Ethiopian Olympic hero Haile Gebrselassie has said he would join the country’s forces in fighting Tigray rebel forces in the ongoing devastating year-long war.
Speaking to Reuters, the 48-year-old former athlete said that he felt compelled to join the war as the existence of Ethiopia is under threat.
“What would you do when the existence of a country is at stake? You just put down everything. Alas, nothing will bind you. I am sorry!” he said.
Gebrselassie is celebrated as one of Ethiopia’s biggest heroes. In a career spanning 25 years, he won two Olympic gold medals, eight World Championship and set 27 world records. He retired from competitive running in 2015.
Gebrselassie’s decision comes only days after Ethiopia’s prime minister Abiy Ahmed said he will lead his country’s army “from the battlefront” with Tigray forces moving closer to the capital of Addis Ababa.
Ethiopia has been fighting the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) forces since last November in a war that has killed and displaced thousands and created a massive humanitarian crisis.
The TPLF ruled the country for 27 years until protests demanding reforms knocked it out of power and Mr Abiy became prime minister. The TPLF forces then moved to the Tigray region, from where they launched a massive rebellion last November.
As Tigray forces close in, the Abiy government declared a state of emergency earlier this month.
The government has also called on all able citizens to join the fight after Ethiopia’s military was reportedly weakened in recent months.
The war has also become an ethnic clash with Amhara fighters from a neighboring region giving support to the Ethiopian government forces.
The US, African Union as well as the United Nations have expressed concerns about the civil war that could destabilise the whole of Horn of Africa.
“Ethiopia is a country that contributed a lot to Africa and to the entire continent,” said Gebrselassie.
When asked about what role he sees himself playing in the war, Gebrselassie said: “You expect me to say until death? Yes, that is the ultimate price in a war.”
“There is no way that I can sit here due to fear because it will come to my door. It will come to my house. We wouldn’t know when it comes,” he added.
While the African Union is attempting to negotiate an end to the war, with rebel forces approaching the capital, western countries including US, Germany and the UK have asked their citizens to leave the country.