Yonas Biru, PhD
I asked people to describe Eskinder Nega in no more than two words on Twitter and Facebook. Over 200 People responded with such hagiographic words as ፉኖ, my king, selfless, the Mahatma, ተቋም, honorable, superhero, genuine, committed, የሃቅ ሰው, resilient, unconquerable, ጅግና, ironman, የአባቶቹ ልጅ, freedom, Selfless sacrifice, ታላቁ, nucleolus of Amhara, Icon of integrity, and የፅናት ተምሳሌት.
These are all virtues, reflecting his character dispositions and personality traits. They do not say anything about political astuteness, brilliance, or consensus building. Only three people talked about politics violating the two-words limit. One stated “Even though he ain’t a good politician, i’m siding with him.” Another one wrote “He has a strong character and a religious mindset that makes compromise a difficult task.” A third one wrote: “Patriot but not shrewd politician.”
As much as Ethiopia needs people of integrity and honor, it needs capable political leaders. It would be super to have both qualities in one person. Where that is not the case, one quality cannot be a substitute for the other. Just as saintly and heroic deeds do not qualify a person to build a bridge or operate on a patient with a tumor, they do not qualify him to be a political leader.
The intensely emotional political environment is standing in the way of rational political discourse and action. What rational person will ask Eskinder, for example, to operate on his gravely ill mother? Why then can one say, he is not a good politician, but I support him at a time Ethiopia is gravely ill, politically, socially, and economically. It is difficult to swallow but the nation’s solution can only come from rational discourse that goes against the current of combustible emotional temperament.
If the people of Amhara choose, they can make Eskinder the iconic poster image of the Amhara resilient patriotism and የፉኖ ተምሳሌት. What they cannot make him is a political leader of a nation that is tittering at the verge of collapse. But this is a hard case to make in an emotionally charged polity that holds Eskinder as the Eleventh Commandment: Thou Shalt Revere Eskinder.
Fano’s Success Demands Reining in the Emotional Political Environment
PM Abiy is the most hated leader Ethiopia has seen in modern times. He is hanging onto power on a borrowed time and will continue to do so until Fano addresses four vexing challenges.
First, the Fano that Shaleka Dawit represents is active politically and internationally but does not have firepower on the battle ground. To a small degree, this group is aided by Engineer Yilkal Getnet who is doing the bidding for another Fano brigade that is politically active but lacks a frontline combat capability. The Shaleka and Yilkal camps have created an unhealthy power struggle that is doing more harm to the Fano uprising than Abiy’s military.
Second, there are multiple Fanno brigades that have a strong powerbase on the battle ground than the Shaleka and Yilkal factions, but they are not active politically and diplomatically. This has denied the entire Fano movement a big lever that the Shaleka and Yilkal factions cannot leverage.
Third, Fano is in a dire need of a unified political front, particularly between those who have a strong powerbase on the battle ground. The Fano enterprise will limp around until these groups come to the fore with strong political presence. This cannot happen without first addressing the damage the Shaleka and Yilkal camps are doing.
Fourth, Fano needs to engage the international community (IC). Global powers cannot deal with multiple Fano leaders. They wait until a robust Fano coalition with a credible leadership emerges. The IC knows Shaleka’s, and Engineer’s Fanos are all about political hustle without military muscle. It will be difficult for the Fano enterprise to achieve its full potential until it wins the confidence and support of the IC.
Hijacking Attempt by Extremists and Opportunists
Who are Amharas extremists? They are drivers of a unitarist agenda that puts Amhara center stage in determining the nation’s identity, political ideology, and historical narratives. Though no Amhara organization overtly or officially pursues this goal, many Amhara extremist figures go beyond dropping hints, using dog whistles and not-so-subtle subtexts in their speeches.
Their aspiration is to dial back the time to when the Amhara played a dominant role in state politics and make Amhara nationalism at its nucleus from whence a unitary mindset radiates outward and expresses itself as a national identity.
