Abiy is playing Russian roulette by leading his troops from the front

Saturday November 27 2021
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. His returning from the battlefield with his adversaries vanquished could install himself as the new Ethiopian emperor and get away with it. FILE PHOTO | AFP

By Charles Onyango-Obbo

With the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) rebels and the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) pressing on with their fight in Ethiopia and threatening the capital Addis Ababa, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has put his money where his mouth is.

Abiy announced he was jumping into camouflage, taking up a gun, and going to the front to lead his government’s pushback.

It is dangerous business. When Chad’s strongman Idriss Déby, who had some credits to his name as a frontline warrior, joined his troops in April to battle rebels, he returned home in a coffin within a few days.

Presumably, then, as Kenyans say, Abiy should put his affairs in order before heading out to the frontline. Risky though it is, should he prevail, the political pay-off would be massive. Africa — and indeed the world — loves to glorify its victorious generals and rebel leaders. An Abiy returning from the battlefield with his adversaries vanquished could install himself as the new Ethiopian emperor and get away with it.

The calls for him to be stripped of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize he won for making peace with bitter foe Eritrea would be even louder, though. It’s possible the Nobel committee could take the unprecedented move of withdrawing the prize. If Abiy were not to return from the war, though, the pressure would be off. His supporters — and they are many — would present him as a martyr. He would have served his penance.

But the controversy over Abiy’s Nobel is a beautiful one. For one, it starkly — and inconveniently — takes the prize back to its contradictory roots. The prize was founded by Alfred Nobel, the Swedish chemist, engineer and industrialist who invented dynamite and made his fortune selling it and other explosives. Nobel’s conscience was troubled by the destructive power of his inventions.


Nobel died in 1896, leaving his considerable fortune as an endowment for yearly awards in peace, chemistry, physics, medicine and literature — all representing his lifelong interests.

If there is one person in the world who personifies the history, incongruity, possibilities and problems with the Nobel Peace Prize, then it is Abiy.

The tragic drama unfolding in Ethiopia also highlights an old problem; about when to get on a political ship, and when to abandon it.

The US, France, Germany, Turkey, and other countries have advised their nationals to flee Ethiopia, as they fear a bloody fight for Addis Ababa is nigh.

The United Nations, too, is “temporarily relocating” families of international staff from Ethiopia due to the security situation. Kenyan giant telco Safaricom, which had a historic deal to operate in the prized Ethiopian market, weeks back announced it was pulling back some staff.

It is the right thing to do. However, if you are going to enjoy the fruits that a country offers when it is stable, and to take the first parachute out when it is in trouble, there is a way you should conduct yourself.

Don’t lecture it about how it should run its affairs when the going is good. As good old Dolly Parton sang, “If you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.”

Charles Onyango-Obbo is a journalist, writer, and curator of the “Wall of Great Africans”. Twitter@cobbo3