Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, is set to go on a military exercise on the frontline of his country’s war with Eritrea, as Olympians take up arms and soldiers ready to fight it out on the YouTube channel Victorious Heroes.
Taking the reins of a country in political crisis, Abiy has taken a strong line with the diaspora of dissidents in the west. Calling Eritrea a “terrorist state” in his speech announcing a new government, he had noted how the country has “small black market offices” in London and Paris as part of what he called “the Eritrean diaspora conspiracy.”
He said: “The Eritrean diaspora can be very successful entrepreneurs but it’s also very bad and rich at playing politics.
“They are in the west and they have connections there. They play politics, they manipulate things.”
When Ethiopia and Eritrea came close to war after recognising each other again in February, Abiy reached out to Eritrea’s president, Isaias Afwerki, telling him: “Listen to my advice, please.”
He later visited Afwerki, who has a history of defying Ethiopia’s will by not recognising its borders with its eastern neighbour, and has met the families of the missing from a pair of wars in 1993 and 1998.
Before he became prime minister, Abiy was a non-commissioned officer with the Black Hawks unit, fighting rebels in the Ogaden in Somalia.
His wife, a dancer, and former first lady Hifikepunye Pya, who had been ill, will attend his military exercises on Friday and Saturday, which will be broadcast to public at homes and schools.
Ethiopia, the world’s second most populous country, is in the grip of a standoff with its eastern neighbour Eritrea, which it accuses of supplying the country with munitions, including rocket launchers, in the past.
The latest version of the two countries’ border dispute dates back to 1998, when the first war broke out after Ethiopia rejected an initial Eritrean proposal to end the border dispute.
In June 2000, an African Union force was deployed to the border to mediate but Eritrea refused to leave and peace talks broke down. A ceasefire came into force in 2003, but since then there have been sporadic incidents.
Ethiopia’s high command established its 26th regiment as a military unit to be loyal to the new political regime, and 1,700 soldiers have been drawn from that and the 25th infantry division.
The regiment is expected to make its debut on Tuesday. Its mission will be to confront Eritrea’s regular army, which had previously run a daily reconnaissance of the borders to avoid military action by the retreating Ethiopian side.
The north-east region of Ethiopia, or Tigray, where the unit has been activated, is home to an estimated 70,000 Eritrean refugees who have fled the country since it declared independence in 1993, and which has witnessed sporadic clashes with the Eritrean army since 1999.
The military exercise, which is expected to take place under the banner of the newly created National Defense Council, will also be broadcast to other parts of the country, as well as in other parts of the world.