A telling example is Shaleka Dawit’s public speeche asserting “ኢትዮጵያ የአማራ ነች… ኢትዮጵያን እዚህ ያደረሳት አማራ ነው.” This is not a one-off slip of the tongue. More recently he announced “ኢትዮጵያ የሚያስፈልጋት አማራ
አማራ የሚሸት መንግስት ነው::”
In a recent gathering in London, one of the participants asked the Shaleka if the Amhara Popular Front (APF) to which he serves as a spokesperson is a military or political group? The person continued: It seems to me you are acting like a political organization. If so, why don’t you have a manifesto or a document laying out your political aspirations, organizing principles and a roadmap toward your goal? The host thanked the person as one of “the Amhara activists who is working hard to bring all Amhara forces together” and passed the microphone to the Shaleka to respond.
The Shaleka’s response was unduly cynical and defensive, questioning the motive of the person. He said “this is not a question. It is a gotcha investigation to trap me.” He said APF does not need a manifesto. This made it clear that it is by commission (not omission) that APF does not have a manifesto that lays out its guiding principles and reveals the tenets that undergird them.
The Shaleka is not an outlier. Christian Tadele did not mince words when he declared “አትዮጵያን የፈጠረው አማራ ነው… አማራ ለኢትዮጵያዊነት የውሃ ልክ ነው.“ In the past, he has gone as far as publishing a written manifesto titled “የምንገነባው ብሔርተኝነት ግራዋ እንጂ ሚሪንዳ ስላለመሆኑ.” One of the points he made was the need to build “ጽንፈኛ የአማራ ብሔርተኝነት.” His recommendation included “የአማራ የሆነን ሁሉ መጠቀም (ከአማራ ያልሆኑ ነገሮችን አማራጭ ካልጠፋና የግድ ካልሆነ በስተቀር አለመጠቀም).” Christian’s manifesto was published on Bête Amhâra’s Facebook Page. The manifesto is no longer available. They removed it last week, after I shared the link. https://www.facebook.com/…/a.80952…/1836850163029066/
The evidence has not swayed the Amhara extremist colony. To the contrary, they withdrew the evidence and continued accusing me of falsely defaming Christian. Until Amharas are willing to face their own demons, they will forever remain politically irrelevant and socially defenseless.
The problem is not that Amhara has extremists among its ranks. Rather it is that the extremists are vilifying and silencing anyone who harbors different views. Venom spewing extremists such as Ethio-360 have normalized hate against Amharas who do not share their politicus stupidus. That Eskinder picked his first spokesperson (Ermias Legesse) from Ethio-360 is not accidental. Nor is his second spokesperson (Shaleka Dawit) who also comes from the Ethio-360 fan club.
Fano is a grassroot uprising consisting of people with diverse political outlook, culture, religion, and social background. Currently, the most serious threat for its success comes from the same extremist forces who are involved in a futile effort to hijack it.
Fanno must meet four conditions to succeed, while fending off various segments of extremist and opportunist forces from taking its leadership. The four factors are intertwined. They must be pursued concurrently not sequentially.
- Military Success:Fano’s military success is a very vital component of the four factors. In this regard, Fano has crossed significant milestones. The military success can be further strengthened and expedited by working on the other three fronts.
- A Unified Political Organ with Clear Agenda, Strategy and Roadmap:This is a priority of the first order that cannot be pushed for tomorrow. Success in the war front and political arena are vital for the success of the following two critical factors just as the success in the following two factors is vital for its military and political success
- Winning the Confidence and Support of Ethiopians:People in all tribal lands want change. Fano’s military success is what they are counting on to bring about such a change. In the meantime, they want a clear end goal and concomitant roadmap. Amhara has every right to determine its fate. But it cannot unitarily determine the fate of the nation’s transformative reform agenda. The idea that Amhara will build consensus with others after winning the war and overthrowing the current government is neither confidence inspiring nor prudent. Other tribal homelands need to be a part of the national agenda-forming and strategy-setting processes. The political architecture must be built concurrently with the military advance to make this possible, not after Amhara takes power.
