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The Fano Unity Council’s Press Release Leaves Much to be Desired

Yonas Biru, PhD

This article is triggered by two press releases issued by the Fano Unity Council (“የአማራ ፋኖ አንድነት ምክር ቤት.” The two press releases are titled: “ክፍል 1 ስለ ፋኖ ሁሉም ሊያውቀው የሚገባ እውነታ” (The Truth that People Need to Know About Fano, Part 1), and “የፋኖ አንድነት ምክር ቤት መግለጫ ክፍል 2” (Fano Unity Council Press Release, Part 2).

Part 2 of the press release notes that the Fanno Unity Council was established a year ago by Fano representative from the four corners of the Amhara tribal land – Gonder, Gojam, Wello and Shewa. The press release notes that out of concern for the safety of the participants and for the wellbeing of the movement, the formation of the Council was not widely publicized, but there are footprints in the cyberspace.

Directly or indirectly, the two press releases shed light on lingering questions, regarding (1) the absence of a unified and inclusive Fano political architecture; (2) the role of the diaspora; and (3) the lack of a robust political strategy and a viable endgame along with a flexible roadmap.

As one who has raised these issues in the past, I feel the need to reflect on the Council’s narrative.

On the Issue of a Unified and All-Inclusive Fano Political Architecture

The fact that there are different Fano groups is undeniable. Apart from the Fano Unity Council, there are at least three Fano groups:  The Amhara People’s Power (የአማራ ህዝባዊ ሀይል) that was established by Zemene Kassie some two years ago, the Amhara Popular Front (የአማራ ህዝባዊ ግንባር) led by Eskinder Nega, and the Gojam Fano Command led by Zenabu Lngerew.

The last two are more recent developments. I understand Eskinder’s and Zemene’s groups do not have fire power on the ground. They do not fight on the ground in any meaningful way, but they want to cash their political popularity to buy influence in the Fano war theater.

In the meantime, it cannot be denied some powerful Fano’s from Wello have joined the Amhara Popular Front. The Gojam Fano Command has significant fire power. There are also powerful Fano forces that are functioning independently. There is an urgent need to bring these forces together in one form or another. The Fano Unity Council may be the largest force on the ground. That makes is all the more important for it to play a unifying role no matter how difficult it may be. The first critical step for this is developing a minimum agenda, manifesto and roadmap that they all can agree on.

For four months, I have been making the case to openly discuss the conflict between Fano forces before it gets out of hand. For four months I have been writing the Fano narrative was hijacked by Shaleka Dawit, when Fanos with fire power were focused on the war front. This was a colossal mistake on the Fano Unity Council and other Fano forces.

In the Fano Manifesto proposal I prepared, I flagged if such conflicts are not addressed with a sense of urgency the risk of regional warlordism will increase. Today’s political squabble between Fano commands can become tomorrow’s fight between warlords. In this regard, the Fano Unity Council’s action is a welcomed development, though its approach, tone and tenor leave much to be desired.

The conflict between the Amhara Popular Front and the Fano Unity Council is well known. In fact, for those who are following the Fano movement closely, the Council’s press releases seem to be partly triggered by a failed attempt by a diaspora group to resolve the conflict between the diaspora representatives of the two Fano groups. The Fano Unity Council’s narrative that failed to openly address widely known conflicts within the Fano enterprise does not help the movement. It creates an environment for anti-Fano forces to create a narrative of their choice.

On the Role of the Diaspora

If properly managed and organized, the diaspora can be a critical part of the Fano movement on many levels: providing financial support, supporting the Fano movement to develop a nuanced political strategy, chart a flexible roadmap, and build a robust international public relations echo system.

The problem with Fano is that they see the diaspora it as an ATM machine to finance the war without having a say in the political process. It warrants emphasis that the diaspora cannot lead the Fano movement, but it is an indispensable part of it. In 2020, TPLF supporters were able to mobilize $10 million to help buy weapons and communication equipment. The Ethiopian diaspora can do 10 times that, given its size. The problem is that Fano needs to be unified and have a clear agenda, a winning strategy, and a viable roadmap to inspires confidence and wins undivided support.

