By Tesfaye Demmellash
How should Amhara/patriotic forces wage a robust, existential fight against the brutally repressive, genocidal Oromo identity regime? The value and necessity of armed engagement by Fanno and other militia, aided and enabled by widespread public action, cannot be gainsaid. Fueled by dire survival needs, interests, and historical experience, these forms of struggle provide vital energy and tactics for resistance, an essential motive force.
But, operating within the structural limits of the Oromo tribal disorder, the popularly supported Fanno movement lacks the capacity or disposition to generate power with sustained, strategic effort and transformative effect. Underneath this key constraint, which expresses itself in the political and organizational limitations of the movement, lie paradoxes of the tribal regime and the Amhara/Ethiopian opposition. The challenge for the resistance is not so much “solving” the readily identifiable problems and limitations as grasping, working through, and overcoming the underlying contradictions.
Antinomies of the Resistance
The Amhara people’s existential struggle is marked by paradoxical features and qualities mainly stemming from the contradictions of the massively corrupt Oromo identity regime against which they wage it. Most notably, while change-seeking Amhara freedom fighters and militia have been operating within the supposedly legal-constitutional confines of the ethnic order, such as it is, the ever deceitful, treacherous Abiy autocracy uses elements of these resistors and Amhara proxies to reinforce or protect its fascistic tribal grip on power.
In this way, state ethnicism has sought to convert Amhara “identity” (“አማራነት”) into a political value or practical instrument, even while carrying out brutal invasion and repression against Amhara regions and communities. This paradox expresses itself in Fanno and allied militia groups’ eagerness to resist the brutality and excesses of state repression while refraining from questioning the structure or political logic of tribal domination, shying away from systemic opposition to nationally divisive identity politics as usual.
A related paradox of the Amhara/Ethiopian fight for survival is the one-sided militarization of the resistance, an anomaly or difficulty partly related to the character of Oromo terroristic, predatory tyranny. In its historical and present forms, Oromo “rule” or “Oromuma” lacks a working economy of power based on the persuasive moral, intellectual, and political leadership of society.
Such stewardship is so rare that the path from past, sixteen-century, expansionist Oromo tribalism to present invasive “Oromia” state ethnicism describes a direct line. While the Abiy regime stands out as a crazed, wasteful squanderer of social capital and scarce national resources, its indulgence in massive, murderous repression of the Amhara people has historical precedent in the ravages of past Oromo brutality. The Abiy autocracy is overdependent on naked military force or the threat of violence for its survival in power, reveling in debasing and trashing our trans-ethnic national culture, institutions, values, and symbols.
The normless, crisis-ridden “Oromia” ruling party and the immediacies of its vicious, violent assaults on peaceful Amhara/Ethiopian protesters have had implications for the resistance, especially the Fanno combatants. Even in the face of the governing clique’s fascistic, genocidal tendencies, the adverse circumstances have compelled the fighters to limit their existential struggle to defensive armed activities, drawing inspiration from traditional Amhara patriotic values and warrior practice.
Fanno forces do so while doggedly seeking to gain legitimacy for their militia operations within the supposedly ‘Ethiopian’ Oromo-dominated sectarian state. The uncertain status of the fighters – representing the Amhara community that is feared and loathed, both marginalized and culturally hegemonic – is thus fundamental to the crisis of the Amhara/Ethiopian resistance.
Neither the contradictory, at once narrowly tribal and aggressively expansionist, Oromo tyrannical rule nor the internally conflicted Amhara militia opposition, so far unwilling or unable to make a clean break with that regime, is inclined to seek a resolution of Ethiopia’s underlying national-cum-political disorder.
Instead, a militaristic orientation on both sides hardly goes beyond recurrent clashes involving episodic actions and events, barely coordinated in sustained, cumulative strategy. It directs you to approach the nation’s political ills partially, focusing on symptoms at the expense of the fundamental crisis of the body politic, on partisan-tribal parts rather than the national whole. The consequences of this web of paradoxes for the Amhara/Ethiopian opposition, especially Fanno‘s activities, are significant.
