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HomeOpinionAbiy Ahmed’s American Espionage Debacle and Its Implications for Fanno

Abiy Ahmed’s American Espionage Debacle and Its Implications for Fanno

espionage _ Ethiopia _ America
Yonas Biru

Yonas Biru, PhD 

It is hard to describe the activities of PM Abiy Ahmed’s spy, Abraham Teklu Lemma, in the  US. The espionage was part audacious and part stupid. It was audacious because the PM was  interested in getting top secret US intelligence not only on Ethiopia but also on other African  countries. It was stupid because of the amateurish way the information was collected and  transmitted to Ethiopia and the supposed $55,000 compensation for the spy was transacted. 

In a court submission, the FBI alleges that Lemma gave the Ethiopian government a  password to a confidential US government computer network. Between April 13, and June  21, 2023, the network was “accessed from [Ethiopia’s] IP address 31 times,” including when  Lemma was not in Ethiopia. 

The FBI’s complaint accuses Lemma of providing the Ethiopian government with top secret  intelligence, regarding “military activities of a rebel group involved in an armed  struggle.” The illegally accessed and transmitted information included “satellite imagery  of command centers and logistic centers.” Presumably, this is related to the Tigray war. 

The FBI court paper further states the espionage involved collecting information about  other African countries. One of the target countries seems to be Sudan. In this regard, the  FBI alleges on April 17, 2023, Lemma messaged his handler in Ethiopia, stating: “I hope we’re  using current [Country A] situations for our advantage.” The FBI notes Country A is “a country  that shares a border with [Ethiopia].” The “situation” was a reference to Sudan’s civil war. 

What other countries were targeted is not clear and the US is keeping it under wraps.  Credible sources suggest the Biden administration is furious because the breached top secret information was shared with third parties. 

It is a common practice for nations to spy on each other. For example, Israel and the US spy  on each other. However, neither Israel nor the US disclose the information they discretely  collect on each other to third parties. Another example is Iran and the US spying on each  other and sharing the information with other countries. 

The problem is that Ethiopia is neither Israel nor Iran. The two countries can stand on their  own. Ethiopia cannot. Twenty percent of its people are fed by the international community,  mostly the US. Its development ambitions depend on financial aid from the US. It is not  surprising the US considers Ethiopia’s espionage as a serious national security threat at a  time when it is in a tug of geopolitical war with China.

Abiy Ahmed has proven unfit to occupy the highest office in a geopolitically important nation of over 120 million people. He has wrecked every aspect of the nation’s life. He has all but  demolished what was a flourishing economy. The law and order that was bad before he took  office has deteriorated into a Hobbesian state of lawlessness where life has become nasty,  brutish, and short. 

His administration is accused of crime against humanity in Tigray and international reports  are ringing a clarion bell for an impending genocide against the Amhara. The Oromo tribal  land has ceased to be a part of the 21st century. Cruelty and savagery have become the new  normal. Anything goes and nothing is sacred, including a human life. Not even children are  spared. 

Bank presidents and policy officers work with kidnappers who demand large ransom. Police  officers accompany victims to local banks where they withdraw money or take loans to pay  their kidnappers. Such a loan is often approved on the spot by Bank presidents that is split  three ways between the bank official, the police and the kidnaper. 

The world has lost confidence in the PM whom they see as a boy king. His audacious and  reckless espionage is the last straw that broke the international community’s tolerance level.  President Emmanuel Macron of France, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada, and  President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, the people the boy king used to call “my friends”  no longer accept his calls. 

The US and its European allies are keen to see him go but do not see a viable coalition that  is ready to fill the leadership void. The question is: Can Fanno rise to the occasion? 

The success in Fanno’s armed uprising in such a short time is nothing short of heroic and  astounding. However, military victory, in and of itself, is neither an indication of, nor a  guarantee for an orderly change of governance, much less for a power transfer. 

Fanno faces an urgent task of developing a robust political framework, along with a viable  action plan and effective PR campaign to address local and international concerns and win a  broad support. 

Fanno’s Opportunities and Challenges 

The Fanno movement is a promising development that can transform the Ethiopian political  landscape toward peace, security and law and order. To date, Fanno’s most important victory  is the resultant change in the social psychology of the nation. This is far more consequential  than the impressive military milestones it has registered.

Gone is the arrogance of the Field Marshal who led the military to the Amhara tribal land to  disrobe Fanno fighters of their trousers and disarm them of their weapons. In Ethiopia,  disrobing a man of his trousers is a chauvinistic idiom, signifying turning a man into a  woman. 

