By Tesfaye Demmellash
The Amhara Fanno movement has struck a decisive initial blow against the indefensible, crisis-ridden, tribal status quo in which Ethiopian society, particularly the Amhara community, has experienced massive structural oppression and political marginalization for several decades.
In recent and ongoing engagements, the armed struggle has smashed the existing brutal Oromo regime in the Amhara regions, succeeding by carrying the growing patriotic resistance beyond immediate, tactical defensive lines in a more attacking, longer-term strategic direction. In a few months, the movement has achieved notable gains, reversing the Abiy regime’s military invasion intended to disarm and neutralize the Fanno militia.
A vital, inflective question now is how to sustain and build on the successes already attained, taking the Amhara existential struggle not merely toward regime change but higher levels of Ethiopian political, cultural, and socio-economic change, recovery, and development.
That is a pressing issue. Recurrent skirmishes and pitched battles with enemy forces in various localities could cause the Fanno resistance to move too slowly in space and time, hindering a swifter, more strategic cumulative advance.
Regional and local fights that occur time and again thereby give the moribund Abiy autocracy space to leak its wounds and regroup, making the Amhara resistance vulnerable to a more massive, reactionary crackdown by the regime. The mortally wounded would-be Oromo tribal empire could launch an assault against the Amhara people with extreme prejudice and genocidal violence.
For the Amhara people, this is not a theoretical possibility but a genuine concern in light of the Oromo tyranny’s destructive, murderous past and its present normless savagery, greed, and aggression.
Prolonged or recurrent gaps in the Amhara Fanno resistance are also likely to instigate calls by particular domestic interests, including Amhara collaborators within and outside the state, for “negotiation” between the warring camps. Western powers tend to back such demands, often seeking to preempt or derail the further advance of Amhara/Ethiopian patriotic forces and prevent sorely needed systemic change.
Realizing that the Abiy regime’s calls for talks are hardly in good faith, the forces should avoid taking them seriously or at face value, let alone accept them. The Fanno movement cannot reasonably hope or expect to resolve the Amhara/Ethiopia existential crisis through conference and compromise with the aggressively possessive, expansionist, deceitful ruling party of “Oromia.”
Here are three distinct but interrelated strategic measures leaders and planners of the Fanno movement can mull over and take to make the breakthrough achieved sustainable and structurally transformative.
1. Grasp and work on the crisis in the long term. Immediately, the term “crisis” refers to the current anxiety of the Ethiopian people about the sorry state of our nation. The country appears to be teetering on the edge of breakup, ethnically divided and conflicted, politically in disorder, and unendingly war-torn.
The present moment of danger and insecurity for the Amhara/Ethiopian people is a pressing matter for the Fanno movement. The movement needs to handle it with the urgency and priority it deserves. Historic Ethiopia’s survival as an integral nation is an intrinsic value for its citizens and Fanno warriors.
Securing national integrity is also a stabilizing condition for the Amhara resistance’s project of political transformation, providing a counterbalance to the vicissitudes of systemic transition and change. There cannot be sustainable structural change unless a vital national whole is preserved and protected as a source of stability, even when a new order takes shape.
But “crisis” also more broadly signifies the longer-term cumulative effects of destructive, bloody “revolutionary” plans enacted in Ethiopia over several decades by successive wayward parties and regimes.
It points to a national reversal involving the gutting of the country’s political center through a hostile Tigre፟, and subsequently Oromo, tribal takeover of the state, the undoing of national unity from the top utilizing a dubious “federalism” of insular ethnic regions and localities, and the colonial-like deflation of Ethiopian national vitality and spirit from within.
A paradoxical perversity that has shaped the Revolution’s wake is that successive iterations or mutations of “radical” change – from the bloody despotism of the Derg through Woyane’s nationally divisive, treacherous ethnic dictatorship to the present savage Oromo tribal tyranny – the ritual circulation of concepts, like “freedom,” “autonomy,” and “democracy” on which progressive thought hinges, have become impediments to such thought and its practical significance.
