NAIROBI -- Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmad is a proven veteran of surprising the world after just three years at power. This week, he did it again by announcing, after a year, that he would lead the warfront.
Abiy's rule is a short one in the great sweep of Ethiopian history. However, he has spent nearly all his life preparing. As a child, his mother told him that he would lead Ethiopia. He now speaks of martyrdom to keep the nation together.
Abiy rose to power seemingly out of nowhere in 2018, promising to make dramatic reforms to an oppressive national government. After years of conflict, Abiy also declared that he would make peace in Eritrea. The Nobel Peace Prize was presented to the young prime minister for his efforts in achieving peace after years of bitter conflict.
Abiy declared his military was at War with leaders from Ethiopia's northern Tigray. These men had previously dominated the national government, but soon found themselves in conflict with the prime minister. In November 2020, political differences became gunfire.
Since then, tens of thousands have been killed and nearly half a million Tigrayans are now facing the worst famine crisis in a decade. This is one the United States calls "entirely human-made".
According to a government spokesperson, Abiy, 45, has entered the fight and arrived at the frontline on Tuesday.
The prime minister is not a stranger to war. He joined the fighters that overthrew the Marxist Derg government as a teenager and then signed up to the new government's army. As a radio operator, he served at the Tigray border and was later promoted to lieutenant colonel.
The roles of both sides are now reversed. Abiy used to call Tigray fighters his friends, but now they are enemies. The Eritrean soldiers that he once fought were allowed to join Ethiopia's war effort as allies.
Abiy is now facing a battleground challenge that he's never faced before, years after his career switched from politics to the military.
Christopher Clapham, a former professor at the University of Cambridge, stated that he "clearly feels his right to rule Ethiopia and assume the responsibility it involves."
Clapham stated that overseeing the breakup of Ethiopia, a country with a history of over 3,000 years, would be a "massive loss" to Abiy. He said that by going to the battlefront, he is following in the footsteps of the emperors.
However, emperors and governments can also fall. The Tigray rivals, who have advanced on Ethiopia's capital in the past weeks, has prompted a state of emergency. They want Abiy to be removed, by force if necessary.
This deeply religious prime minister was a strong advocate for national unity and represented it. He was the son of a Christian, Muslim, and mixed-ethnic heritage and shocked Africa's second largest country by apologizing to his past government for its abuses. Tigrayans recall cheering him on at the beginning.
Abiy stated in his Nobel Address in those early days that "War is the epitome and hell for all involved".
The warring sides have now tested the mediation efforts of the United States and African Union, who believe they can win despite their hardened positions. According to U.S. envoy Jeffrey Feltman, Abiy believes that the Tigray forces can be pushed back in their region. He said, "I doubt that confidence."
Feltman stated that the war front is moving closer to Ethiopia's capital. The Tigray fighters are now on the move towards Debre Sina which is less than a day drive from Addis Ababa. They are also trying cut off Djibouti's vital supply line, which is a threat to Africa’s diplomatic capital.
Accordingly, increasing numbers of countries are telling their citizens to evacuate immediately. The U.S. repeatedly assured Americans that they will not be subject to an evacuation in Afghanistan's style.
Abiy stated that war is a struggle that will determine whether or not we exist. We will win. It is impossible for Ethiopia to lose. It is now necessary to lead the country and make the ultimate sacrifice.
He invited fellow Ethiopians, to come meet him.