By Teklu Abate
The government’s war for “disarmament” in the Amhara region has become much more complicated than everyone’s expectation. The war is raging the entires of Gojjam, Gondar, Wollo, and Shewa. Even though the government has deployed heavy weapons, including drones and fighter jets, it has not been able to check Fano’s progress. It appears that the war has challenged the integrity and existence of the government, let alone defeating Fano in a short period of time as the governement stipulated. It also seriously questioned the moral discretion and integrity of the defense forces. The Amhara regional government has technically been effctively dissolved. Even if it has been reportedly restructured lately, it is much like a lame duck who cannot leave the shore, Bahir Dar. Consequently, Prosperity Party (PP) in Amhara is not only highly morally broken, but its very political existence has entered a situation where it cannot be maintained. It is despised and humiliated even in the eyes of its other PP counterparts.
Overall, the PP government (mind the perfect juxtaposition of government and ruling party in Ethiopia) seems to be well aware that their existence is shaken from the core. The biggest and most pressing question at the moment is as a result linked to predicting the winner of the war. The warring parties keep saying that the victory is all theirs. In your opinion, who will win the war: Fano or the government?
The purpose of this piece is to inspire all Ethiopians to focus more on critical issues instead of being totally consumed by the daily events unfolding in the battlefields. This commentary points out the need for considering the best options avaialbly while anticipating the end of the war. It is not the purpose of this commentary to support one party and criticize the other. It examines the current events in an unbiased but not neutral way and suggests a viable way forward for Ethiopia. It also encourages everyone to share their points of view with responsibility.
To start with, let us answer this question, who can win the war? Here, victory or defeat must be seen from the points of views of the warring parties. When the government declared the war, the objective it set was to disarm the special forces in the Amhara region and establish peace. On the other hand, Fano hass claimed that it is fighting for the survival of the Amhara people. The ultimate goal is to overthrow the government and build a country that treats everyone equally. Both parties have repeatedly stated that they will surely achieve their goals. But when we look into the matter more closely, we may have a different observation or realization.
Will the government win?
In order to answer this question at some level, let’s briefly look at the opportunities and threats available for Fano and the government as follows.
- The reason why the government has started the war is not convincing to the many- there is a widespread belief that disarmamentis the pretext used to accomplish a much higher purpose
- Even after the start of the war, the brutal atrocities committed by the defense forces in the Amhara region are almost equal to the atrocities committed by the TPLF in the same region two years ago
- Although modern weapons are deployed by air and land, there is no economic, moral and psychological capacity from the government side to fight sustainably
- The crdibility and legitimacy of the government has been seriously questioned at home and abroad
- Other militants, such as Shene, will further weaken the government, militarily and or politically
- Other troubled regions such as Somalia, Gurage, Afar etc. may share Fano’s agenda
- Fano claimed to face an existential threat. For them, there is nothing left to lose, or to be excited about, so they will continue the war regardless of logistics
- The atrocities committed against the Amhara Ethiopians and similar events recorded in history allowed Fano to invoke patriotism, which is much more powerful than heavy weaponry
- Although the government does not want to accept it, Fano has been getting public support in the Amhara region as well as in other regions
- Even Ethiopians in the diaspora have become more organized and devoted to Fano cause
- Therefore, the Fano movement has become a spirit, a discourse for liberation and independence
- The moral superiority that Fano shows (it holds captives in a humane manner, does not rob, maintains peace in the areas they control) attracted the attention and admiration of many
- Fano has an organization and leadership which is non-hierarchical as a result it is hard to be traced and attacked
- Fano knows the landscapes like their palms and hence regularly surprises and confuses the defense forces
- Although it is never comparable to the armor the defense forces amass, Fano incorporates powerful armor in several ways
- The disintegration of the Amhara government and its PP party are testimonies that Fano could accomplish its mission
All of the aforementioned points are great opportunities for Fano but threats or risk factor for the government. Logically, the government cannot win the war. There is no Fano leader or group that the government can destroy or defeat, for Fano has become a public discourse and spirit for emancipation. Discourses and thoughts can only be overcome by more appealing and salient discourses and thoughts, and not by or through violence or physical force. This is the bitter reality the government needs to swallow.
