‘My Blood Is Boiling’: War Fever Surges in Ethiopia as Its Civil War Spreads

‘My Blood Is Boiling’: War Fever Surges in Ethiopia as Its Civil War Spreads

Source: New York Times

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

NAIROBI, Kenya — (eritreahub)—-He swept to power preaching unity and hope, struck a landmark peace deal with the longtime foe Eritrea, released thousands of political prisoners, lifted restrictions on the press and promised to overturn decades of repressive authoritarian rule. For those accomplishments, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of Ethiopia was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019.

But now, mired in a grinding civil war, Mr. Abiy has embarked on a radically different track, stoking war fever and urging all able-bodied men and women to join a widening military campaign, either as combatants or in support roles.

The Ministry of Defense has not said how many new recruits it has signed up, but the spokesman for Sintayehu Abate, deputy mayor of Addis Ababa, the capital, has said that 3,000 residents of the city have enlisted since the campaign started and that thousands more have reportedly signed up around the country.

Critics have denounced Mr. Abiy’s latest campaign, saying the injection of fresh recruits into the fighting will only lead to more bloodshed in the deeply polarized and ethnically divided nation, potentially destabilizing the wider Horn of Africa.

Ethiopia is a patchwork of at least 80 ethnic groups and 10 regional governments. Analysts worry that a protracted conflict could push groups within Ethiopia to take sides and potentially draw in countries from across the region.

Credit…Eduardo Soteras/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“This is a declaration to turn civilians into combatants that will further plunge the country into a genocidal war and create bad blood between peoples for generations to come and an economic free-fall,” said Mehari Taddele Maru, a professor of governance and geopolitics at the European University Institute.

Over the past nine months of conflict, thousands of people have been killed and some two million have been displaced, while hundreds of thousands of others face famine conditions amid reports of massacressexual assault and ethnic cleansing.

The roots of the conflict can be traced to last November, when Mr. Abiy ordered a military offensive against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, onetime rebels who led Ethiopia with an iron fist from 1991 until Mr. Abiy’s ascent in 2018. He accused the group of attacking a federal military base and trying to steal weapons.

The war quickly escalated, with militia fighters from the Amhara region to the south and Eritrean troops from the north joining the Ethiopian military against the Tigrayan forces.

But the swift victory Mr. Abiy promised never materialized. Instead, the hostilities settled into a grinding war in different pockets of Tigray. In June, Mr. Abiy declared a unilateral cease-fire after the rebels shockingly routed the government forces and captured Mekelle, the regional capital of Tigray, altering the course of the war.

Credit…Finbarr O’Reilly for The New York Times

Emboldened by their wins, the Tigrayans issued a set of demands that called, among other things, for a “transitional arrangement” that would essentially see Mr. Abiy removed from power.

Mr. Abiy rejected those demands and recently urged Ethiopians at home and abroad to defend the “motherland” and be “the eyes and ears of the country in order to track down and expose spies and agents” of the Tigrayan forces.

Since then, the Ethiopian authorities have ramped up mass recruitment drives, calling on popular musicians and artists to galvanize the war effort.

This past week, the military posted photos from the town of Debark in the northern Amhara region where young men — wielding machetes, guns and sticks studded with nails — rallied in support of the war and enlisted in droves. In the eastern city of Jigjiga, hundreds of men, women and some children attended a rally to support government forces.

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