civil war

Ethiopia: ‘Tigrayan youth are falling like leaves,’ says PM Abiy

Ethiopia’s prime minister Abiy Ahmed in a video broadcast on state media that shows him facing the TPLF rebels on the frontline. ©/AP/SIPA

On 30 November, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed urged rebels in Tigray to surrender, saying government forces were closing in on victory. It comes just a week after the PM pledged to lead military operations on the frontline.

“Tigrayan youth are falling like leaves. They should know that they have been defeated and surrender starting from today,” Abiy Ahmed, the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, told state media that aired on 30 November.

Abiy Ahmed goes to the front

Tuesday’s video is the latest in a series showing Abiy in fatigues with soldiers who appear to be in the Afar region, which has been the scene of fighting in recent weeks as Tigrayan fighters attempt to take control of a strategic road linking Djibouti to the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa.

On Monday 28 November, state media reported that the army controlled the lowland Afar town of Chifra, while on Tuesday, Abiy said that these successes would be repeated on the western front in the Amhara region. “The enemy has been defeated. We have achieved an unthinkable victory […]. Now, in the west, we will repeat this victory,” he said.

However, on Monday, a spokesperson for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) described the Ethiopian military deployment as a “circus” involving “farcical war games.”

Fears of a rebel march on the capital prompted the US, France, the UK, Greece and other countries to ask their citizens to leave Ethiopia as soon as possible late last week.

Faced with the TPLF’ advance, the Ethiopian authorities led both a military and communication counter-offensive. State media broadcasted images of the prime minister on the frontline.

Furthermore, a decree was published on 25 November stipulating that it isforbidden to distribute in any communication systems any military movements, battlefield outcomes” that were not officially published by the government. “Security forces will take necessary measures on those who have been found to violate” the order; a possible warning to news outlets and social media accounts that have reported on rebel claims of territorial gains.

Humanitarian crisis

The government also banned the population from “using different types of media platforms to directly or indirectly support the terrorist group”, referring to the TPLF, as well as any mention of a “transitional government.” On 24 November, the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC) had called for hostilities to end and to establish an “interim administration” that would open negotiations with all parties with the aim of forming a “fully inclusive national transitional government.”

Since November 2020, the civil war between government forces and TPLF fighters has left thousands dead, more than 2 million displaced and a humanitarian crisis. The World Food Programme (WFP) estimates that 9.4 million people are suffering from hunger “as a direct result of the ongoing conflict” in Tigray, but also in the Amhara and Afar regions, where the conflict has spread.

“The Amhara region [where fighting is currently taking place] has seen the largest increase in numbers, with 3.7 million people now in urgent need of food aid,” the WFP said in a statement on 26 November.

With AFP