On the other hand, it is difficult to dare to say that Fano will totally and convincigly win the war. As seen so far, Fano has demonstrated that it can fully control the Amhara region. It may be able to establish its own administrative structures there. But this is more of a tactical than strategic gesturing, especially when one considers the ultimate purpose for which Fano rose arms. It is absolutely impossible to ensure the existence of the Amhara people and to establish peace by holding only the Amhara region. Fano achieves its goal when the federal government is completely defeated, or when it voluntarily returns power to the people, or when a genuine arbitration is made between the warring parties.
It does not comfort to think that the government will take the second or third options when we examine the true essence of EPRDF and its offspring PP; they are born to cling to power to death. On the other hand, in order to bring the government to its knees by force, the approval and cooperation of other regions of Ethiopia are crucial. In order to cross Oromia region from wherever point and reach Arat Killo, Fano will have to fight against at least the full force of the military, Oromia special forces and militia as well as cadres and their entourage. It requires a large amount of weapons, manpower and reliable and sustainable logistics. Even within the abundances of all these, a horrible carnage, destruction and social crisis may prevail. We could end up in a civil war that could go on for years. In any case, the effective conclusion of the war depends on the cooperation and approval of Oromia and other regions of Ethiopia. There is thus much more to real victory than the capabilities of Fano.
When we take into consideration all the issues discussed above, we realize a difficult- to-accept bitter reality- there is no absolute winner in the war. What is certain is that the government will not win, for Fano’s agenda has become the agenda of every justice-seeking Ethiopian. On the other hand, Fano’s victory will probably be realized only in the Amhara region which is not enough to answer Fano’s existential question. Both the government’s defeat and Fano’s half-victory will come with great sacrifice to human life and destruction which will put the future of our country into question. Therefore, a better way out of this abyss be sought after.
Is there a better alternative?
Our country can quickly get out of the mire it has entered not through or by the burrels of guns but only through thought-based approaches, for the fundamental problem of our country originates from political ideology smeared with ethnic tribalism. There should be a genuine national dialogue and negotiations that will allow an immediate ceasefire and support radical change. However, the following points should be considered to make the process completely reliable and sustainable.
- The defense forces must leave all Amhara areas unconditionally
- The defence forces should acknowledge the atrocities they committed in the Amhara region, apologize to the people, and give compensation and justice to the victims
- A transitional administration organized only by the people should be established in the Amhara region
- The federal government should apologize for the horrible killings of innocent Amharas and other Ethiopians in Oromia and other regions in the last five years, and apologize for not being able to protect its citizens
- The main source of the trouble our country is in is the constitution that preaches racism and tribalism, so a national committee should be formed to amend it (not the like of the curent national dialoggue commission as issues linked to its integrity and credibility are already raised)
- Until a new constitution is ratified, political organization based on ethnicity must be outlawed
- Let a true federal system be established that gives freedom to all regions
- Restricting the right of the government to make decisions on any major national issue until the constitution is approved by the people
- Holding a national election after the constitution is approved by the people
There is no Fano leader or group that the the government can annihilate. Fano’s agenda is inextricably planted in the minds of the oppressed people. It is impossible to win the people. It is the only way for the government to swallow this bitter truth and fulfill its responsibility as a government. Emperor Haile Selassie faced the same situation and he did not take advantage of the opportunity and ended up dying in disgrace. Mengstu Haile Maryam also faced the same situation in the last years of his tenure and squandered the opportunity. The father of PP, EPRDF, did not travel the path of peace either. While bragging about its great armed forces and the fake double-digit economic growth, it was toppled down by popular revolt. Now, the same exact situation surfaces agan in front of PP. Only time will tell for sure if PP follows suit to its predecessors or makes that hard but worthwhile decision of abandoning governance by guns and start governing by the power and quality of ideas.
Note: This article is the direct translation of my Amharic article published on Zehabesha on October 21, 2023. Feel free to contact me at email@example.com only if you truely believe in the power of ideas!