Fano (militia)

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Dates of operation2018–present
Active regions Ethiopia
IdeologyAmhara nationalism
Allies Eritrea
Opponents Ethiopia
Battles and wars

Fano (Amharic: ፋኖ)[1] is an ethno-nationalist Amhara militia and former protest movement. It has engaged in violent clashes throughout Ethiopia in the name of neutralizing perceived threats to the Amhara people. Fano has absorbed many units and personnel of the Amhara Regional Special Forces that did not integrate into the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF). Fano militias have been involved in armed conflicts with the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), and the ENDF. They have also clashed with the Sudanese Armed Forces (SAF) on the border of Ethiopia and Sudan.[2]

During the Tigray War, Fano supported the ENDF against rebels aligned to the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF).[1][3][4]


Historically, the term Fano referred to irregular soldiers who voluntarily participated in military campaigns. The term carries a strong nationalistic connotation, harking back to fighters who defended Ethiopia against during the Second Italo-Ethiopian War in the 1930s, often overlapping with the Arbegnoch. Afterwards, the term would gain even more cultural significance as the name of a song by popular Azmari Kassa Tessema, and the 1960s protest song "Fano tesemara" ('O Guerrilla, rise to arms').[5][6] Although activists popularized the term once again, for peasants, Fano has consistently retained its original meaning: a free peasant fighting to defend their homeland, Ethiopia.[7][8]


Origins (2018–2020)

Fano emerged from the collaboration of various different Amhara groups. The initial group was a protest movement that consisted of political activists advocating for the integration of Welkait, Kafta Humera, and Tsegede (officially located in the Tigray Region) into the Amhara Region since mid-2016. Many faced imprisonment under the TPLF-led government before being released in 2018, returning to politics and establishing connections with local militias. Another group consists of local militias, or armed civilians, often recruited from former soldiers of the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF), these militias were organized locally and carried out actions for the defense of what they considered their ethnic group's interests. The last important group are the Amhara Regional Special Forces, a paramilitary and gendarmerie force under the command of the government of the Amhara Region. Since 2018, the growth of these militias and special forces has been substantial, driven by the influence of General Asaminew Tsige. Asaminew, initially a pan-Ethiopian figure turned Amhara ethno-nationalist, had spent nearly a decade in prison before his release in 2018 under Abiy Ahmed's political reforms. Shortly after, he assumed leadership of the regional security apparatus and spearheaded the recruitment of thousands of fighters and integrated fellow Amhara ethno-nationalists into the security apparatus. Together these groups were collectively known as Fano.[6]

During the days leading to 10 January 2019, local militias and regional forces started building trenches and preparing to attack Qemant people in Metemma. From 15:00 on 10 January 2019 to 13:00 on 11 January 58 Qemant people were killed in the massacre in Metemma using guns, grenades, stones and by burning houses. Amnesty stated that a unit of the Amhara police special force wore insignia. The Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) in Metemma initially refused to intervene on the grounds that they didn't have orders to do so. The massacre ended when the ENDF intervened on the afternoon of 11 January. On 29 September 2019, Fano killed and burnt four members of a family in Azezo in revenge for the killing of an Amhara youth. A cycle of vengeance attacks continued for several days. Fano went "home to home attacking Qemant residents".[1]

One stated objective of a Fano leader on March 2020 was for Benishangul-Gumuz Region's Metekel Zone, the northern districts of Welkait and Raya in Tigray, as well as the southern district of Dera to be placed under the control of the Amhara Region.[9] On 19 March 2020, clashes including gunfire took place between youths and federal security forces in Gondar and Dabat in the Amhara Region. The youths were Fano according to Andafta Media. Prosperity Party authorities in Amhara said that the youths were not related to Fano but pursuing their own interests in the name of Fano.[10] On 23 April 2020, local state media reported that Fano leader Mesafint Tesfu had reached an agreement with government authorities after the government worried that the residence might spread to the areas of the Amhara region.[11]

Rise (2020–2022)

Fano militias and the Amhara regional forces backed the ENDF during the Tigray War, which began on 4 November 2020 when TPLF-aligned forces attacked the ENDF Northern Command headquarters in what TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda called a "preemptive operation".[12][13] Fano played a significant role in the conquest of Western Tigray in November 2020. After the TPLF was evicted, many fighters stayed to garrison the newly occupied zone. Since most former police officers from Western Tigray had defected to join the Tigray Defence Forces (TDF) or fled to Sudan, Fano militiamen and Amhara regional forces remained in the zone. They supported the ENDF at checkpoints, ensuring safety for new administrators.[6]

By mid-December, they had established a provisional "Setit-Humera zone," covering the former Welkait, Kafta Humera, and Tsegede wereda. In public gatherings, recently appointed local administrators emphasized their firm stance against any changes to this forcefully delineated boundary. They contended that the Tekezé River had historically served as the natural divide between Tigray and 'Amhara lands.' Activists expressed frustration when federal authorities, including Abiy Ahmed, consistently labeled it as "Western Tigray." Nevertheless, it became apparent that the federal government was not in a position to restrain their new Amhara allies.[6]

Amhara regional forces and militias soon carried out a coordinated campaign of ethnic cleansing against Tigrayans in Western Tigray. In several towns across Western Tigray, signs were displayed ordering Tigrayans to leave, and local administrators discussed plans to remove Tigrayans in open meetings. Tigrayans were given 24-hour ultimatums to leave or be killed. Humera, Addi Remets and Dansha were virtually depopulated, with numerous shops closed, some of them subjected to looting. Any traces of a Tigrinya-speaking administration were deliberately erased. Tigrinya-written signs, including those on private hotels and shops, were repainted. Many houses were destroyed during the fighting, however, others were deliberately set on fire after the conflict ceased. Many Tigrayan communities, facing intimidation, fled east, towards central Tigray. Officials from the provisional administration then actively encouraged people from Gondar areas to settle in, offering free houses to those with connections to the new administration.[14][6]

After Operation Alula, the TDF soon advanced into the Amhara Region, seizing various cities and towns. Fano subsequently mobilized with thousands of young men joining the militia, bolstering its ranks. Fano has attained popularity among Amhara people for their mobilization against the TPLF invasion of the Amhara Region.[15][16]

Fano fighters in Lalibela after re-capturing the town from the TDF.

