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HomeOpinionIs Fano's confrontation with Abiy's regime short lived? 

Is Fano’s confrontation with Abiy’s regime short lived? 

Fano _ Amhara _ Ethiopia
Fano Amhara forces (Photo : from the Web/ file)

By Wallelign Zelalem Getie 

Despite the Ethiopian National Defense Force’s initial objective to conclude the recent conflict  in the Amhara region within a week-long operation, the continued assaults by the Amhara Fano  forces have rendered the cessation of the war unattainable.  

It has been a month since the conflict between the Amhara Fano and the Ethiopian defense  forces in the Amhara region of Northern Ethiopia erupted. Initially, the war began partly in  Gojjam but rapidly shifted to other parts of the Amhara region, including Gondar, Bahir Dar,  Debre Tabor, Lalibela, Debre Birhan, Woldiya, and various other districts and towns.  

Consequently, in response to the outbreak of hostilities, Abiy’s government declared a six month state of emergency on August 4, 2023. While ostensibly confined to the Amhara region,  there is the potential for the state of emergency to extend to other parts of the country.  Meanwhile, as of August 2 and 3, 2023, major cities and districts were under the control of the  Amhara Fano, the historical and dominant militia in the region. 

Supported by various segments of society, Fano led the conflict, and by August 7, portions of  Bahir Dar, the capital city of the Amhara regional state, had fallen under their control.The influence of Amhara Fano in the conflict, along with the longstanding resistance preceding  the recent events, continues to haunt Abiy’s regime. Divergent viewpoints emerged regarding  the categorization and characterization of Amhara Fanos. For some, they are seen as a rebel  group, an informal militia, marauders, or bandits (as framed by leaders of the Prosperity Party),  or a vanguard group aligned with political authorities. In a similar vein, the government also  accused Fano of attempting to seize regional state power forcibly and unconstitutionally. 

The Amhara Fano, however, bear historical and cultural ties to their ancestors. They represent  groups striving to preserve the memories and stories of heroism from the struggle against  Italian occupation in 1896 and 1931. Thus, they symbolize one who resists injustice and  inequality, embodying the vibrant Amhara youth that aims to uphold law and order during  periods of instability and weak governance.  

Following the perennial ethnic-based attacks on the Amhara, most of the Amhara youths  pronounced Fano vehemently in mass anti-government demonstrations and on social media,  including the diaspora community. 

While not a formal paramilitary force, Fano operates with quasi-command structures and  brigades organized according to geographical locations. These include the Misrak Amhara  Fano (primarily in Wello & Raya), Mirab Amhara Fano (Gojjam & Awi Zones),  Shewa/Menelik Fano (North Shewa), and Gondar Fano (encompassing four Zonal  Administrations). Each brigade is led by individuals with experience in either military or  political struggles. Nevertheless, it’s important to note that Fano lacks a centralized and highly  structured framework comparable to formal government security forces.  

Despite rapidly gaining control over major cities and districts within a week, on August 9,  2023, the Fano leader officially announced their withdrawal from the occupied areas. Abiy’s  administration also claimed to have pushed back Fano from multiple locations. However, the  puzzle remains requiring further illustration: Does the current withdrawal of Amhara Fano  indicate a victory for Abiy? Is it a fleeting one, or will it endure for an unspecified duration?  Here are the two fundamental reasons behind.  

A) False Promises and Feeble Regional Governance: 

Since the transfer of power from the TPLF to the Prosperity Party under Abiy Ahmed in 2018,  there has been hope that the recurrent ethnic cleansing of Amhara in Oromia could be curbed,  leading to a harmonious and secure Ethiopia. Following Abiy’s rise to premiership within what was formerly known as the EPRDF (later rebranded as the Prosperity Party), he garnered  substantial support from the Amhara populace.  

The belief was that Abiy would address longstanding issues encompassing discrimination,  killings of ethnic Amharas, constitutional amendments, identity, territorial disputes in  Welkayete and Raya, and the representation of Amharas residing beyond the Amhara region.  

Regrettably, none of these concerns received attention, and Abiy’s verbosity became evident  when the targeted violence against Amharas in Oromia escalated, accompanied by kidnappings  executed by the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA, backed by certain Oromo political leaders)  along the road to Addis Ababa. These incidents prompted the Amhara people to stand against  the Abiy Ahmed regime, initiating their opposition early on. 

Consequently, the pattern of Oromo PP’s exclusive political dominance and perceived  conspiracies turned the Amhara region into a breeding ground for political instability,  culminating in the assassination of numerous political figures, including the former president  of the Amhara region, Dr. Ambachew Mekonnen, and the head of the Amhara Peace and  Security Affairs Office, General Asaminew Tsige. Since then, the prevalence of insecurity and  political turmoil has escalated intermittently. 

B) Efforts to Disarm Fano and Amhara Special Forces/Liyu Hayle: 

A letter written on April 7, 2023, authored by the Amhara Regional Special Force Logistics  Support Unit, instructed all Amhara Special Forces to disarm. However, the letter remained  silent on the fate of these disarmed regional special forces. The unilateral decision by the  federal government, with its questionable stance, mandated the disarmed forces to either join  the regional police or the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF).  

The Prosperity Party’s political move was met with dissatisfaction among the Amhara  populace, sparking protests across the region. The discontent stemmed from concerns that  disarming the special forces would leave the Amhara people susceptible to TPLF aggression,  given the unresolved territorial claims. 

Consequently, following the decision to dissolve the special forces, many Amhara Special  Forces members did not integrate into the formal security apparatus; instead, they joined Fano.  Subsequently, the confrontation between the government and Fano intensified, resulting in the  assassination of political and security leaders at regional, zonal, and district levels. Abiy’s  government also apprehended journalists, Fano members, opposition political leaders, and intellectuals. This heightened conflict between Abiy’s regime and Fano culminated in the  rekindling of conflict within the Amhara region. 

Currently, the conflict between Fano and ENDF appears to have ended. However, the  fundamental questions posed by Fano, which are echoed by the Amhara populace, remain  unanswered. Yet, it would also be naive to assert that the cessation of hostilities and the  withdrawal of Fano from major cities signal the conclusion of this saga. Their goal is not to  compete with other political entities and seize power, but rather to empower the Amhara people  with a genuine governmental leadership capable of safeguarding their security and collective  identity.  

Fano is not merely an assemblage of youthful gatherings; it is steered by seasoned individuals,  including military Generals who provide advisory guidance, farmers, and youths. This renders  Abiy’s military victory a Pyrrhic one, as the underlying conflict persists.  

Thus, Fano seems to have shifted its tactical struggle against the ruling regime, and the  likelihood of guerrilla warfare emerging in various Amhara cities and districts is substantial  and imminent. 

Wallelign Zelalem Getie  is PhD Candidate at University of Leipzig, Germany, and Addis Ababa   University, Ethiopia.  He has been teaching and researching for nine years at Debre Markos University.

Editor’s note : Views in the article do not necessarily reflect the views of  


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