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

October 1, 2023

Dr. Yonas Biru

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 (https://www.facebook.com/100005614477907/videos/837501021154488).

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.

1 Comment

  1. Here you go again!

    Why should Fano allow to be overburdened by a project to liberate the entire country?

    As the Fano leader said (DW interview), negotiated settlement is the best outcome of this war “… if the government (federal or Amhara regional or both) are prepared to allow a transition government in the Amhara region.”

    Once Fano takes over the regioal government, it will have to work to reinstate the devastated Amhara life bu the war – economic, health, education, hunger, etc. – rather than engage itself in intractable nationa wide war.

    Obviously, once Fano crosses the Amhara border to march on Addis, the existing civil war will explode to a new heights. And it will put at risk what was achieved in Amhara region – regional transitional governemt – and possibily reverse gians achieved at a great cost.

    This does not mean Fano should limit itself to Amhara issues forever,; once it achieves regional freedom, it works with others for nation wide change. Others should also do their part to change the federal government.

    So, what Fano needs at this stage is to force the federal government to clear the way for Fano takeover of the region. This is something the federal government can easily do. There is no need for political organization and political program to achieve this. Such thing can take place after the takeover.

    The attempt by APF to crown itself as the political leader of Fano is ridculous. Fano has not given recognition to any group such a task. Given what the fano leader Dr. Yonas mentioned said, their military operation is limited – not extending to liberate Ethiopia – as AFP claims.

    Dr. Yonas criticises APF but him and his supposed new found company ( Messay Mekonnen, Neamin Zeleke, Andargachew Tsegie, Lidetu Ayalew, Tewodrose Tirfe, Meaza Mohammed ) might try to replace AFP.

    Again, Fano knows its goals and speaks for itself. It’s is not up for grab.

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