The last time Ethiopian farmer Zeleke Alabachew saw combat was about 20 years ago, when a border war broke out with neighbouring Eritrea and he joined a ragtag armed group that went to the front.
Now Zeleke is preparing to fight an enemy closer to home: the governing party of Ethiopia’s Tigray region, where Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed last week ordered a military campaign that has Africa’s second most populous nation careening towards a potential civil war.
“In total, the militiamen in this area are around 200. We are all set and ready to go,” Zeleke said, referring to his hometown of Tekeldengy in Ethiopia’s Amhara region, which borders Tigray to the south.
He spoke to AFP news agency while standing in wheat fields with his trusty rifle, the same one he used in the Ethiopia-Eritrea war, hanging on his shoulder by a strap that read “REAL MADRID”.
Thousands of Amhara fighters like Zeleke have already deployed to the region’s northern border with Tigray, said Mulualem Gemdhin, a regional government security adviser.
But while the military operation that has seen air attacks, shelling and scores of soldiers wounded is not even a week old, there are already fears it could spread, inflaming old tensions between Amhara and Tigray.
The two regions are mired in a decades-old dispute over land that has sparked violent clashes in the past and that analysts continue to see as a dangerous flashpoint.