In the Ethiopian context, the ideas have gained currency mainly as instruments of brutal tribal self-definition and self-assertion. They have become blunt weapons of oppressive sectarian power and identity politics. In effect, the upshot has been a denial of the generality of the ideas, a rejection of their use in addressing and shaping broader, trans-ethnic Ethiopian socio-economic, political, and cultural life.
So, fundamentally, what the present Amhara/Ethiopian patriotic movement, spearheaded by Fanno, must transform is not merely a specific ethnic state or set of policies and institutions. It is a whole system of power and government primarily inherited from the Revolutionary era. It is a vexatious paradigm or template of political ethnicism that has had troubled and troubling dissemination within distinct groups, parties, and regimes.
The decades-old Ethiopian crisis has thus been mainly the crisis of the Revolution and its aftermath – in all its perverse residual nationally debilitating authoritarian, partisan, and ethnic forms. It has resulted in the entrenchment of one-party dictatorship, state domination of civil society, the absence of a functioning rule of law, and the rise of genocidal tyranny.
That is not all. The seemingly unending existential danger the nation has faced over the last three decades also concerns the sorry state of the political “opposition” to ethnic despotism. It has rendered itself ineffective through limitations in intellectually charged critical vigor and activism. There has been an outpouring of moral condemnation and polemical rejection of tribal tyranny, but strategically organized and directed movement of thought remains in short supply.
However, the underlying difficulty of Ethiopian oppositional practice has had to do with a chronic deficiency in the integrity of dissent. The reason is that the opposition has engaged in dissent often within the web of self-serving progressivist rhetoric, ideological conceits, and political simulation that the tribal status quo has spun out of itself over the last three decades.
Change is afoot, thanks to the growing Fanno movement, and the identity regime is undergoing a period of rapid decline and fall. Yet, to this day, ‘dissident’ individuals and groups most endowed with media and mass appeal that now question the policies and actions of the state are often precisely those that have aided and abetted the regime’s structural continuity at the expense of fundamental change.
Often favored by the West or co-opted by the Abiy autocracy, such dissident strata, including diasporic entities, are diverse. Technocrats, academics, religious figures, and media entities are in their ranks. These groups and social activists, even those well-known for championing the Amhara cause, are not above countenancing to “negotiation” with the incorrigible Oromo state.
The stakes are very high. If these elements have their way, the Amhara/Fanno movement could lose momentum and the present historic opportunity to make good on the promise of fundamental change. The country could break up.
In sum, the Fanno movement should approach the resolution of the protracted Ethiopian crisis with a clear and consistent transformative purpose in light of its principled stand for a thorough overhaul of the country’s political structure. Securing the integrity of the movement from detractors at home and abroad is necessary for effectively pursuing the goal.
2. Maintain the Movement’s Integrity. Fundamental political change is challenging and often requires a strategic vanguard or coordinating hub that plans and directs it, adapting the struggle to changing circumstances when needed.
A pivotal, complex issue here, where a decentered regionally oriented Fanno guerilla movement seeking to bring about nationwide structural change confronts an oppressive, warmongering, terroristic Oromo state, is the wholeness or integrity of the movement.
Keeping the Fanno forces whole is foundational to achieving the robust agency they need to lead the Amhara resistance and build support for their nationwide political project of systemic change. It helps the Amhara/Fanno resistance strategically transition from the immediacies or bare factuality of armed struggle into a coherent, symbolically ordered, forward-looking, integral experience.
You can assess the constancy or completeness of the Fanno movement’s opposition to hegemonic Tigre-cum-Oromo state ethnicism using various criteria. For example, we can judge based on what dissenting Fanno leaders and fighters independently think or practice – say, ideas, goals, warrior ethic, nationalism, political discourse – and what they take from the tribal system of domination even as they oppose it. We may ask: Is the movement reliant on its own ideology or values and terms of debate and discussion, or is it dependent on the existing ethnic regime for such things?
I think a prior, more pressing, and revealing question is: What obstacles or challenges does the Fanno militia face in enhancing or strengthening their agentic integrity and effectiveness within the Amhara community and Ethiopia at large?
