Ethiopia’s Nobel Peace Prize-winning prime minister has vowed to lead his country’s army “from the battlefront” beginning Tuesday.
He made this statement at a time where rival Tigray forces are said to be moving closer to the capital of Addis Ababa
In a statement posted on social media on Monday evening (November 22), Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said “This is a time when leading a country with martyrdom is needed.”
It is estimated that thousands of people have been killed in the war between Ethiopian and allied forces and fighters from the country’s northern Tigray region, who long dominated the national government before Abiy took office.
The international community has warned that Africa’s second-most populous country could fracture and destabilize the Horn of Africa.
The 45-year-old prime minister had said “Let’s meet at the battlefront,”. It is however not clear where the prime minister who is a former solder will start on Tuesday as the statement could not say.
The Tigray forces say they are pressuring Ethiopia’s government to lift a months-long blockade of the Tigray region of some 6 million people, but they also want Abiy out of power.
The prime minister’s statement also claimed that the West is trying to defeat Ethiopia, the latest pushback against what his government has described as meddling by the international community. Envoys from the African Union and the U.S. have continued diplomatic efforts in pursuit of a ceasefire to the fighting and talks without preconditions on a political solution.
Shortly after Abiy’s announcement, a senior State Department official told journalists the U.S. still believes “a small window of opportunity exists” in the mediation efforts.
In a year’s time, Abiy’s government has gone from describing the Tigray conflict as a “law enforcement operation” to an “existential war.” With Ethiopia’s military reportedly weakened in recent months, and with its retreat from Tigray in June, ethnic-based regional forces have been stepping up and Abiy’s government has called on all able citizens to join the fight.
The prime minister chaired an executive meeting Monday of the ruling Prosperity Party, and Defense Minister Abraham Belay told state media that “all security forces will start taking special measures and tactics as of tomorrow.”
Abiy’s announcement has come as a shock to many, including the man who nominated him for the Nobel Prize, Awol Allo, a senior lecturer in law at Keele University in Britain. “The announcement is replete with languages of martyrdom and sacrifice,” he said in a tweet. “This is so extraordinary and unprecedented, shows how desperate the situation is.”
In his 2019 Nobel Prize acceptance speech Abiy Ahmed spoke passionately about war saying: “I crawled my way to peace through the dusty trenches of war years ago. … I witnessed firsthand the ugliness of war in frontline battles. … War is the epitome of hell for all involved. I know because I have been there and back.”
Abiy was awarded the Nobel Prize for making peace with neighboring Eritrea, on whose border he fought while stationed in the Tigray region. The terms of that peace deal have however never been made public.