NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Ethiopia’s government said Wednesday that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has gone to the battlefront to take charge in a yearlong war and left the daily work of running the country to his deputy as rival fighters approach the capital, Addis Ababa.
The 45-year-old prime minister, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and former soldier, arrived at the front on Tuesday, government spokesman Legesse Tulu told reporters without giving details on the location, and state media did not show images of him. Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen is handling day-to-day government activities, Legesse said.
The war in Africa’s second-most populous nation has killed an estimated tens of thousands of people, and countries including France, Germany and Turkey have told their citizens to leave immediately as rival fighters from Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region advance.
U.S. envoy Jeffrey Feltman on Tuesday told reporters he fears that “nascent” progress in mediation efforts with the warring sides could be outpaced by the “alarming” military developments. The Tigray forces dominated the previous national government for 27 years before Abiy took office in 2018, and a growing political rift turned to war in November 2020.
“Unless there is some kind of divine intervention, I don’t see any chance for a peaceful resolution through dialogue because the positions are highly polarized,” said Kassahun Berhanu, professor of political science at Addis Ababa University, who added he believed Abiy’s decision to go to the front is “aimed at boosting popular morale.”
The Tigray forces have said they want Abiy out. Abiy’s government wants the Tigray forces, which it has designated as a terrorist group, to withdraw to their region.
The prime minister this week not only announced he would go to the battlefront but also invited Ethiopians to join him, the latest call for every able citizen in the country of more than 110 million people to join the fight. Hurried military trainings and allegations of forced conscription have occurred in recent months, while analysts have warned of the growing presence of ethnic-based militias as the military was said to be weakened.
Millions of civilians are trapped and going hungry because of the war. Ethiopia’s government has blockaded the Tigray region for several months, fearing that humanitarian aid will end up in the hands of fighters, while hundreds of thousands of people in the neighboring Amhara and Afar regions are beyond the reach of significant aid after the Tigray forces retook their region in June and began fighting their way toward the capital.
Another target of the Tigray forces appears to be the supply line from neighboring Djibouti to Ethiopia’s capital, and the U.S. envoy on Tuesday in remarks to reporters warned the fighters against cutting off the road to Djibouti or entering Addis Ababa.
That could be “catastrophic” for the country, Feltman said.
African Union envoy Olesegun Obasanjo also has been mediating but has not spoken publicly about his work in recent days.
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