Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said on Wednesday that he was returning to Addis Ababa after pro-government forces claimed important victories in their struggle against Tigrayan rebels.
On Monday, the government announced that pro-Abiy forces had retaken the crucial cities of Dessie and Kombolcha, marking the latest development in the 13-month-long conflict.
Abiy stated that last month that he would head to the battlefront, turning over his usual duties to his deputy, after the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) rebel group reported substantial territorial advances as part of a march towards Addis Ababa.
Since then, photographs of a uniformed Abiy, a former military lieutenant colonel, have been carried by state television as warfare has purportedly raged on at least three fronts.
The government has announced the recapture of numerous minor towns in recent days, including Lalibela, a UNESCO World Heritage site known for its 12th-century rock-hewn cathedrals. However, the TPLF has denied the government’s assertions, claiming that the rebels were conducting smart withdrawals and that they were still undefeated.
On the other hand, fears of a rebel march on Addis Ababa have prompted the United States, France, and the United Kingdom to advise their citizens to leave Ethiopia as soon as possible, despite Abiy’s government’s assurances that the capital is secure. The African Union’s special envoy for the Horn of Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo, is leading a campaign to negotiate a truce, but there has been little success so far.
The escalating war has raised fears of a spillover into the fragile East African region, prompting Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta to call on both sides to lay down their arms last month. Obasanjo arrived in Kenya on Wednesday, according to Kenyatta’s office, and the two leaders discussed numerous topics of importance to Kenya, the region, and the African continent, though no further specifics were provided.
The conflict began in November 2020, when Abiy dispatched forces to Tigray to overthrow the TPLF, claiming that the move was prompted by rebel attacks on army facilities. However, the rebels staged a stunning recovery, retaking most of Tigray by the end of June and then expanding into the neighboring Amhara and Afar regions.
According to UN estimates, the conflict has killed thousands of people, displaced more than two million people, and forced hundreds of thousands into famine-like conditions.