Robbie COREY-BOULET –
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed came to power promising real democracy, promoting women and feverishly planting trees across his vast country, snapping up the Nobel Peace Prize along the way.
But Abiy’s image of a modern, peacemaking reformer risks shattering entirely after he sent troops and warplanes into Ethiopia’s Tigray region, a move analysts fear could push Africa’s second most populous country into a long, devastating civil war.
Abiy, 44, announced the campaign on November 4, saying it came in response to an attack by Tigray’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), on two federal military camps, an accusation the party denies.
A communications blackout in Tigray has made it difficult to verify competing claims on the ground.
Yet officials say hundreds of people have been killed, and the UN is warning of a rapidly deteriorating humanitarian situation as thousands flee across the border into neighbouring Sudan. World leaders are calling for an immediate halt to fighting and for dialogue, but Abiy has repeatedly insisted on the need to preserve the country’s “sovereignty and unity” and “re-establish law and order”.
It is a remarkable turn of events for a leader who less than a year ago travelled to Oslo to accept the Nobel for ending a two-decade stalemate with neighbouring Eritrea after a brutal 1998-2000 conflict that left some 80,000 people dead and achieved little. Abiy declared in his acceptance speech that “war is the epitome of hell for all involved”, and his office insists that this remains his position.
His press secretary has even suggested he deserves “a second Nobel Prize” for his efforts to resolve the Tigray conflict. Born in the western town of Beshasha to a Muslim father and Christian mother, Abiy “grew up sleeping on the floor” in a house with no electricity or running water.
“We used to fetch water from the river’’, he told Ethiopian radio station Sheger FM last year, adding that he was 12 or 13 before he first saw an asphalt road or electricity. — AFP