Ethiopian Olympic gold medallist and world renowned distance runner Haile Gebrselassie has pledged to join the fight against rebellious forces in his country after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said he had gone to direct the war from the front line.
The 48-year-old retired champion, who set 27 long distance running records, said he felt compelled to join up because Ethiopia's existence was under threat.
Gebrselassie said he would be willing to join the fight against rebellious Tigrayan forces and their allies, who last month threatened to march on the capital Addis Ababa.
“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.”
The year-long conflict has killed thousands of people, forced more than two million from their homes and left 400,000 people in Tigray facing famine. The threat by rebellious forces to march on the capital led to international efforts to broker a ceasefire.
On Wednesday, state-affiliated media reported that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed had gone to direct the war from the front lines.
Gebrselassie cast the conflict as a battle in which the threat to Ethiopia was a threat to all of Africa.
“Ethiopia is a country that contributed a lot to Africa and the entire continent,” he said. “Yes, it is an exemplary country. Kneeling Ethiopia is indirectly kneeling the rest. This is impossible.”
In an interview in his office in the capital, where he runs more than a dozen companies engaged in hospitality, real estate, agriculture and education, Gebrselassie spoke of the role he was willing to play in the war.
“You expect me to say until death? Yes, that is the ultimate price in a war,” he said. “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. We wouldn't know who will do what.”