- Winning the Confidence and Support of the IC:The IC sees the PM as a danger to the nation’s stability that affects the Horn of Africa’s stability. They also know that there is no viable coalition that is ready to take over the levers of power. The fact that Fano has not established a formal communication channel with the IC is a serious drawback. This requires establishing: (1) a dynamic political architecture with a robust agenda, dynamic strategy, adoptive roadmap, and a viable endgame; (2) a well-developed and curated narrative to win international support, and (3) a coalition that speaks in one voice with a designated international PR official.
False Narratives Continue to Undermine the Fano Movement
There are people who ridicule any suggestion to have a clear agenda, strategy, end goal and a concomitant roadmap. Engineer Yilkal Getnet is among such snake oil salesman politicians. In a recent interview with Meaza Mohammed of Roha TV, he suggested people who say that Fano does not have a clear agenda are either sick or detractors of the Fano movement.
In the good Engineer’s mind, Fano’s agenda is stopping Oromummaa’s mass murder rampage and ethnic cleansing carnage. This, he said, is known to all Ethiopians. According to him it would be condescending to explain Fano’s agenda and end goal to non-Amhara people because they know it.
Fano’s agenda is far more than “don’t kill us and don’t forcefully displace us.” There are political, constitutional, institutional, social and economic issues behind the Fano freedom banner. What Fano is fighting for is a transformative change on all dimensions of the nation’s governance. How this may be achieved is a complex issue, demanding a broad platform to build consensus. Non-Amhara Ethiopians who support Fano’s “don’t kill us and don’t forcefully displace us” protest may or may not support its position on power transfer and/or post Abiy governance.
For example, there are people who do not compromise on the need to overthrow the current government. They do not want to hear about negotiation. There are others who see a negotiated settlement as the most viable path to a lasting peace. They see the Fanno uprising as a catalyst for a negotiated settlement not for a forceful power transfer. There are still others who believe we need to be open minded and adapt to the circumstances readying ourselves for both scenarios.
On power transfer, the issue of transitional government is thrown around without due attention to its organizational fault lines and political landmines. How it will be established and who will lead it are vexing issues. Transitional government was possible in 1991 because there was one dominant party dictating the political agenda and controlling the military. Transitional governments face insurmountable problem in present-day Ethiopia because the political arena is polarized and there are numerous military forces in every tribal homeland.
The good Engineer’s “all is going well” ዲስኩር is grounded on what he calls a Fano Manifesto that he claims was prepared two years ago by a Gojam Fano group (የአማራ ህዝባዊ ሃይል) with which he is admittedly closely associated. He is (“የቅርብ አዋቂ”). He claims if anyone takes a poll across the Fano ecosystem, the document will have 99.9% support.
The document is five-pages and six lines long. It carries neither the name of the group that prepared it nor the time when it was prepared. It provides a snapshot of a political situational assessment in the middle of the Tigray war. The Ethiopian political landscape has changed a lot since the document was drafted. One such development is the Fano uprising. The term Fano does not even appear anywhere in the document.
Calling it a Fano manifesto is ridiculous. Leaving that aside, the truth is that there are several documents prepared by different Amhara forces at different times. I have seen three documents including the one the good Engineer touts as a Fano Manifesto. They have notable differences in form and substance.
The good Engineer is pulling the possible 99.9% consensus in the Fano’s end game out of thin air. In the above noted interview with Meaza, he said if one askes Fano fighters about their end game, 80% will say it is “to march into Addis and destroy the structure of the current system – “ዐራት ኪሎ መጋባት አለብን; ይሄ መዋቅራዊ ጥቃት የሚፈታው ይሄን መዋቅር በመሰረቱ ስናፈርስ ነው” – (38th minute mark of the video). Within a minute he increased the support figure to 99.9% (39th minute mark).
In the same interview, he said Fano’s overarching goal is survival and securing their human and political rights. How they will achieve this is a “detailed tactical issue” that he does not know. He suggested one option may be “going to the PM’s palace,” toppling his government, and “announcing the establishment of a transitional government.” Another option is “militarily weaken the government and force a negotiated settlement.” This is in the 32nd minute mark of the interview.