In my view the problem with the Amhara Popular Front was that rather than trying to join an already existing Fano establishment and unify the Fano, Eskinder established the Amhara Popular Front under pressure from Shaleka Dawit and Ethio-360. Their strategy was to leverage the diaspora financial power to hijack the Fano movement. The failure to address this head on was a failure of not only the diaspora but also of the Fano, as an enterprise.

Unfortunately, the Council’s rehetoric-laden and at times bravado-filled narrative comes across as writing off the diaspora. The following three paragraphs of the Council’s press releases signify the excesses of its rhetorical excess.

ፋኖ ከተማሪ እስከ ፕሮፌሰር፣ ከአራሽ ገበሬ እስከ ሀኪም፣ ከተራ ጀሌ እስከ የወታደራዊ ጠበብትና ኮሎኔሎች፣ ከዘመናዊ ትምህርት ምሁራን እስከ ጥልቅ የሃይማኖታዊ እውቀት ያላቸው ሰዎች ስብስብ ነው። ከዚህ ውስጥ መሪ አይወጣም ማለት ለህዝብም ለታጋዮቹም ንቀት ያስመስላል። የፋኖ ፖለቲካዊ አስተሳሰብ በሚዲያ የሚነበብ ሳይሆን አመራሮቹ ሰውን ያከበሩ፥ ለኅሊናቸው የታመኑ፥ ፈሪሐ እግዚአብሔር ያላቸው፥ የአገራቸውን ረዥም ታሪክ በደማቸው ለማስቀጠል የቆረጡ፥ ከአገር በቀል እስከ ዘመናዊ አስተሳሰቦች መርምረው የተረዱ እንዲሆኑ ይፈልጋል። ከዛላ አንበሳ እስከ ቶጎ ጫሌ፥ ከአክሱም እሰከ ሞያሌ፥  ከቤኒሻንጉል እሰከ ደዋሌ በተዘረጋው ብዝኃነት ያለው የአገራችን እውቀቶች፥ እሴቶችና ልዩ ልዩ ፍላጎቶች ታሳቢነት የተቀመረ ፍልስፍና ያለው ስብስብ ነው።

እንዲታወቅልን የምንፈልገው፣ ፋኖ የኢትዮጵያን ሕዝብ ሁሉ እንደተለመደው በጥቂት ምሁራን አእምሮ ስፋት ልክ በተሰፋ ጠባብ ማኒፌስቶ ውስጥ ማስገባት የሚያሻው ኮሚኒስታዊ ወይንም የሌላ ውጭ-ገብ ፖለቲካዊ ቀመር ባርያና አምላኪ አይደለም። የአማራ ፋኖ “ሰው ሰው” የሚሸት ተፈጥሮን በትርክትና በጠባብ ልሂቃን ትርጓሜ  የማይቀይር የሙሉ ሰብእና መገለጫነቱን በተግባር እየገለጸ የሚገኝ ስለሆነ አማራን በመጥላት የኖሩ ፖለቲከኞች ሳይቀሩ ስለ ፋኖ ክፉ መናገር አልተቻላቸውም።

The narrative reads more like a cut and paste from Ethiopia’s political past during the EPRP and Meison era. Too much rehetoric and too little substance. I do not understand what is meant by “ሰው ሰው የሚሸት” phrase. Was it a ሰምና ወርቅ jab at Shaleka Dawit’s “አማራ አማራ የሚሸት” crap? I do not know. Either way it is a zero-calorie phrase.

Just as the contribution of the diaspora should not assume the Fano movement lacks intellectuals within its ranks, any assumption that the diaspora cannot play a role to fill Fano’s intellectual gap undermines the Fano movement.

This does not mean the diaspora is not without problem. Apparently, the Fano Unity Council’s excessively defensive press releases seem to have been triggered by a recent statement by a group of eight diaspora Amhara activists and intellectuals.

