Hunger stalks millions as Abiy asks Ethiopians to join army

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (center) arrives in Jimma on June 16, 2021 during his visit to the city for his electoral campaign ahead of the June 21, 2021 vote. (MARCO LONGARI / AFP)

Fighting in northern Ethiopia may intensify further after the nation’s Nobel-laureate leader urged citizens to join the army and militias after nine months of civil war between the federal government and dissidents in the Tigray region.

About 300,000 people are facing “emergency levels of hunger” in Ethiopia’s Amhara and Afar states, where Tigrayan forces began an offensive after regaining most of their territory from government troops in June, the World Food Programme said on Monday. 

Conflict in Ethiopia erupted in November after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed accused forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which dominated national politics for 27 years prior to being sidelined in 2018, of attacking a federal military base

That’s in addition to about 5.2 million people in Tigray who’ve been impacted by the conflict and desperately need food aid.

“The agricultural planting season has been missed in many parts of Tigray and estimates show only 25 percent to 50 percent of the normal cereal production will be available this year,” the United Nations agency said in a statement.

ALSO READ: UNICEF: Over 100,000 kids in Tigray could die of hunger

Conflict in Ethiopia erupted in November after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed accused forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which dominated national politics for 27 years prior to being sidelined in 2018, of attacking a federal military base. 

The violence has scarred the nation’s reputation as one of Africa’s top investment destination and sent its eurobonds plummeting.

There have been reports of intense fighting, including the use of heavy artillery, in four districts along the border between Amhara and Tigray since the start of the month, internal UN documents seen by Bloomberg show.

Now is the right time for all capable Ethiopians who are of age to join the defense forces, special forces and militias and show your patriotism.

Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia's Prime Minister and the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize laureate

A major offensive is underway in northern Amhara to “reverse the existential threat” from Tigray, Sema Tiruneh, head of the Amhara region’s Peace and Public Security Bureau, told state media on the weekend.

Meanwhile more than 200 people, about half of them children, were reportedly killed in an attack on a health facility and school in Afaron Aug 5 – an incident the government and Tigrayan officials have blamed on each other.

Abiy, who won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for ending a long-running conflict with neighboring Eritrea, on Tuesday called for a national response to repel the Tigrayans. 

ALSO READ: Ethiopia accuses US of meddling over Tigray

This undated Bloomberg graphic shows the map of Ethiopia locating Tigray and other regions involved in the ongoing conflict..

“Now is the right time for all capable Ethiopians who are of age to join the defense forces, special forces and militias and show your patriotism,” his office said in a statement.

Violence has also flared in other parts of Ethiopia and its neighbors have been drawn into the fray. Inter-communal fighting between ethnic Afaris and ethnic Somalis in eastern Afar has spilled over the border into Djibouti in recent days, the UN documents show.

Ethiopian and Sudanese forces have previously clashed over a contested strip of border land known as al-Fashaga in Amhara.

Calls by the US for Tigray to stop it’s advance after the federal government unilaterally declared a cease-fire in June have been rebuffed by the dissidents.

READ MORE: Ethiopia conflict: Amhara region vows to attack Tigray forces

“Tigray is fighting to defend itself, to remove the rope from around its neck,” Debretsion Gebremichael, the region’s leader, said in an interview broadcast on YouTube on Sunday. “Tigray has been strangled and now it is trying to tear apart the rope.”