His በአንድ ራስ ሶስት ምላስ narratives in a span of 7 minutes signify the Shimelisian “confuse and convince” shenanigan. What I found rather crafty and downright disingenuous is his answer to Meaza’s question if the Fano movement is politically poised to seize the moment if the military operation opens the way. The question was pregnant with a follow up question if there is a political architecture at whose apex sits a leader.
His answer was: It is neither desirable nor prudent to have a political coalition and a leader. First, he said our political history shows political coalitions and parties do not last for more than two years. Therefore, it is better not to have a political coalition and a leader at this juncture.
Further, he said having a leader has risks. He/she can be attacked by the government. Such a leader can also be bribed and may be even sabotaged by the international community. He suggested the preferred and prudent path is to let the process run its course. When the time is right a political coalition with a unifying leader will emerge.
One thing that Ethiopian politicians lack is management experience. They assume things will follow a natural course. This is a fatal mistake or a spectacular ignorance. Process optimization, crisis mitigation, and course correction are critical parts of political management. Lest the fate of the nation will be determined by accident or force.
Following Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” lyrics, the good Engineer said we should not worry because the political process is progressing well. He mentioned two examples. First, he said various Fano leaders work closely, coordinating both their military and political operations. Second, he suggested various Fano leaders are progressively coalescing toward an imminent unity and when the time is right, they will pick their leader.
The good Engineer was at a recent Washington gathering where Abebe Belew announced Fano’s diaspora representatives would not even share a common platform because of conflicts. The diaspora conflict reflects conflicts within the Fano brigades whom they represent. We have also listened to different interviews and read different press releases issued by different Fano leaders that stand in stark contradiction to the Engineers hunky-dory narrative.
The question is why is he engaged in a false propaganda campaign? Evidently, he is positioning a certain Fano group out of Gojam to emerge as the leader of Fano. This was clear in his suggestion to use their document as a template for the Fano manifesto.
The good Engineer who ran for office in 2021 and won two votes (ሁለት ሃባ) is a part of the Fano hijacking endeavor. Unfortunate for him and the Fano group on whose behalf he is doing the bidding, the good Shaleka and diaspora Amhara extremists are ahead of him in the race to hijack the Fano.
Amhara Extremists’ Ploy of Hijacking Fanno
Amhara extremists led by Shaleka Dawit saw the phenomenal explosion of the Fano movement and the absence of a robust political organ as a God-Sent opportunity to hijack the movement. He was enabled by the vitriol political culture of the Amhara extremist landscape.
The hijacking started with Shaleka Dawit who pressured Eskinder Nega to embrace his Amhara Popular Front (APF) proposal. The Proposal throned Eskinder as the great leader. Subsequently, Shaleka became his international spokesperson.
The Shaleka had another trick up his sleeve to traffic Eskinder as a figurehead for a diaspora GoFundMe campaign. This was vital in weaponize the diaspora as a leverage to exert undue influence over the Fano enterprise. Alas, soon enough the proverbial tail started wagging the proverbial dog. Diaspora extremists led by the Shaleka, and Ethio-360 drumbeaters took the driver’s seat of the Eskinder Fano kingdom.
Armed with diaspora funds, the Shaleka tried to buy allegiances from Fano leaders. His attempt backfired like a boomerang. Gojam Fanos felt betrayed by him. Resentment grew against him. The threat grew to a point that people started to be concerned for his safety.
