Awarded the Nobel for making peace with neighbouring Eritrea, on whose border he fought while stationed in the Tigray region, Abiy Ahmed on Monday in a dramatic new step vowed to lead his country’s army “from the battlefront” beginning on Tuesday.
“Starting tomorrow, I will mobilise to the front to lead the defence forces,” Abiy Ahmed said in a statement posted on Twitter late on Monday.
“Those who want to be among the Ethiopian children who will be hailed by history, rise up for your country today. Let’s meet at the battlefront.”
The statement by the 45-year-old prime minister, a former soldier, did not say where exactly he will go Tuesday.
Abiy’s comments comes as the year-long conflict between Ethiopia and allied forces, and fighters from the country’s northern Tigray region that is estimated to have killed tens of thousands of people moves closer to the capital Addis Ababa.
The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) rebel group is claiming control of the town of Shewa Robit, just 220 kilometres (136 miles) northeast of the capital by road.
The spokesman for the Tigray forces Getachew Reda tweeted that “our forces won’t relent on their inexorable advance towards bringing (Abiy’s) chokehold on our people to an end.”
The Tigray forces say they are pressuring Ethiopia’s government to lift a months-long blockade of the Tigray region of some six million people, but they also want Abiy out of power.
“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,” said the man who nominated Abiy for the Nobel, Awol Allo, a senior lecturer in law at Keele University in Britain.
The United States and others have warned that Africa’s second-most populous country could fracture and destabilise the rest of the region.