The Field Marshal’s chauvinistic arrogance did not last long at the battlefield. Fanno fighters  ended up disarming his soldiers. He resorted to accusing them of a “treasonous” act of  disarming his forces. He was lucky to escape by a helicopter, after Fanno forces closed his  escape routes. One Fanno described the incident as follows: “የፋኖን ሱሪ አስወልቃለሁ ብሎ አማራ መሬት 

ላይ ዘምቶ ሙታንታውን አስወልቀን በሄሊኮፕተር አስፈርጥጠነዋል.” 

No military leader, much less a Field Marshal, can survive such a humiliation. The proverbial  trouser and underwear Fanno disrobed him are more fateful to the military than the large  and small armaments his soldiers left behind as they dashed for dear life. 

No doubt that Fanno has the upper hand in the military and psychological spheres. However,  it is important to realize that a successful military endeavor requires a political organ that  guides and constraints it. 

Establishing a Unified Political Platform 

The Fanno uprising has proven a game changer. The challenge is managing the change and  not allowing it to deteriorate into a civil war. At the minimum, this requires two urgent tasks:  (1) unifying the independent Fanno brigades under a common political platform and  collective leadership architecture; and (2) developing a viable, judicious, and flexible change  of government or change of governance strategy and win broad support outside of the  Amhara tribal land. 

As things stand, there are differences in strategy and endgame among various Fanno  brigades. For example, in a recent interview with German Deutsche Welle, one of the Fanno  PR officers suggested “the door is open for a negotiated settlement if the government is  prepared to allow a transition government in the Amhara region.” On the other hand, Major  Dawit Wolde-Giorgis, the chair of the diaspora PR for Amhara Popular Front (APF), is on the  record stating the end goal is overthrowing the government. “We will win, and we will take  over Addis Ababa.” 

Fanno must judiciously manage the competing objectives of enforcing a transformative  change and avoiding a civil war. It must show political wisdom and sophistication, not an  extremist position. As the saying goes, there is more than one way to skin a cat. Fanno can  get what it wants in more ways than one.

It is worth reiterating that the Fanno movement must present itself as a stabilizing force  with a unified agenda, dynamic strategy, adoptive roadmap, clear and viable end game,  and robust PR ecosystem. 

This is necessary to: (a) protect the Fanno movement from being hijacked by extremist  forces; (b) avoid conflict within the various independent Fanno brigades and their support  ecosystem at home and in the diaspora; (c) create accord with leaders of the other tribal  lands around general political principles of cooperation; and (d) develop a robust political  strategy and effective PR campaign to win the confidence and support of the silent majority  at home and the geopolitical powers abroad. 

Rejecting Extremist Forces 

Today’s Ethiopia is in a far more fragile state than it was in 2018, when the current Prime  Minister took office. Fanno cannot leave anything for chance or take anything for granted.  All the necessary precautions and safety measures should be discussed with all stakeholders  to the extent possible. 

The Amhara community has the right to determine how it defends itself. In contrast, any  change involving the nation’s system of governance requires a judicious process of  consensus building through an open dialogue and negotiation between all stakeholders. Any  effort to do it by a unilateral Amhara force is a recipe for another round of autocratic rule or  a civil war. 

The APF’s unilateral aim to first take power and then invite others to form a transitional  government is a dangerous undertaking for several reasons. 

First, Ethiopians should remember a 2018 manifesto that the Godfather of APF, Major Dawit  W. Giorgis, wrote. The manifesto advised PM Abiy to declare the constitution null and void,  disband the Parliament, and establish a unitary system by decree. There is no indication the  Major has changed his mind. His recent public statement that What Ethiopia needs is a  government with an Amhara spirit is a case in point – “ኢትዮጵያ የሚያስፈልጋት አማራ አማራ የሚሸት መንግስት ነው.” The APF diaspora leadership includes Lij Tedla Melakou, who does not mint words when  expressing his belief that Ethiopia belongs to Amhara – “ኢትዮጵያ የአማራ ነች”. Major Dawit has  regurgitated the same statement in numerous recent interviews. 

Second, APF’s unilateral position creates conflict with other Fanno forces who wish to create  accord with all stakeholders in critical national decisions involving the government transition  process and constitutional order. 

