By Tesfaye Demmellash
Should the Amhara people resist in all ways necessary the tyrannical rule of the party of “Oromia” led by the shifty, Janus-faced Abiy regime?
I raise this question in the wake of the savagery of the recent two-pronged invasion of the northern Showa and Wollo regions by marauding TPLF and OLF bands and the unending, unspeakably brutal, terroristic attacks directed at innocent Amharas in the Wellega region. The double-edged aggression has been aided and abetted by the Oromo regime’s action or inaction.
In this light, you would think the case for the Amhara people maintaining and developing their Fanno militia and defending themselves both as a distinct community and an integral part of the Ethiopian nation is pretty clear and straightforward. But no. Underlying contestation and confusion regarding Amhara-Ethiopia ties shadow the growing Amhara salvation movement.
The primary source of confusion is the continued dominance of the Stalinist structural model of ethnic politics over Ethiopian national affairs after the fall of the TPLF from power. Whatever their differences and quarrels, the “Oromia” regime and its predecessor in power and present “opposition,” the TPLF, have a common interest in perpetuating the current tribal political order at the expense of the Amhara people and Ethiopian unity.
The Amhara fight for survival finds itself in a contradictory, identity-based, seemingly “national” political system. The Amhara-Ethiopia nexus is fraught with disorder and controversy. At issue here are the confounding effects an entrenched status-quo of Apartheid-like tribal rule has on the integrity and agentic autonomy of the Amhara resistance. The resistance can avoid suppression or cooptation by the governing “Oromia” group. The group includes Amhara proxies and collaborators within and outside the Biltsigna party apparatus, such as it is.
A recent discussion of Meskerem Aberra, a notable advocate of the Amhara cause and a critic of particular aspects and workings of the ethnic regime, with media commentator Abebe Belew, indicates the confusion the existing tribal order engenders even among those who dissent from it.
Both dissenters agree that Itiopiawinnet cannot help Amharas effectively resist the hostile acts and genocidal attacks of the ruling “Oromia” outfit and its surrogates. Far from prioritizing and sharpening the Amhara existential struggle, Ethiopian patriotic concern would dull its edge and deny its desperately needed importance. In effect, the resistance would remain diluted and enfeebled. As Meskerem contends, Itiopiawinnet has no practical political “currency” within the tribal order anyway, so the only way the Amhara resistance can gain agency and traction is to organize itself and move on the terrain of biher or identity politics.
Yet, she also argues that biher politica is not a viable alternative for the Amhara salvation movement, noting correctly that the Abiy regime looks unfavorably upon this “choice” and characterizes it “chauvinistic” and unconcerned about the Ethiopian whole.
The structural contradictions of the ethnic regime are thus reflected in the incoherence of the critique leveled at it and in the form and direction of movement proposed for the Amhara existential battle. An important issue that arises here, where dissent that essentially takes the tribal system of rule in Ethiopia as given, is the integrity of the Amhara opposition in thought, strategy, and action.
Critics like Meskerem vigorously disagree with the policies and actions of the Abiy regime. Still, their disagreement is hardly a movement of thought toward producing systemic dissent from the ethnic-centered political status quo. Much of what passes for intellectual and journalistic critique does not closely question the flawed, at bottom Stalinist habits of thought and action that underlie the system’s political vocabulary and discourse.
This limitation may be partly because the dissent lacks integrity, entangled as it is in the web of contradictions woven by the decades-old tribal political order. Often reliant upon what it opposes for terms of debate and criticism, the dissenting Amhara intelligentsia seems to operate without its own political words and ideas. In part, the limitation of the opposition may be that disillusioned ‘post-revolutionary’ Ethiopian intellectuals may have lost whatever appetite and aptitude they had for conceptual and critical thought.
So, how should Amharas protect themselves today from predatory, often genocidal, attacks by TPLF and OLF entities within, outside, or on the margins of the Abiy ethnic regime? And, beyond fending off savage tribal aggression, in what way could the Amhara community mount a robust, transformative national resistance against the entire system of state ethnicism propped up in Ethiopia with the help of hostile foreign powers?
A critical first step is recognizing that tribal “identity” in Ethiopia evinces differing modes of political concern and can be variously perceived, valorized, managed, and “realized” by competing or cooperating interests and forces. Regional and global powers have a hand in shaping local hyper-politicized narratives of victimhood and related aspirations to ethnonationality.
So, we must resist nationally divisive identity politics in all its modes, dimensions, and guises. These range from raw, barbaric genocidal tribalism through the Stalinist concept of “national self-determination” to the alluring pro-Ethiopia rhetorical pose in which ethnic politics has gained renewed currency on Abiy’s watch.