First, nothing is more pervasive of the resistance than the naive realist fixation on direct, reactive, “practical” engagements on short-term, high-frequency, defensive operations. Fanno fighters often enlist public logistical and tactical support in such actions in particular localities, including disrupting regime troop movements.
Evident here is a broader tendency within the Amhara/Ethiopian opposition to discount or suspend long-term, strategic thought for systemic change related to our anxiety about the immediate fate of the Amhara community and Ethiopia and the perceived urgency of averting the country’s possible disintegration. In this way, the struggle ironically remains in the recursive play of merely tactical actions and reactions, deprived of sustainable, forward-moving, political form and transformative direction.
Secondly, a significant part of the appeal and limitation of the Fanno warrior ethic is that it signifies deeply felt patriotic values and experience while maintaining a relatively straightforward militia character. But in the decades-old era of tribal dictatorship, an anti-Amhara Oromo/Tigre regime has been hostile to the moral principles and patriotic values that make up Fanno‘s historic martial practice.
Still, undeterred, the Amhara militia resistance has sought to maintain the warfare tradition in its simple, often state-supportive, historical form, hardly recognizing the need to link it to its political coding or symbolization under changed circumstances. There has been little attempt to ground the custom in a broader organizational and national Amhara/Ethiopian opposition architectonic or network. The shortage of such effort is somewhat puzzling since, unlike culturally insular Tigre and Oromo ethnic nationalists, the Amhara community doesn’t live by tribal instinct that affords fewer moral, intellectual, and political choices.
So, the Fanno warrior culture is in a bit of a limbo: Attempting to maintain the traditional militia ethic and form, even as the resistance makes tactical gains against the Oromo regime’s attacking forces, would continue to be deeply problematic as long as the Ethiopian state remains in the hands of the separatist ruling party of “Oromia”; yet a divide also persists between Fanno and its patriotic repurposing today, antimony between a felt, lived martial experience and its modern, articulate political framing. This impasse poses significant internal limits and challenges for the Amhara/Ethiopian existential fight.
What to Do – Symbolize the Resistance
Fanno combat forces do not lack vigorous fighting spirit or battlefield courage. What is in short supply in the Amhara militia is the political will and capacity to advance its noble, patriotic warrior heritage through strategic form and direction.
It can gain this structurally transformative orientation by moving on the terrain of organized ideas, framing the struggle against the oppressive tribal order in symbolic (cultural-political) terms, not just existential ones. The Amhara/Ethiopian existential struggle cannot meaningfully receive and adapt the Fanno heritage without any means for representing and interpreting it.
Still, a gulf persists between Fanno’s direct, defensive militia actions and their symbolization, between limited, high-frequency, tactical maneuvers and ideas-based, politically directed strategic movements occurring over a relatively long period. Why does this gap continue to exist even when the Amhara militia is making tangible gains in repulsing the attacks of the nominally “federal” Oromo tribal army, including liberating some towns and localities in the Amhara region from the regime’s control? The answer to this question is key to understanding and overcoming the underlying problem.
The impasse has distinct sources. One is that Fanno‘s resistance has become a metaphor in Amhara/Ethiopian existential fight, beyond the militia’s literal combat agency, where, as its supporters and champions, we often say, ‘We are all Fanno.’ Relatedly, the gulf also originates from the militia’s martial ethic, which signifies and valorizes a specific behavior and life of the citizen-warrior woven into the fabric of the Fanno experience. In this way, the Amhara militia’s warfare style is romanticized – it takes on appealing, desirable, and heroic qualities – distancing itself from politics and limiting the armed combat to reactive operations on the plane of tactics.
There is, then, the issue of Fanno as an opposition force: Does the fixation on limited, often not well-coordinated localized military actions evince a growing strength, a developing resistance, or a built-in constraint and weakness? Is the Fanno way a route toward a transformative Amhara/Ethiopian existential struggle, or does it still signify coming to terms with the existing tribal political order, even while standing up to its excesses and gross, barbaric assaults? Finding answers to these questions may not be easy, but openly asking them is an essential first step in confronting the challenging issues they raise.
Another fount of the persistence of the gulf between Fanno’s recurring short-term combat engagements and their lasting, more thoughtful coding through organized ideas and politics is the media-saturated national landscape. Battered, disunited, and simulated nearly out of existence though it is, there is a real Ethiopian nation out there, and there are ways in which you can objectively describe its state and analyze the Amhara self-defense and patriotic resistance within it.
