Yonas Biru, PhD
Prime Minister Abiy’s government made the worst mistake in the war with TPLF when it entered Mekele in November 2020. At the time, the TPLF was militarily defeated and politically deflated. There was no long-term political or military gain in entering Mekele other than the Prime Minister’s bravado to wipe out TPLF leaders and secure a clean victory. The mistake turned the law enforcement campaign into a full-blown civil war. The Prime Minister’s affinity for a photo and video opportunity to show off his vanity projects led him into threatening the war as a vanity project to capture and parade TPLF leaders in handcuffs.
Days before the Ethiopian Defense Forces stormed Mekele, I warned of an impending catastrophe such a decision will result in. I was subjected to an avalanche of hoots of electronic disdain by boneheaded young cyber ninjas suffering from an adrenaline overdose and hermitized old intellectuals who were (and still are) emotionally and psychologically frozen in centuries long past.
Fast forward to December 2022, the Prime Minister and TPLF were at a more-or-less the same position as they were in November 2020. The government with a clear upper hand and no military obstacle to enter Mekele decided not to venture into the city proper. Instead, it forced TPLF to willfully sign terms of surrender. The terms of surrender that was up for the taking in November 2020 was delayed by two years. The delay resulted in a national catastrophe of biblical proportions. One million people lost their lives and the nation suffered $28 billion (the equivalent of 25% of its GDP) in economic destruction.
In 2023, Ethiopia is still the land of creation and perpetual political misery and the land of 13 months of sunshine trapped in eternal darkness to boot. Because of the Prime Minister’s betrayal of the Amhara and Oromummaa’s zeal for a hegemonic rule and propensity for savagery, Fanno has emerged with an overwhelming force.
Those who are managing (or rather mismanaging) the political and PR side of Fanno need to be reminded that overwhelming force does not necessarily lead to a clean victory. The story of the Abiy government in Tigray, and US’s experience in Afghanistan and Iraq provide cruel reminders.
The purpose of this article is to ring a wakeup call to the same boneheaded young cyber ninjas and old hermitized intellectuals. The two curses on Ethiopian politics need to be reminded that a mismanaged Fanno movement can lead to a coalition between TPLF and Oromo-PP or even worse a coalition between Oromo-PP, TPLF and OLA.
Remember, in 2021, when TPLF was marching towards Addis Ababa, TPLF and OLA were working together to overthrow the Abiy administration. OLA was assured it will administer the Oromo tribal land and form a coalition to govern Ethiopia.
The OLA-TPLF and Oromo-PP coalition is a plausible or even a sought-after strategy for the TPLF, and OLA for many reasons. TPLF sees such a coalition as the best-case scenario to weaken the Amhara and reclaim Wolkait and Raya. For the OLA it is a dream come true to close the chapter on the Ethiopian unity agenda. In addition, both the OLA and TPLF see it as an opportunity to weaken Oromo-PP and the Prime Minister. The scenario may not be the best outcome for Oromo-PP, but the Prime Minister’s lust for power and lack of integrity and principle will no doubt lead him to embrace it as an option of last resort.
If Fanno fails to realize this, its historic contribution to Ethiopian politics will be strengthening OLA and TPLF and dashing Amhara’s last hope for political revival. The OLA-Oromo-PP and TPLF coalition may not defeat the popular uprising in the Amhara tribal land but can lead into a civil war that can tilt the balance in favor of its adversaries.
Part of a robust political strategy is to break apart your adversaries, not to unite them against you. The young fools with their adrenalin oozing out of their noses and ears and their hermitized old intellectuals with a downward sloping learning curve do not get this. Those who fail to understand this perish by it.
The other problem with the Amhara sentiment is that it sees the international community as the enemy of Ethiopia and Amhara. No amount of logic will change this sentiment. It is backed into the Amhara social psychology and ingrained in its political DNA.
Yesteryear, the argument was that the international community wanted the TPLF to assume power because the Prime Minister was not submissive enough to the West. Just to make sure that this is the same Prime Minister who declared his allegiance to die for America on the New York Post, no less.
Today, the talk is about how the international community wants the Prime Minister to Stay in power so he can serve the TPLF. This is just utterly stupid that the አቱቶ ቡቱቶ hermitized intellectual class cannot be saved from. Because of it the አቱቶ ቡቱቶ hermitized intellectual class and the adrenalin overdosed cacophonous activists are undermining if not sabotaging the Fanno movement that was a gift from the butchery and savagery of Oromo-PP and its ideological Godfather – Oromummaa.
A Path for a Transformative Change
There is a tension between two conflicting end-goals facing Fanno. First, Fanno’s interest for a clean victory to topple the Oromo-led government should not come at the risk of a civil war. Second, a fear of a potential civil war should not mean allowing the current status quo to continue without a transformative change.
The question that is imposing itself on us is: How do we delicately balance this tension? The need to avoid a civil war requires it, and the nation’s political transformation depends on it.
What Ethiopia needs at this juncture is cooler minds to prevail. Political junkies on both sides of the warring parties need to be crowded out. The Fanno movement that has organically and spontaneously erupted must not be hijacked by intellectual dwarfs with transcontinental ego.
A broad-based political support group with a brilliant, seasoned, and adoptive nucleus must be formed. Sorry, say what you may, rant if you must, but your Shaleka, your Esku the Great or your cacophonous part deacon and part diabolical Ethio-360 looneys will not cut it.
A First Critical Step
The first critical task before us is not babysitting, swaddling, and soothing grownup fools to understand basic politics. They are playing with the lives of millions. They need a candid talk.