In invoking and tactically instrumentalizing “Ethiopia” to the ends of the Oromo tribal regime, Abiy utilizes a politically calculated patriotic narrative. But the influence of the telling of the tale stemmed from the surface of glib rhetorical enticement, not the depths of the story of our felt and lived national experience.
The Necessity of Strategic Depth
In his classic, highly influential text, The Art of War, the Chinese warrior-philosopher Sun Tzu offers the following profound insight on strategy:
“When your strategy is deep and far-reaching…, what you gain by your calculations is much, so you can win before you even fight. When your strategic thinking is shallow and near-sighted…, what you gain by your calculations is little, so you lose before you do battle. Therefore, it is said that victorious warriors win first and then go to war, while defeated warriors go to war first and then seek to win.”
A strategy generally involves planning, organizing, and coordinating tasks, tactics, or movements toward intended outcomes. Properly formulated and enacted for the long-term, a deep plan would give various elements of the Amhara resistance cohesion, direction, sustainable form, and political discipline. Not avowed entirely, it produces tactics, missions, operational information, and analyses, yet its objects – concrete or abstract – and its constitutive elements are parts of Ethiopian social, political, and national life.
In invoking the concept of deep strategy in the context of the Amhara (and Ethiopian) existential struggle, we can think of it broadly as a mechanism for exercising governance over not only political, social, or armed action but also movements in and on thought. It covers the direction of a wide range of practices, including articulation of ideas, analysis of information and intelligence, media use, framing of events and issues, waging propaganda battles, and mounting cyber defenses and offensives.
Fundamental planning of struggle so conceived is about putting up resistance in breadth and fullness toward sustainable change. We generate far-reaching strategies in deep conversations and exchange of ideas among small, patriotic working groups behind the scenes. We develop it away from the limelight of social media preoccupied with immediacy and the speed and scale of public interaction and activism.
So, it is essential to distinguish what deeply reasoned, planned, organized, and led Amhara movement by itself can achieve from the leverage or impact the campaign can have on more significant societal purposefulness and engagement. A deep strategy enables the movement’s leadership to organize itself and perform directive actions sustainably. But, more than that, it helps create a vital center of moral, political, and intellectual gravity. It produces a national force field that could attract broad support from Ethiopia’s diverse, intersecting cultural communities, regions, and localities.
It is essential to recognize and maintain the two distinct yet related domains of the Amhara struggle: Explicitly organized, planned, and directed politicalmovement constitutes one sphere. The other is a broader, more diverse domain of engagement in social and national life in which organized political thought and agency come into directive play. In maintaining the distinction to achieve strategic depth, the Amhara struggle for survival and national renewal could help bring about the systemic transformation of Ethiopian politics.
A contributing factor here is that the motive force of the Amhara movement for salvation is not tribal hatred and resentment of others in the sense it has been with ethnic-centered “liberation fronts” like the TPLF and OLF. Nor is the Amhara existential struggle dependent on overbearing sectarian reason and dictatorial agenda, flattening the vital terrain of Ethiopian national experience into an oppressive, ossified system of partisan-tribal division and domination.
Instead, a deepened plan would help the Amhara resistance develop an economy of power that avoids over-politicization of societal and national affairs as usual. It would hold a one-sided, invasive, authoritarian intervention and ethnocentric social engineering in check. Unlike the TPLF and OLF regimes, the Amhara resistance is more likely to avoid indulging in power politics, squandering Ethiopian state resources and capabilities to maximize separatist or insular tribal identity and difference perversely. And this avoidance has favorable implications for Ethiopian democratic change, and it has possibilities for structural transformation of politics and government in the country.
In sum, the Amhara struggle for survival needs strategic depth because, without it, military or political successes can be undone or rendered unsustainable if they remain merely tactical or territorial. This need poses a significant challenge for leaders and planners of the struggle.
On the one hand, facing the fierce urgency of Amhara’s survival, leaders of the resistance must prioritize the existential concern and the pressing issues and tasks associated with it. They need to make the threat stand out clearly against a background of other, yet related, Ethiopian fears, focusing attention, thought, and practical effort on warding it off. Innocent Amharas who are recurrently being killed and socially dislocated in large numbers deserve nothing less.
Yet, deep planning and direction of resistance are consistent with the Amhara cultural self-identification relative to other ethnic parties and groups. Amharas have historically not needed so much tribal “identity” or cultural insularity as Tigres have, for example, to survive and flourish as a distinct people in Ethiopia.
On the contrary, a fundamental constitutive feature of the Amhara community is that its distinctness eschews exclusive, island-like ethnic identity and difference. Without losing its essential character, it has a vital growing, flowing, and fusing orientation. Instead of resenting and excluding “others,” Amarannet has opened itself up to diverse Ethiopian cultural communities even as it has influenced them.