But giving a true account of our oppressed national reality and delineating the challenges and possibilities of the Amhara exertion of oppositional force require wrenching events, facts, or conditions from their often hyperactive yet dumbed down, barely informative media depiction. It entails limiting emotive, sensational, or moralistic impulses and using discourse as a cognitive device, swimming against the current of constantly attention-grabbing, fast-paced, dubious “breaking news,” commentary, images, and chatter that often leaves little room for critical questions, analysis, or reflective thought.
The challenge social and political media overgrowth poses for the organization in thought and practice of the Amhara/Ethiopian resistance is not just about content – propaganda exchanges, false narratives, and often reactive accounts and lamentations of Amhara victimization. Nor is it limited to the simulation of reality that eclipses actual objects and events and to the panicked intensification of signs and symbols (the original tricolor Ethiopian flag) where their referents are under existential threat.
The media difficulty also concerns the sheer public space the fleeting, sketchy messages, discussions, and activities it generates take, foreclosing or marginalizing sustained, more thoughtful engagements. Have there ever been Amharas/Ethiopians so credulous they could accept without question all the disinformation and false narratives so produced? It is not very likely, but even if you reject the Amhara-demonizing anti-unity propagandistic messages and descriptions, you recognize the media’s global power, facilitating the messages’ heightened currency and domination of the public square.
But the principal source of the continuity of the gap between Fanno direct armed actions and their political coding and organization is an underlying misconception within the Fanno/Amhara opposition of politics and, relatedly, Amhara being (ህልውና). I believe correcting or overcoming inadequacies of understanding would help advance the resistance in thought and practice.
In the revolutionary era in Ethiopia, opposition to undemocratic, oppressive rule burdened itself with an elaborate, hierarchical organization of ideas and politics aimed at ensuring tight control over collective action and the direction of change. Contrarily, today’s Amhara/Fanno resistance against barbaric, genocidal tribal enemies does not weigh itself down by a surfeit of ideology and political symbolization.
Characterized simply as a fight for survival, it denies itself, by design, a system of ideas, a framework of strategic thought, or a set of organizing terms and conceptual categories. The naïvely realist reasoning is that political thought is a “luxury” which detracts from the Amhara existential struggle’s immediacy, urgency, and pressing priorities.
This problematic approach to politics, and the minimalist view of Amhara existence it prefigures, is widespread among diasporic Amhara activists and civic groups, Fanno leaders and fighters, and supporters at home and abroad. Seeking to help overcome some of the problems I see in it, I offer the following, hopefully instructive, thoughts and views. For the sake of descriptive and analytical economy, I present the ideas in the form of theses on politics and Amhara being, as summary notes intended for further discussion and clarification by concerned Ethiopian citizens, civic groups, intellectuals, activists, and political entities.
1. Politics is an indispensable tool of opposition and a field of struggle. It is not limited to reflecting or representing established collective interests, identities, and powers but an arena where these are also challenged, worked on, and transformed. It enters the Amhara/Ethiopian resistance in ideal, rhetorical, or tactical terms and through strategic governance practices – symbolizing, framing, organizing, and directing activities.
2. Amhara/Ethiopian resistance agency is not a concrete datum, given ahead as the struggle’s departure point with a common purpose at the outset, a unity of ideas and goals. Instead, the capacity of action, or of exerting transformative dissenting power, is built; it is an achievement, an effect of political struggle. The sustainable oppositional agency doesn’t take shape and come into play before or outside the resistance.
3. In invading, oppressing, and posing a serious existential threat to the Amhara community, the Oromo/Tigre identity regime uses state power and a network of local and global backers, enablers, and apologists. It employs all sorts of means, including public policy; economic and technocratic measures; political fraud, and pressure through Amhara collaborators and “mediators;” military invasion; genocidal, terroristic tribal proxies; and direct cultural assaults and propaganda.
