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The Man Taking Ethiopian Troops On

A former guerrilla fighter who used to jam the communication network of Ethiopian troops, Debretsion Gebremichael is now leading the fight against Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government for control of the northern Tigray region, described as the “womb” of the nation. Mr Debretsion leads the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the party which controls Tigray, and which has fallen out so dramatically with Mr Abiy. Now married with a young child, Mr Debretsion cut short his studies at the University of Addis Ababa in the 1970s to join the TPLF in its 17-year war against Marxist ruler Mengistu Haile Mariam’s Derg regime. He then went on to be a government minister after the Derg had been defeated and replaced by a coalition of parties dominated by the TPLF until Mr Abiy came to power in 2018. Mr Debretsion had ambitions to be prime minister himself and lost out to Mr Abiy in the 2018 contest within the ruling coalition. His critics say that when he was the deputy head of the intelligence bureau in the 1990s, he was instrumental in spying on opposition figures, and helping to crush dissent. But his supporters focus on the fact that he transformed Ethiopia’s telecommunications infrastructure when elevated to the cabinet, where he served as deputy prime minister and as minister of communications and information technology. He launched massive projects to expand mobile phone coverage across Ethiopia, though the state kept a monopoly over the industry, and the telecom company has been criticised for internet shutdowns aimed at curbing anti-government protests.