In war and peace, the enduring strength and resilience of the Amhara people, then, was born of our fluid, adaptive, and interactive constitution as a unique people and cultural intersection and exchange with other, diverse Ethiopian communities within a broader national framework. So, we need to develop a far-reaching program of struggle for survival and renewal that matches Amhara’s distinctness in precisely this dynamic sense.
The Amhara-Ethiopia Strategic Dynamic
Against a die-hard enemy aided and abetted by a system of intersecting local, regional, and world actors and interests, the Amhara community cannot limit its struggle for survival to an ‘identity-based,’ defensive tegadlo. To flourish, not just survive, it must generate a will to power and a surplus of political energy. It needs to mount a countervailing strategic resistance based on a network of local, national, and global capabilities, resources, and movements.
In other words, the community cannot achieve lasting salvation and security by isolating or dissociating itself from Ethiopian national life. To exist at all, to secure ourselves as a distinct community, we must pro-actively grow and maintain significant relations and solidarity with other cultural groups in the country. To be secure does not mean separating, enclosing, fortifying, or creating and defending a tribal garrison state a la the TPLF. No Ethiopian cultural community is an island, least the Amhara people.
Even as a distinct people, we carry within our being and consciousness firmly held patriotic sentiments, values, and traditions of national resistance against both foreign and domestic enemies. The Ethiopian experience will be integral to the Amhara salvation movement, not apart from it. ‘Amhara’ and ‘Ethiopia’ should not be construed as a duality, signifying categorical separation or difference; they are mutually constitutive and reinforcing.
Then, the Amhara-Ethiopia dynamic is an existential condition, a principle, and a strategic need and possibility. The same applies more or less to the relative distinctions between, say, ‘Afar’ and ‘Ethiopia’ or any other cultural community in the country and the Ethiopian whole.
A common complaint about the focus on the Amhara-Ethiopia nexus is that it contradicts the immediacy of the Amhara opposition for survival; it takes the edge off the resistance, thereby weakening it. But here is the thing: recognizing the Amhara-Ethiopia dynamic and drawing out its strategic implications is not necessarily detracting from the urgency and priority of the fight to save the Amhara people. The Ethiopian experience can, and does, motivate and move us quietly from within without being professed loudly in terms of Amhara ethnicity or an explicit project and plan of the Amhara salvation movement.
The essential thing is that we value and reaffirm the experience in action. Its vitality and significance lie in being tapped and strengthened as a source of uplifting energy, motivation, and commitment for the Amhara battle for survival. Our national tradition is what Amhara warriors and patriots do, not what they say to one and all. They enact and live it in the struggle, not talk about it in philosophical and political terms.
In ensuring its survival and security and developing its political agency, the Amhara community must maintain a firm commitment to Ethiopian integrity and unity as intrinsic values and a necessity of practical strategy. How so?
First, the Amhara existential fight is not aimed merely at a particular ethnic regime but an entire order of tribal domination that sprawls all over the Ethiopian national landscape. The struggle is against the gravitational pull of a whole ethnic-centered narrative, ideology, politics, and identity management system that has saturated Ethiopian agerawi affairs for decades. No single cultural community in the country can free itself from the stranglehold of the oppressive system alone.
So, the Amhara resistance needs to develop a comprehensive plan and direction of movement through which it reshapes the political playing field that is the Ethiopian landscape. The opposition should have strategic depth. Namely, patriotic forces must conduct it to facilitate the solidarity and movements of trans-ethnic opposition groups while neutralizing the divisive activities of sectarian parties that seek to keep the national terrain tribally fragmented.
Secondly, what the Amhara fight for survival presently calls for is not a direction of engagement confined within the present Apartheid-like tribal status-quo, a mild “reform” that takes the existing order as given. It demands the transformation of Ethiopian politics, government, and socio-economic life. And maintaining Ethiopian unity and integrity is essential in struggling through challenging structural change. Nationalstability is necessary as a strategic counterpoint to the vagaries and turbulence of transition to a new political order and to check civil strife.
In sum, it is only from its unique base and point of departure in the Ethiopian national experience that the Amhara community can develop a robust resistance to save itself and prevent Ethiopia’s undoing. A deep strategy allows Amhara freedom fighters and patriots to establish and secure political agency outside and independent of the tribal political order. They could operate through a national network of faithful allies and supporters in various Ethiopian regions, localities, and cultural communities.
Conditions in the country now seem ripe for such a qualitative, revolutionary change in the Amhara (and Ethiopian) salvation movement. The struggle is nearing a critical turning point. The Amhara resistance is coming into its own in the face of increasing state repression. And the power and influence of the tribal imperium are waning, buffeted by unending violence, massive corruption, moral, intellectual, and political bankruptcy, and abject state failure.