The issue is pressing because the forces may be approaching a turning point, in need of filling a noteworthy gap between growing success on the battlefield in the Amhara regions and its transmutation into a symbolically organized, higher-order, nationwide political engagement.
Navigating the inflective moment is complex; first, Amhara/Fanno political agency is not a ready-made or finished formation, given historically or culturally. It has to be developed, defended, secured, and adapted in the face of evolving tasks, circumstances, and internal and external challenges.
Secondly, the Fanno movement is rooted in an Amhara community whose sense of self does not valorize or require narrow, insular ethnicity. The community is a complex of customary and modern strands of collective being – abiding by national tradition, local affinities, martial values, spiritual norms, humanist sensibilities, and contemporary ideas and aspirations of development.
Instead of excluding ethnic “others,” Amharas have historically opened themselves to diverse Ethiopian cultural groups even as they have influenced them. The openness has been not only geographical but also cultural.
Distinct yet vital, evolving, flowing, and mixing character has thereby contributed to the civility and resilience of the Amhara people. Still, it has, in more recent times, also made us vulnerable to the fear, loathing, and hostility of separatist tribal groups and regimes, specifically Tigre and Oromo partisan outfits afflicted by a subordination complex and delusions of grandeur. Unlike these groups, the Amhara people may have historically not needed exclusive ethnic identity or cultural insularity to survive and flourish as a distinct community integral to the Ethiopian nation.
But, lately, facing a clear and present threat to our collective being, we have been forced into a life-or-death fight – as Amharas – against genocidal Oromo tyranny.
Still, in waging a war of survival and seeking to navigate the complexity of integral, at once existential and transformative resistance, the Amhara/Fanno way should not be to over-politicize and inflate tribal identity out of gear with its national project or its historical context and cultural tradition.
Nor is it to pin down the heroic struggles of Fanno patriotic forces within an impersonal, monolithic, and authoritarian party hierarchy. Yet the movement must have a national center, a strategic nucleus, and an architectonic command that transcends the sum of its regional parts.
3. Capitalize on the Advantages and Possibilities of Regionalism. Fanno unity achieved through strategic and tactical coordination of regional Amhara forces (those of Gondar, Gojjam, Shoa, and Wello) is not akin to unity as an ideal or merely affirmed value. Fanno forces form their self-understanding and warrior ethic from a baseline of localized affinities, values, and cultural practices.
The cross-regional unity of the forces should not preempt or take shape outside their active, autonomous participation. It is a relational, interactive attainment requiring aligning priorities, goals, strategy, and practice over space and time. The achievement would not be complicated since the Fanno militia are deeply rooted in their national tradition within and across the distinct Amhara provinces. They move on a trans-regional Ethiopian terrain that is familiar through ancestral heritage and felt and lived experience.
Provincial variations allow the Fanno movement to benefit from collaborative relations. The advantages include operational autonomy and flexibility attuned to local contexts and circumstances, opportunities to exchange vital information, knowledge, and experience, and to share capabilities and resources within and across different provinces. Distinctions among interacting Amhara regions also give the Fanno movement animating tension, a dynamic charge.
Lastly, in maintaining provincial autonomy within a single Amhara existential struggle, the movement has the potential to spearhead the structural change that Ethiopia sorely needs. Namely, to enable the country to regain its lost trans-ethnic local administrative system by leading a nationwide effort aimed at dismantling the existing dysfunctional, massively corrupt, and oppressive tribal kilil order.
In its place, Fanno could help establish a different, more just, and workable regionalism that all Ethiopian citizens and cultural communities would welcome and support. The kilil system conflates locality with ethnicity on the false assumption that regions are insular or delineable tribal wholes.
A new, more open, internally diverse provincial architecture that cuts across tribal lines would replace the kilil structure. Amhara/Ethiopian patriotic forces should value and promote diversity within regions and localities, not just nationally. Also, the change represents a better, more effective way of realizing universal ideas, like freedom, democracy, local autonomy, and federalism, in the Ethiopian context.
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