The first critical step is forming a broad-based Amhara coalition that consists of all political persuasions and views, of course including all Amhara forces without preconditions. This is critical to bring the silent majority out in mass to support the Fanno Movement. Unity is power and power is the energy and guarantee for success. Fanno’s primary strength must come neither from the barrel of its gun nor the cacophonous extremist activists, but from the thunderous voices of the silent majority.
Fanno leaders must understand the people of Amhara seek peace and stability as much as they long for freedom from Oromo-PP and protection from Oromummaa savagery. Unity among various political voices in the Amhara tribal home will take Fanno a long way to win the confidence and support of the silent majority. Success on this front will send a loud and clear message both to the government and the international community.
Winning International Support
Winning the confidence and support of geopolitical forces is critical. In the best-case scenario, the Fanno movement can leverage their support to pressure the government. In the worst-case scenario, it can push back against the government’s and TPLF’s efforts to leverage the international community’s support.
The Fanno movement must present itself as a transformative and stabilizing force, not as a disruptive and destabilizing movement. In this regard, having a political agenda with a
concomitant strategy and robust international PR narrative is critical. Every government press release needs to be responded to. The government’s propaganda narrative needs to be refuted and rejected. The international public needs to be regularly briefed.
It is important to understand the government is under enormous international pressure to make concessions and reconcile with opposition forces. The IMF and Paris Club are withholding international aid (concessional loans and debt relief) to pressure the government for a peaceful political process. There is no reason why Fanno should not leverage the international community.
A robust and powerful PR will paint a reckless and incompetent Prime Minister in technicolor, highlighting the following:
- He promised victory against the TPLF in two. He ended up mismanaging the war for two years, leading to a humanitarian crisis and economic disaster.
- He established a command center to administer the Tigray tribal land only to abandon it and retreat in haste and humiliation.
- He established a command center in parts of the Oromo tribal land with nothing to show for it other than millions of people forcefully displaced and thousands murdered. One of the booming economic activities in the Oromo tribal land is kidnapping truck-drivers and business owners for ransom and abducting young girls as sex slaves for OLA officers.
- The Prime Minister’s solution for every and all political crises of his own making is sending troops, establishing command centers, and ultimately abandoning them in a haste. The cycle continues as Ethiopia slips into a political and economic abyss.
Fanno Must Present Itself as a Reasonable & Flexible Driver of Change
I must repeat that Fanno must present itself as a stabilizing force not as a disruptive and destabilizing movement. It must make it clear that a civil war must be avoided, and the demand for a transformative change must be achieved.
The risk of a potential civil war must be associated with the government’s intransigence and refusal for a transformative change, not with Fanno’s uncompromising drive for a government change. Success on this front can push the Fanno movement to the next level, without any discernible loss or weakening of its momentum.
Fanno must not repeat the Prime Minister’s mistake in November 2020. The PM is in a very weak position. Fanno enjoys a position of power. Know when to collect your marbles and gear up for the next summit. The six demands proposed below can result in a transformative change for several reasons.
First, they provide a minimum common denominator to build a broad-based Amhara coalition.
Second, Fanno’s flexibility and prudence to avoid civil war will help it to consolidate and expand its support base in the Amhara tribal land.
Third, Fanno’s flexible and open agenda will buy it the confidence and support of opposition forces in other tribal lands.
Fourth, Fanno will become the energy and the center of gravity for a national movement against the Oromo-PP led government and Oromummaa’s hegemonic agenda and political savagery.
Fifth, the transformative changes in demand are within the constitutional order. This disarms the government from painting Fanno as a meta constitutional force.
The proposed demands below may not result in the removal of the Prime Minister from office, but they will weaken him and avoid a potential civil war. It will also avoid a destructive coalition of Oromo-PP, OLA, and TPLF from forming. Fanno can build on the gains it achieved as long as it remains armed and peaceful.
- Immediate withdrawal of all National Defense Forces from the Amhara tribal land and suspension of the disarmament program until confidence building measures are taken and the existential threat against Amhara is removed.
- Maintain the Welkait and Raya current status quo and suspend any plan to transfer the contested lands from Amhara to Federal government administration. This issue must be the last item on the tribal homeland’s political agenda. First must come security, peace, and stability.
- Immediate action to organize national and international humanitarian support for forcefully displaced Amhara people.
- An international investigation of mass killings and mass evictions of the people of Amhara. The investigation must be unfettered and time bound – no more than six months followed by full accountability based on the findings of investigation. The government has agreed to engage the international community to resolve its conflict with Tigray and Oromo forces. From the Fanno perspective international investigation must be a matter of urgency without relinquishing the opportunity for a formal mediation outside of Ethiopia.
- A vote of confidence for the Amhara Prosperity Party-led government in the Amhara tribal land within three months. The aim is either to establish confidence in the Amhara-PP leadership or recall them followed by new elections if the recall through constitutional means leads to removal from office of Amhara-PP leaders. This may be done in other tribal lands as well if there is demand for it by the people of respective regions. The recall process must be monitored by international organizations.
- Vote of confidence for the Oromo-PP led government in the Ethiopian Parliament. This must be held after a vote of confidence in the Amhara tribal land and other tribal lands (if the people in the other tribal lands so choose). This opens the door to replace the Prime Minister if the majority Parliamentarians so choose.
If met, these demands will position Fanno in an assailable position with the silent majority serving as its guard. If the demands are not met, it will gain the PR upper hand and its continued struggle will win more support from the Amhara and other tribal homelands. At some point the Oromo silent majority will rise to join its counterparts in other tribal lands. Reasonable Oromo-PP forces will switch side rather than sink with Abiy. There are many ways to skin a cat. Fanno need to be fixated on government change.
Time is of the essence. Ethiopians at home and in the diaspora must take part to achieve a transitional political change without the risk of a civil war. They should not be afraid to tell the organic fools in their ranks to: “Sit down and shut the fucking hell up.” It is not hard.