Against an aggressive enemy operating on such a diverse, networked terrain, Amhara/Fanno forces can’t mount a nearly proportional resistance for survival as a collection of lightly armed, barely coordinated, defensive militia groups scattered in Ethiopia’s Amhara regions. The forces need to develop a strategic hub or force field, a center of moral, intellectual, and political gravity capable of attracting broad solidarity and support from the Amhara-cum-Ethiopian people.
4. Strategic opposition is more than reactively coping with events, regime agenda, and initiatives over which the resistance has little control. It is geared more broadly toward a proactive transformation of the tribal state structure, prioritizing existential threats to the Amhara/Ethiopian people while pursuing long-term systemic change to neutralize those threats at their source.
In the medium term, such a strategic political orientation could alter the dynamics on the battlefield, imparting to Fanno and the supportive militia an integrated, overt, and hidden network of communication and action, keeping them tactically nimble and in constant contact with each other. It could also enhance the Fanno forces’ capacity to establish and maintain a clear command chain and conceive, plan, and execute sustained offensive combat operations against the Oromo identity regime.
5. As “will to power,” politics allows growing Amhara/Ethiopian forces to overcome conventional or imposed constraints, which may be moralistic, emotional, or habitual. In this way, they can achieve robust self-governance and critically advance their opposition to higher levels of agency through the struggle; they could achieve state authority locally and nationally. But the Amhara forces can hardly reach such new heights of resistance if they continue to distance themselves from politics, regarding it as extra to the fight for sheer survival.
On Amhara Being
6. The necessity and priority of securing the Amhara community against the Oromo regime’s war of oppression with genocidal overtones cannot be gainsaid. But reducing the serious threat the community faces to the danger of physical destruction, common among activists and advocacy groups, distorts the Amhara existence in two related respects.
First, the reduction flattens the vital sense of Amhara’s national and civilizational being, even in crisis times, into a particular ethnic selfhood or identity defined by little more than its vulnerabilities, marginalization, and victimization. Second, it misconstrues the conditions and possibilities of Amhara/Ethiopian existential resistance, mistakenly seeing political thought and action as external and non-essential to the survival struggle minimally conceived.
7. The specific Amhara/Ethiopian mode of being is not a minimal or simple fact of objective presence in the world; we intensely feel, live, and value our historical experience consciously, especially when we confront existential crises and challenges as we do today. Unlike the tribally insular form characteristic of Oromo and Tigrayan existence, the Amhara collective selfhood carries within itself a transcendent dimension and quality, a relative openness to others and the world while maintaining its distinctness as a community beyond ethnicity.
8. The elements and qualities that make up the Amhara existential fight may be better understood in terms of Marx’s highly instructive first thesis on Feuerbach. Paraphrasing, we must not approach the survival battle without ideas, plans, and methods of realizing them. Instead, we grasp it as a critical, strategic activity, with ‘activity’ understood as an indivisible whole combining moral, intellectual, political, and social movements toward transforming the existing, crisis-ridden order of things and Amhara/Ethiopian freedom from tribal oppression.
9. In affirming and defending ourselves as a distinct cultural community integral to the Ethiopian nation, we do not do so by presenting our collective selfhood in island-like tribal insularity. Such a shallow, overly political construct of exclusive, garrison “identity” in the Oromo and Tigrayan mold would not fit the breadth and depth of Amhara subjectivity. Nor would it succeed in bringing about systemic change in Ethiopia; it would only isolate the Amhara from the potential support of other Ethiopian cultural groups.
Yet the Fanno/Amhara forces persist in prioritizing short-term, localized, defensive armed resistance. The persistence may partly indicate a preference, psychologically, for the immediate satisfaction such direct engagement of the enemy affords relative to the greater rewards of more distant, long-term political or structural change. But it may also suggest a weakness of the will to power that the forces must overcome.
10. As an integral experience, the Amhara/Ethiopian war of survival cannot shed ideas and values like freedom, justice, equality, and the rule of law. But such abstractions or generalities cannot easily guide or gain resonance with the specific qualities of our experience as a distinct cultural community integral to the Ethiopian nation. We must actively embrace and deploy ideas as vital weapons in existential battles with the ethnic regime without neutralizing their relative autonomy and vitality as ideas.
Editor’s note : Views in the article do not necessarily reflect the views of borkena.com
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