The Amhara diaspora group released a six-page Amharic draft titled “የዐማራው ኅብረት: የኅልውና ትግሉ ድል መሰረት ነው.” Loosely translated it means “Amhara’s Unity is Key for its Survival struggle.” The document discussed the so-called Concerned Amharas’ failed attempt to unite the diaspora Amhara Fanno support groups.

As I have noted in a recent article, conspicuously, the Diaspora Amhara group’s document notes the Concerned Amharas group constitutes seven members but fails to identify them. The document is signed by eight individuals who took part in drafting it. They include in the order they appeared in the signature line: Professor Demissie Alemayehu, Ato Birhanemeskel Reda, Professor Alemante Gebreselassie, Major Ayalsew dessie, Habtamu Ayalew, Dr. Gebeyehu Ejigu, and Artist Shimelis Abera (ጆሮ).

Some members of Professor Demissie’s Team are under the spell of ታላቁ እስክንድር (Eskinder the Great) and hence biased toward his Amhara Popular Front (APF). The ታላቁ እስክንድር’s spell is sprinkled in the document with such accoladic references as “በታዋቂው ታጋይ እስክንድር ነጋ አመራር” and “APF ብዙዎች በሚያከብሩት እና በሚያምኑበት አቶ እስክንድር ነጋ አመራር መመስረቱ: በተለይም በዳያስፖራው በኩል ተስፋ አሳድሯል.”

The document casts other Amhara forces in a negative light with such disdainful jabs as “በሌላ በኩል ደግሞ፣ ቀደም ሲል ተቋቁመው የዐማራውን ትግል ሲመሩ የነበሩ እና አሁን ለደረሰበት ደረጃ በጎ አስተዋፅዖ ያበረከቱ ድርጅቶች እና መሪዎች፣ የትግሉን የዕድገት ደረጃ እና ፈታኝ ሁኔታ ከግምት ባለማስገባት፣ እንደቀድሞው እነርሱ ብቻ ሊመሩት የሚገባ እንደሆነ በማሰብ፣ ሌሎች አዳዲስ አደረጃጀቶችንም ሆነ አስተሳሰቦችን ለማስተናገድ ወይም በውስጣቸው አስፈላጊውን የአሠራር ለውጥ ለማካሄድ ያላቸው የአቅም እና የፍላጎት ውሱንነት ጎልቶ ይታያል።”

The targets of Professor Demissie’s group seem to be the diaspora representatives of the Fanno Unity Council. Apparently, the excessively defensive press releases that the Fanno Unity Council released seem a reply to Professor Demissie group’s statement.

On the Lack of Fanno Manifesto and Roadmap

 

The Fano Unity Council’s narrative subtitled “ፋኖ አንድነት ምክር ቤት ውጭ ግንኙነት ስህተት” does NOT appear genuine to put it generously. It is well known that different Fanos have appointed different diaspora spokespersons. Differences and conflicts reflected in the diaspora support groups depict differences and conflicts between different Fano factions in the country. So, presenting the diaspora as the source of the problem is dishonest, to say the least.

The Council’s statement reads in part:

በእርግጥ እንደ ፋኖ አንድነት ምክር ቤት፣ በውጪ ሀገር ያሉ ወገኖች ድጋፍ በማሰባሰብና መንግሥታትን የማግባባቱን ስራ በተሻለ ይሰሩታል በማለት ለጽሁፍ ትኩረት አልሰጠንም። የኛው ናቸው የምንላቸው የጎደለውን አሟልተው የተጣመመውን አቃንተው መልዕክታችንን ያደርሱልናል በማለት ችላ ብለነው ነበር። ይሁንና ይረዱናል ብለን የጠበቅናቸው ወገኖቻችን ፋኖ “አንድ አይደለም፣ አይግባባም፣ ዓላማና ግብ የለውም፣ ማኒፌስቶም አልጻፈም” ወደሚል ትርክት ሄዱ። ይህ ደግሞ “እኛ እናደራጀዋለን፤ እኛው እንምራችሁ” ወደሚል እያደገ ሲመጣ የፋኖ አንድነት ምክር ቤት የራሱን ትርክት እራሱ መጻፍ እንዳለበት ተረዳ።

To start with the fact is that Fano does not have a unified manifesto and roadmap cannot be denied. How can it have a unified manifesto and roadmap when it cannot create a unified political architecture and a common agenda.