On 19 May 2022, clashes broke out between federal government forces and Fano in the town of Mota when government forces attempted to disarm and arrest Fano members.[3][15] Later that day, as locals gathered in protest against the arrests, federal and regional forces fired into the crowd, killing an unspecified number of individuals.[15] On 23 May 2022, local state media reported that over 4,500 people were arrested in the Amhara Region. Amhara regional authorities aligned with the Prosperity Party said that they were not targeting Fano but individuals who had committed illegal acts in the name of Fano.[15][13][17]

Rebellion (2023–present)

On April 2023, tensions between the Ethiopian government and Fano escalated following a plan to integrate the Amhara Regional Special Forces into the national army. Federal troops clashed with Fano militias and units defecting from the Amhara regional forces. Initially, they organized protests and set up roadblocks, with some militants resorting to violent actions. On 27 April, armed dissidents assassinated Girma Yeshitila, the head of the Prosperity Party in the Amhara Region.[18]

On 1 August 2023, full scale war erupted between Fano and the ENDF in the context of War on Amhara, fighting occurred in Gondar, Debre Tabor and Debre Markos in the first day. On 2 August, Fano seized Lalibela. On state television EBC, ENDF spokesperson Colonel Getnet warned that the military would take measure if Fano continued "disturbing the country’s peace". As a response to the escalation of security issues in Amhara Region, the government declared state of emergency on 4 August, imposing ban to public gathering and make arrests without warrants as well as imposing curfew.[19][20]

See also


  1. ^ a b c "Beyond law enforcement – Human rights violations by Ethiopian security forces in Amhara and Oromia" (PDF). Amnesty International. 24 July 2020. Archived (PDF) from the original on 30 October 2020. Retrieved 2 December 2020.
  2. ^ "Ethiopia Peace Observatory - Actor Profiles". ACLEDdata.
  3. ^ a b "Journalists, general, militiamen arrested in Ethiopia's Amhara". Reuters. 20 May 2022.
  4. ^ Akinwotu, Emmanuel (2 December 2020). "'I saw people dying on the road': Tigray's traumatised war refugees". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 2 December 2020. Retrieved 2 December 2020.
  5. ^ Bahru Zewde. Documenting the Ethiopian Student Movement: An Exercise in Oral History. Addis Ababa: Forum for Social Studies, 2010. p. 13
  6. ^ a b c d e Bach, Jean-Nicolas. Routledge Handbook of the Horn of Africa. p. 247.
  7. ^ Abbink, Gerrit Jan; De Bruijn, Mirjam; Van Walraven, Klass, eds. (2003). Rethinking Resistance: Revolt and Violence in African History. African Dynamics. Vol. II (illus. ed.). Brill. pp. 101–108. ISBN 978-90-04-12624-4.
  8. ^ Rodrigues Sanches, Edalina (2022). Popular Protest, Political Opportunities, and Change in Africa. Taylor & Francis. pp. 14, 181–193. ISBN 9781000569100.
  9. ^ "Fano Will Not Lay Down Arms If Demands Are Not Met: Chairman". Ezega News. 28 March 2020. Archived from the original on 2 December 2020. Retrieved 2 December 2020.
  10. ^ "Gondar region security incident left at least three injured". Borkena. 20 March 2020. Archived from the original on 2 December 2020. Retrieved 2 December 2020.
  11. ^ "Fano leader reportedly gave in through mediation". Borkena Ethiopian News. 23 April 2020. Retrieved 26 May 2022.
  12. ^ Reda, Getachew. "The World Must Condemn Human Rights Abuses in Tigray as It Does in Ukraine". Foreign Policy. Retrieved 25 May 2022.
  13. ^ a b "Ethiopia arrests 4,000 in Amhara region crackdown, local state media report". Reuters. 23 May 2022. Retrieved 25 May 2022.
  14. ^ "Ethiopia: Crimes Against Humanity in Western Tigray Zone". Amnesty International.
  15. ^ a b c d "Ethiopia Peace Observatory Weekly: 14-20 May 2022 [EN/AM] - Ethiopia | ReliefWeb". Retrieved 26 May 2022.
  16. ^ Plaut, Martin (16 February 2023). Understanding Ethiopia's Tigray War. Hurst Publishers. ISBN 9781805260639.
  17. ^ St, Addis; ard (23 May 2022). "Analysis: Mass arrests, unknown number of casualties reported in Amhara state as law enforcement operations by gov't lead to confrontation with local armed group". Addis Standard. Retrieved 26 May 2022.
  18. ^ "Ethiopia's Ominous New War in Amhara".
  19. ^ "Flights cancelled after clashes in Ethiopia's Amhara region". The East African. 3 August 2023. Retrieved 4 August 2023.
  20. ^ "Multiple injuries as Ethiopian military, militia clash in Amhara: Sources". Retrieved 4 August 2023.