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Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s promise this week to head for the front lines of his country’s brutal year-long war has boosted recruitment for the besieged armed forces.
Africa Daily News, New York gathered that a prominent distance runner — marathoner and Olympic silver medallist Feyisa Lelisa — has joined thousands of ordinary Ethiopians keen to follow Abiy’s lead.
World powers have continued to cry out ovcr a military escalation that could scuttle efforts to broker a ceasefire, as rebels claim they are advancing towards the capital Addis Ababa and foreign governments tell their citizens to leave.
On Wednesday hundreds of new army recruits took part in a ceremony held in their honour in the Kolfe district of Addis Ababa.
As officials corralled sheep and oxen into trucks bound for the north, the recruits broke into patriotic songs and chants.
‘I was amazed when I heard’ Abiy planned to join soldiers in the field, one of the recruits, 42-year-old driver Tesfaye Sherefa, told reporters.
‘When a leader leaves his chair… and his throne it is to rescue his country. His focus is not to live, but to rescue this country, and I sobbed when he said ‘follow me’ and went to the front line.’
Africa Daily News, New York had on earlier reported that Abiy announced on Monday night his plan ‘to lead the defence forces’ from the front, but officials and state media have not provided details on his movements since then.
The recruits in Kolfe nevertheless took his statement to heart, sporting T-shirts emblazoned with a picture of Abiy in uniform and the words ‘We have a historic responsibility to defend the free name of Ethiopia.’
Ethiopia’s war erupted in November 2020 when Abiy sent troops into the northernmost Tigray region to topple its ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
The 2019 Nobel Peace laureate said the move was in response to TPLF attacks on federal army camps and promised a swift victory, but by late June the rebels had retaken most of Tigray including its capital Mekele.
Since then the TPLF has pushed into neighbouring Amhara and Afar regions, and this week it claimed to have seized a town just 220 kilometres (135 miles) from the capital.
AFRICA DAILY NEWS, NEW YORK