Diaspora people who were active in the fund-raising drive tried to appeal to the Shaleka to stop his backdoor political manipulation, but he ignored them. This led ZemedeKun Bekele to write to his 330,000 social media followers, stating:
“… እኔን ተዉኝና እናንተው እንደልማዳችሁ [ገንዘብ አሰባስቡ] ብላችሁም አልሰማኝ ብላችሁ በግድ አስገብታችሁኛል።
ከገባሁ አይቅር እንግዲህ እኔ ዘመዴ አይቶ ማለፍ፣ ሴራ መታገስ አይሆንልኝም እና እንደተለመደው እንደፈረደብኝ የጭቃ ዥራፌን ላነሳ ነኝ። ቀልድ የለም። … እስክንድር በጎጃም አደጋ ቢደርስበትም ተጠያቂነቱ ከራሳችሁ ላይ አይወርድም። በተለይ ሻለቃ ዳዊት ወልደ ጊዮርጊስ ይሄ እርስዎንና ቲሞትን ይመለከታል። …የጎጃም የዐማራ ፋኖዎችም ነገሮችን በጥበብ ለማለፍ ስሩ። የሕዝብ አደራ ስላለብኝ ማንንም ሳላስፈቅድ ቀኝ ትከሻዬን ስለሸከከኝ ብቻ ይህንን ጽፌአለሁ።”
Eskinder and Shaleka are Liability to Fano
Eskinder and Shaleka Dawit have every right to establish any political or military group they choose. The problem is with their decision to jump the gun on announcing the APF as leader of Fano before they secured the support of a significant number of Fanos on the battlefield and the Fano support system at home and in the diaspora. This, in and of itself, shows lack of political prudence and maturity to put it in the most positive light.
Ethiopia’s political reality is way too complex. It demands maturity, prudence, and diplomatic engagement with all stakeholders. Eskinder’s and Shaleka’s failure on all three dimensions not only caused discord within the Fano brigades, but also disillusioned the Fano support ecosystem both at home and abroad.
Furthermore, the Eskinder/Shaleka group is an extremist force. It is a liability to the Fano movement that needs to be all inclusive and supremely diplomatic, considering the historic anti-Amhara PR campaign as arrogant and political usurper (ትምክሀተኛ & ደፍጣጭ). The Shalek’s continuous diplomatic blunder statements such as “ኢትዮጵያ የአማራ ነች… ኢትዮጵያን እዚህ ያደረሳት አማራ ነው” and “ኢትዮጵያ የሚያስፈልጋት አማራ አማራ የሚሸት መንግስት ነው” repels potential allies in other tribal lands.
Lij Tedla Melaku, Shalek’s second in matters of international diplomacy, is not shy to defend the Shaleka, stating: “ኢትዮጵያን የገነባት እና እዚህ ያደረሳት አማራ ነው ሲባል ይህ ትክክል ነው እውነት ነው። The only thing standing in the Lij’s narrative are Tigrayans who say the Axumite civilization is what made Ethiopia the pride of the Black race. Not to worry. The Lij has a reply. He is the narrator and curator of “የአማራ
ሕዝብ ርዕዮተ ዓለምና ሥነ ልቡናዊ የትግል አቅጣጫ” and “የታፈነው ታሪክ፥ የአክሱም ሥልጣኔ ባለቤትና የትግራይ ፖለቲካ የውሸት ድር.” The good Lij’s narrative is edited and curated within his aspirational agenda of restoring “the Ethiopian Monarchy and the Solomonic Crown in a Constitutional Monarchy Framework.”
Even worse, the Shaleka’s claim that Eskinder is the leader of Fano is utter nonsense. The undeniable fact is that the prominent Fanos in Gonder, Gojam, Shewa, and Wello who have won major victories and sacrificed their comrades are not part of the Eskinder Fano kingdom. I challenge the Eskinder/Shaleka group to refute this by simply stating in which battleground they have fought, and which regions are under their control.
Here is what the leader of the Gojam Fano Command Post (Zenabu Lngerew ) publicly stated on Mager Media: “There are four brigades in Gojam – two each in East and West Gojam and all are part of his Gojam Fano Command Post. His interview on Mager Media came on the heels of a robust press release that lay the Command’s working principles.
