Arizona Public Radio | Your Source for NPR News
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Meet The 2 Men Driving The War In Ethiopia


Now, let's go overseas to hear of a different kind of political dispute. We hear from the two men leading two sides of a war in Ethiopia. It is a war between the new government and the old one. In a speech to Parliament, the prime minister claimed victory, saying the military has taken the rebels' capital city. But in an interview with NPR, the rebel leader says they're not done fighting. NPR's Eyder Peralta reports.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: The two men now leading a war in Ethiopia once stood together. The head of the former rulers of the country, the Tigray People's Liberation Front, or the TPLF, Debretsion Gebremichael stood arm to arm, smile to smile with the new reformist prime minister. But in a speech to Parliament this week, Abiy Ahmed alleged, as he smiled, he was facing death threats. His whole palace was under surveillance. Through an interpreter, he said his family felt unsafe. He felt his palace was a prison.


PRIME MINISTER ABIY AHMED: (Through interpreter) I was unable to safeguard the safety of my family, let alone you.

PERALTA: Last month, Abiy sent his military to put down the rebellious regional government. This was a victory speech after his military took the regional capital. But he also used the opportunity to lay out vast allegations against the TPLF. He says they plotted murders and stacked the military with people from their region. Abiy detailed a, quote, "secret reform," how he restructured the military, how he trained a drone unit preparing for this war. And he compared himself to Abraham Lincoln. After the TPLF attacked his forces, he fought, he says, to keep a union intact.


AHMED: (Through interpreter) So the same thing happened as the Constitution was attacked. It didn't take us three years but only three weeks.

PERALTA: In a rare broadcast interview, the chairman of the TPLF, Debretsion Gebremichael, says Abiy may be claiming victory, but his troops are still attacking what he calls an invading army.

DEBRETSION GEBREMICHAEL: The fighting will continue. From our perspective, as long as they are on our land, we'll fight to the last.

PERALTA: He says this is not just some feud between elites. He says this is a fight about whether Ethiopia remains a federation of nation states with huge power over their territory. I ask him if the TPLF did indeed try to thwart Abiy as he came into power. And he admits political differences.

GEBREMICHAEL: We have political differences, but there should be an inclusive, you know, forum and dialogue to discuss, to iron out whatever issues we have. So you cannot settle it by gun.

PERALTA: Debretsion says Ethiopians, through elections, should decide on the country's big questions. He's ready for talks, he says, but his forces will not surrender. Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Khartoum.


Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.