Fano in the Political Turbulence of Ethiopia: The Revival of Fano and Pathways to Security

The term “Fano” is well known in the military struggle in Ethiopia. Around the middle of 1930, when Italy invaded Ethiopia, the term obtained its conventional meaning.

The term “Fano” is well known in the military struggle in Ethiopia. Around the middle of 1930, when Italy invaded Ethiopia, the term obtained its conventional meaning. Amhara warriors of the time referred to volunteers enlisted in the military as “Fano.” In this sense, Fano, the Amhara’s volunteer army, was involved in confronting the Italian army. Later, after five years of occupation, Italy was compelled to flee Ethiopia because it was unable to stop Fano’s guerilla warfare.

Following Ethiopia’s liberation from Italy, since 1941, Ethiopia had adopted a number of political scenarios, ranging from monarchy to dictatorship, from unitary to ethnic federalism, from Ethiopianism to anti-Amhara anti-thesis , and from war with neighboring countries to civil wars for either  the sake of power  or state making. 

During that political seesawing of Ethiopia, Amhara’s freedom fighter,Fano had not been coming to the political arena until 2015. This may had occurred for the following reasons:

  1. Secessionists have been subtly promoting ethnic division throughout Ethiopia by employing superficial Ethiopian sentiment. They have acted as freedom fighters, fighting to restore equality and equity in Ethiopia. Accordingly, since 1960, the elites of Amhara ethnic group had trusted them and had been deceived.
  2. The Amhara elites of 1960 pursued independence, self-government, autonomy, and democracy without realizing the colonial plot involving elites from Tigray and Oromo to bring down Ethiopia; in fact, Ethiopian state construction and continuity have been suffering since the end of the monarchy regime. 
  3. More Amhara elites organized in citizen politics, tying themselves to Ethiopia and rejecting the ethnic political line, which served as the unifying mechanism for other ethnic groups. This parallelized those who understood the coming political sabotage from other ethnic groups against Amhara.
  4. The political vacuum that was forged by Derg made Amhara not organize as Fano. Derg killed hundreds of thousands of Amhara’s workforce by labeling them anti-government.  This causes the generation gap and drives Amhara to not organize as Fano for ethnic protection early. 
  5. The 1991 ethnic federal plan and the 1995 FDRE constitution covertly hold together ethnic groups by narrating Amhara as their common foe. This weakened Amhara politically and economically and made it vulnerable to attack.
  6. The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democracy Front (EPRDF) leveraged religion to destabilize Amhara while not being a theocracy. Islam was long seen as an ethnic identity in Amhara National Regional State; in fact, the ruling class did not view Islam as an ethnic identity in Oromia National Regional State or as an ethnic identity in Tigray National Regional State.
  7. From 1991 until 2018, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) operated a powerful, highly centralized government structure, intelligence center, and armed forces.
  8. As Amhara elites and scholars argued, either members of the non-Amhara ethnic group or Amharas with slave morality constituted the political elites that dominated Amhara for over 27 years. This put up enormous obstacles in the way of Fano receiving consistent backing from local authorities.

For the second time, from 2015–2018, the Fano movement started and challenged the EPRDF, the TPLF’s aristocratic political group, following FDRE’s defense force patronage with Tigray elites, the political fragmentation  in EPRDF, and Ethiopian’s need of political reform.

Prolonged Amhara ethnic hatred, economic segregation, and governmental genocide on Amhara in their ancestral lands of Welkait, Raya, Metekel, and Dera derive Amhara youths to mobilize and prepare them in a hidden way for struggle by using the political flaw of EPRDF as opportunity.

In a peaceful demonstration, youths were requesting the government to stop the ethnic cleansing, genocide, and eviction against Amhara. However, the response of the government was not positive; it committed political assassination, arbitrary arrests, and extrajudicial acts against youths and facilitators of the demonstration. This makes the youth more aggravated and targeted by governmental instructions.

With this condition, in mid-August 2016, the late Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Hialemariam Desalegn (2012–2018), announced that the FDRE’s defense force’s intervention in the Amhara  National Regional State to protect the constitution and bring peace throughout regions since the regions reached the maximum of being unable to manage the crisis by itself.

However, as a result of interventions, unexpected consequences occurred. Many innocent civilians were killed or injured, and many were arrested by the army forces. Conflicts between civilians and civil-military forces increased at an alarming rate.

Following this, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn resigned through internal reform and was replaced by Abiy Ahmed. But since Abiy Ahmmed came to power, the political turmoil has been escalating more than before.  Within this condition, targeting and victimizing Amhara has not been ending.

However, Amhara has been fortunate since the November 2022 tragedy. Members of the TPLF established Mekele, the capital of the Tigray National Regional State, as their political hub after formally losing their federal political power. They then mobilized the regional forces to fight the FDRE defensive force, which had established a base in the Tigray Region.

On November 4, 2020, regional forces of Tigray National Regional State attacked an army base under the North’s command. Following this, Abiy Ahmed’s administration reacted and launched a military offensive against the regional forces of Tigray and made an official call for Eritrean forces, Amhara’s militants, Amhara’s Fano, and Amhara National Regional State to support the federal government and become participating actors as military against Tigray forces.

Thereby, Fano forces fought with Tigray forces by supporting  the administration of Abiy Ahmed by taking it alliance with Abiy Ahmed as good opportunity to revenge TPLF and restore the fertile lands of Wlkait and Raya. This enables Fano to have strength in the military and to have military skills and experience from 2020 to 2022. In 2022, things changed, and the alliance between Fano and Abiy Ahmed’s administration was breached.

The federal government of Ethiopia and the TPLF signed a cessation of hostilities agreement on November 3, 2022, in Pretoria, South Africa. The governments of Ethiopia and the TPLF brought an end to two years of fighting, and following this, the federal government has been facilitating economic and political issues for Tigray National Regional State.  Nevertheless, it has made no little effort to address the issues of the ethnic groups of Amhara concerning massacres, displacement, damage, and territorial disputes.

After the agreement was reached with TPLF, the Ethiopian Federal Government attempted to disarm dismantle Amhara’s militants, Fano, and the Amhara National Regional State Forces, but it neglected to address Amhara’s concerns or assure Amhara’s protection.

Since August 4, 2023, the federal government of Ethiopia has declared a state of emergency in Amhara National Regional State and has taken full-fledged military action in conflict with Fano, but still, it has not been possible to bring security to the region.

What are the immediate actions that need to be described in bringing security?

  1. Withdraw the military and make an accord with Fano in front of foreign negotiators.
  2. Solving Amhara’s request for political decisions

What are the basic actions that need to be taken to solve the problem at its root?

  1. Amending the 1995 FDRE’s constitution
  2. Drafting and adopting laws to prevent Amhara’s ethnic cleansing and killing.
  3. Allowing Amhara to be represented by its political elites
Agenagn Kebede
Agenagn Kebede
Agenagn Kebede has worked at Injibara University in Injibara, Ethiopia, as an assistant professor of political science. His areas of interest in research are international relations, security, violence, gender, philosophy, the military, politics, Ethiopian politics, politics of the Horn of Africa, and political issues of marginalized groups. Reach Agenagn Kebede via Agenagn.Kebede[at] or agenagnkebede[at]