Third, the APF position alienates critical support from other tribal lands and creates a cause  for concern for the national silent majority and the international community. Ethiopians and the international community remember that there was the EPRDF (led by  Tigrayans), EPRDF 2.0 (led by Oromos) and are not keen to give EPRDF 3.0 (led by Amhara)  the benefit of the doubt. The problem with extremist Oromo, Amhara and Tigray political  class is that they want to dictate their views on others. This is the time to break that cycle  and the Fanno Movement must not allow APF to steal its thunder and put Ethiopia in danger. 

The APF ploy to hijack the Fanno movement with help from extremist diaspora elements is  a futile exercise. Its strategy of unleashing extremist hitmen to silence its critics using  intimidation and personal attacks must be condemned. 

To name just a few, targets of the APF intimidation squad and mudslinging crew include  Messay Mekonnen, Neamin Zeleke, Andargachew Tsegie, Lidetu Ayalew, Tewodrose Tirfe  (Chair of Amhara Association of America), Meaza Mohammed (founder of the online network  Roha TV) and many others including me. This must stop. 

Both Eskinder Nega and Major Dawit know that APF does not change the reality on the  warfront because it represents a very small part of the Fanno brigades. The estimate ranges  anywhere between 3% to 10%. 

The APF’s support is primarily among extremist activists both at home and in the diaspora.  The money they collected from the diaspora in the name of all Fanno’s is used to buy  allegiance for APF. Here is a link to a video where two APF supporters mock one of the brave  Fanno leaders who refused to sign a pledge of allegiance to APF as the protectorate of  the Fanno movement ( 

The APF may be a marginal force at the battle ground. Sadly, the damage it causes is  significant. It undermines or, at the very least, slows down the process to build a consensus  around Fanno’s unified agenda, and turn the international community from potential allies  to worried observers. In the worst case, this provides a lifeline to the Abiy administration. 

Winning the confidence and support of the international community 

In 2018, the Trump administration was behind the change process that dethroned the TPLF  and ushered in the Oromo-led government. Trump’s decision was prompted by two  conditions: (1) The TPLF was unable to maintain the stability of the nation and by extension  the Horn of Africa; and (2) the Oro-Mara coalition that was led by Lemma Megersa and Gedu  Andargachew was viable to fill the leadership void. 

Today, geopolitical powers have all but written off the boy king. He is still in office only  because there is no one that has presented itself as worthy of taking office. 

It is important to keep in mind that support from the international community is critical not  only to change the Ethiopian political power balance but also to avoid a civil war. It does so 

by: (1) changing the survival calculus of the nation’s military leaders and ending the PM’s  monopolistic control over the weapons of violence; (2) emboldening other tribal homelands  to join the Fanno uprising; (3) encouraging the silent majority outside of the Amhara tribal  land to join the chorus of voices of change; and (4) pressuring the PM through sanctions and  international public pressure to relinquish power. 

Just as it is important to build a national coalition, and to have a common agenda, robust  strategy, and adoptable roadmap, a robust PR ecosystem is critical to win broad support at  home and abroad. The first critical step in this regard is rejecting extremist forces whose  reckless gambit of Amhara unilateralism is putting the nation on a dangerous path to a civil  war. 

If the APF is a genuine organization representing the Amhara interest, its leaders must  appear on independent Ethiopian media outlets, explain their strategy, and respond to  questions and concerns. Appearing on Ethio-360, the epicenter of APF’s intimidation squad  and mudslinging crew, is not what critics of the APF expect.

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


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  1. I appreciate most your views. But, how could you present this ( orchestrated fall allegation as evidence? Fano Mirie has given this interview when they were fighting with TPLF. Please don’t such a silly mistake.

  2. Subject: “Abiy Ahmed’s American Espionage Debacle and Its Implications for Fanno” October 2, 2023

    Humble Opinion, 6 Oct 2023
    a) We could write articles infinitely and we will NOT make any difference to the situation in Ethiopia

    b) Ethiopia is in deep hole, unable to come out of it.

    c) Ethiopia is self-determined to destroy itself, piece by piece, to ‘nothingness’

    d) No one can save a lunatic but only watch in horror how the poor creature destroy himself (herself) on daily basis.

    e) For some mysterious hidden reason, Ethiopia is fixated to destroy itself to nothingness.

    f) Well, the world is wide open.

    g) Welcome Ethiopia to oblivion [ cruelly = DEAD ANIMALS ]

    h) So, the admirable rich history of Ethiopia is gone with the wind — nothing to talk about

    i) And Ethiopians will be scattered around the Globe into oblivion — existing by the day until jumping into a grave .
    ————THE END ————-


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