatants, while hundreds of thousands of people in neighboring Amhara and Afar regions are out of reach. of significant assistance as the Tigray forces advance. through these areas.

One of the targets of Tigray forces appears to be the supply line between neighboring Djibouti and the Ethiopian capital, and the US envoy has warned fighters against cutting that route or entering Addis Ababa.

It could be “catastrophic” for the country, Feltman told reporters on Tuesday. African Union (AU) envoy Olesegun Obasanjo has also mediated but has not spoken publicly about his work in recent days.

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