በጎጃም ምድር ውስጥ የአማራ ህዝብ እያደረገ ባለው ተጋድሎ የአማራ ፋኖ ምክርቤት አመራሮችን በግለሰብ ደረጃም ሆነ በስራ አስፈፃሚነት ደረጃ ለማግኘት ያደረግነው ሙከራም አልተሳካም። በተቃራኒው ደግሞ የሕዝብ መራር ትግል የወለዳቸው በርካታ ጀግና የፋኖ ወታደሮችና የፋኖ አመራሮች በጎጃም አማራ ውስጥ ተፈጥረዋል። በአንዲት ትንሽዬ የወረዳ ፋኖ አደረጃጀትም የጠላትን ሙሉ ክፍለጦር ሲደመሰስ ያየነው ለባሩድ ባልሸሹ ቆራጥ ልጆች ፊታውራሪነትና የሕዝባችን ተጋድሎ ነው። ባልጠበቅነው ረድፍ በኩል ደግሞ ትግሉን ቤት ቁጭ ብለው ለመምራት በማሰብ የሳይበር ሚዲያውን ብቻ ለይተው የሚያስጮሁ አካላት ከትላንት ያልተማረ አካሄዳቸውን መጠቀማቸውን ቀጥለዋል።
The emergence of Fano from diverse social, political, religious, and regional backgrounds was an opportunity to build a broad-based political coalition mirroring the diversity in Fanno. Shaleka Dawit along Ethio-360 and diaspora extremists poisoned the well. Adding insult to injury, opportunists such as Engineer Yilkal are exacerbating the crisis caused by their extremist brethren. In every dark cloud, there is a silver shining. There is still time to save Fano from extremists and opportunists.
A Way Forward
How the Fanno uprising is managed will determine whether the movement will set the nation on the path of peace and security and how long it will take it to achieve its goal. The success in Fanno’s armed uprising in such a short time is nothing short of astounding. However, it is critical to realize every successful military endeavor requires a political organ that guides and constraints it.
Creating a dynamic political architecture with a robust agenda, dynamic strategy, adoptive roadmap, and a clear and viable endgame is an absolute necessity. It is a priority of the first order that cannot be pushed for tomorrow. The first critical step is to build a broad-based political support group with a brilliant, seasoned, and adoptive nucleus. Such a group needs to have a board charged to form a broad-based Amhara coalition. The board can forge a minimum unifying agenda including strategy, adoptive roadmap, and a viable endgame.
The question of who should lead it can be avoided by rotating the chair of the board. The coalition need not agree on every issue. What is supremely necessary is to agree on critical issues to bring as large a political majority as possible under one Fano board. What is also an absolute must is having a living manifesto that can be updated on an ongoing basis to make it adoptive to emerging issues. The challenge is enormous, but it is a challenge that cannot be pushed for tomorrow.
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 the hegemonic nightmare of Oromummaa (Greater Oromia). Having a transparent, reasonably flexible, and solution-oriented strategy will take Fanno a long way to win the confidence and support of not only the Amhara majority, but also outside of its home region and across the international lines.
Engineer Yilkal’s blatant misrepresentation of the state of Fano and Shaleka Dawit’s futile hijacking attempt is undermining the Fano Movement. The Beneficiary is Abiy Ahmed whose stay in office is extended. The sooner such characters are repulsed, the sooner Fano will achieve its full potential. This requires reining in the highly charged and combustible emotional state that feeds upon extremism and, in turn, serves it as a steroid.
In conclusion, I want to share an example of emotional damage. I was interviewed by Abebe Gelaw on EVN regarding my land swap proposal to trade Wolkait for Assab. I am not the first person to propose land swap. Professor Yacob Hailemariam and Yared Tibebu have done it independently, years ago. Other nations have successfully used it. But the EVN anchor could not rise himself above an emotional zero calorie ሙሾ.
The discussion was akin to a toddler who is throwing temper tantrum against his sibling for eating his cookie. The toddler, as toddlers do, continues to sob after he is given two more cookies, lamenting: “Why did she eat my cookie.” Ethiopian politics has become a temper tantrum platform for adults. The intellectual class is traumatized and emotionally screwed. Politics has infantilized it.