I am one of the people who has aggressively pushed this narrative since July. I have made it clear that I have no interest in joining any Fano group in any capacity. The problem in Ethiopian politics is that there are no independent analysts. Those who start as an independent analyst end up joining one group or another. This creates a conflict of interest. That is why I have kindly declined invitations to join different groups.

The Fano Council is right to state, some in the diaspora extremist forces are bent on “እኛ እናደራጀዋለን፤ እኛው እንምራችሁ.” But there are many who are interested in supporting the Fano and filling any gap they are asked to fill. Setting up such a platform is a critical element in Fano’s success to develop a manifesto along with a robust roadmap.

My information from very close people in the Council’s leadership is that there are four more documents the Council will release in the coming days and weeks. The noted forthcoming releases will make it clear that it does not have a manifesto and does not plan to develop one at this juncture. This position may have emanated not from a basic aversion to having a manifesto but from concern that a manifesto and a roadmap may create differences between Fanos and weaken the movement.

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 openminded and adopt 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. Many Fano intellectuals are concerned that developing a manifesto and roadmap will bring such differences to the fore and undermine the Fano movement.

What such intellectuals fail to understand is that manifestos are developed by intellectuals. They serve as taste balloons and open a platform to establish a consensus. Once a consensus is established, the Fano can adopt it. This does not happen by chance. It requires a deliberate action. Since forming such a platform and open discussion is difficult at home, this is where the diaspora can fill a critical gap.

Different Fano groups may have their own documents wheatear they call it manifesto or not. But no group has produced a coherent document that remotely resembles a manifesto. There are people who ridicule any suggestion to have a clear agenda, strategy, end goal and a concomitant roadmap.

There are also people who claim Fano has a well-developed manifesto. For example, Engineer Yilkal was claiming there is a two-years old Fano manifesto that was held confidentially. 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.

The good Engineer’s “all is going well” in the Fano Manifesto and Roadmap ዲስኩር is grounded on what he calls a Fano Manifesto that he claimed was prepared two years ago. He presented himself as (“የቅርብ አዋቂ”) of the existence of such a manifesto.

Ultimately, he shared the document that he has been touting as a Fano Manifesto. It is a five-pages and six lines long document. 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 that the political engineer markets as a manifesto.

Calling it a Fano manifesto reflects a cross between spectacular ignorance and pitiful arrogance. Leaving that aside, the truth is that there are several documents prepared by different Amhara forces at different times. I have seen three such documents including the one the good Engineer touts as a Fano Manifesto. They have notable differences in form and substance and none of them rise to the demands of a robust manifesto.

I have also read several proposed manifestos prepared by independent individuals. In this regard, I have contributed with an 18-page document. There are enough documents developed at home and abroad that can serve as a background material. What is left is establishing an independent committee to synthesize existing documents and prepare a draft for public discussion and ratification before it is submitted for Fano’s consideration. Nothing stops Fano leaders to provide comments and inputs during the discussion and ratification process. This allows the Fano establishment from criticisms until consensus is built.

Such a document will help bring different Fano’s to a common platform and unify the diaspora. Only then can the diaspora become eager to provide funding and fill intellectual gaps where they exist.

In Conclusion

The narrative “ፋኖ አንድ አይደለም፣ አይግባባም፣ ዓላማና ግቡ በፍኖተ ካርታ አልተሰነቀም፣ ማኒፌስቶም አልጻፈም” is valid. To pedal a contrary narrative is to willfully mislead the Fano fighters who are giving their lives and limbs to the movement. Undermining the urgent need for a unified manifesto and roadmap undermines the Fano movement. If we do not close the gap between different Fano forces, the government will happily widen it for us.

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