“The government has much tears and blood on its hands” — A Brief Exclusive Interview with Eskinder Nega
Eskinder Nega is a political legend in Ethiopia. Arrested multiple times, once deemed a “prisoner of conscience” by Amnesty International, a man who’s fought for literal decades for freedom of the press and human rights. And now he’s one of the leaders of the fight against the Abiy government, a champion of Fano and the recently formed Amhara Popular Front.
Ever since Fano fought back against the Abiy regime after the signing of the Pretoria agreement, I have watched Western media mostly filter and “interpret” what Fano is rather than get answers from Fano itself; the same treatment is probably in store for the APF. A good example of this kind of thing is in a recent article put out by The New Humanitarian which doesn’t talk directly with any Fano members, but quotes an Amhara PP member, a resident of Lalibela, a resident of Kobo, someone from Save the Children, a convenient “Western researcher who did not want to be named”… geez, everyone BUT Fano. The article also sneaks in a dig at Fano leaders as “Amhara strongmen.”
So, how about we actually talk to someone who knows what’s going on? Like Eskinder Nega. This is his very first interview that he has given to any media operation or a reporter since he joined the Fano movement in the Amhara region. Eskinder is a journalist by profession, just as Fano’s other members are ordinary professionals — farmers, engineers, teachers, students — who have picked up their rifles to fight the federal government’s injustice and ethnic cleansing. He’s in an ideal position to explain who Fano is, how it fights and most importantly why it fights.
Because of some obstacles in getting through to each other, Eskinder sent responses to a couple of my questions in a short recording and in a few text messages. The following is a link to the original, unedited recording on YouTube plus a transcript below.
Jeff Pearce: Fano and APF for that matter keep getting lazily referred to online and in news reports as ethnic extremists or militants. Western news claims Fano has killed government officials and wrecked offices. What should people know?
Eskinder Nega: The best way to describe Fano is as a historical grass roots movement of resistance for either justice or defense of country.
Over what is assumed as a very long time in Ethiopia’s history, Fano has become a pan-Ethiopian cultural phenomenon. That we now see Fano as manifest only in the Amhara region attests to the unique challenge facing the Amharas — the challenge of genocide, I should point out — not to the ethnicity of Fano.
The closest English word to Fano I can think of is “partisan” in the sense of partisans in the Second World War. The typical Fano formation is a small group of 10 to 30 persons who know each other. Each group has its own leader. In due course, these small groups form larger groups. In this decentralized setting, there are many actors and decision makers that anticipate and act for excesses and errors.
But even in this decentralized setting, the events over the past 30 days, in which most of the Amhara region was captured by Fano groups, have clearly shown how responsible Fano is as a movement. There have been no reports of arbitrary killings, robberies, damage to either government or private property.
Nevertheless, I know that there are reports of human rights violations by Fano groups. All of them should be thoroughly investigated by an independent body, and if some are found credible, those responsible held accountable.
Fano is about justice and country, but extremism and human rights violations to those ends are intolerable.
Having said this, it should also be clear that the vast majority of human rights violations is state-sponsored and any investigation should encompass all sides. The government has much tears and blood on its hands.
Given the name Amhara Popular Front, how can people know you’re no different from another ethnic organization?
Eskinder: Uniquely in Africa — or anywhere else in the 21st century for that matter — ethnic parties which have embraced Joseph Stalin’s thesis on what he termed as “the rights of nations and nationalities,” dominate Ethiopia’s political landscape.
I will not dwell on the merits or demerits of Stalin’s thesis, but can categorically state that we, as APF, harbor no intention for Amharas as a people or as a region within the context of “the rights of nations and nationalities.” We tilt towards Hegel’s conception of history and the “Greater Ethiopia” thesis of Donald Levine.
We have an ethnic name and an ethnic organization as a byproduct to to the ongoing state-sponsored leveling, categorization, demonization, mass displacement, mass killing of Amharas. All these are well known hallmarks of genocide. In other words, we derive the ethnic name and identity from the victims of genocide. Our paramount quest and vision is the prevention of genocide. To these noble ends, we recognize the de-emphasis of identity politics is an essential goal. That is the goal we shall strive for.
The interview needed to be cut short as Fano has to stay on the move, but my hope is that Eskinder will be able to respond to other questions when he is available in the days to come.