11.03.2024 Author: Ivan Kopytsev

“Swan, Pike, and Crawfish”: Is a Union Possible Between the TPLF, OLA and Fano? Part 1

Oromo Liberation Front

Ethiopia’s current political landscape is largely defined by the results of the “Oromo Revolution” – a political process that preceded the fall of the longstanding (1991-2018) hegemony of the and was initially seen as a harbinger of a soon-to-be landmark transformation in the country’s political life. After almost six years, however, it has become clear that such rosy expectations have been shattered by the harsh reality: the coming to power of Abiy Ahmed – the first prime minister in Ethiopia’s history to represent the Oromo ethnic group – has not led to a qualitative change in the format of inter-ethnic communication. On the contrary, recent years have seen a significant intensification and hypertrophy of ethnic conflicts as a number of elites seek to realise their ambitions against the backdrop of the perceived instability of the federal centre. As a result, the country now finds itself in the paradoxical situation where none of the three most politically influential ethnic groups – Tigray, Amhara and Oromo – is in alliance with the government in Addis Ababa. Moreover, the widespread rejection of the policies of the Prosperity Party, the new ruling party, has led to open confrontations with nationalist factions of the elites, including (1) the Tigray war that ended in 2022 (Centre vs. Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF)), (2) the Oromia conflict (Centre vs. Oromo Liberation Army (OLA)), and (3) the fighting in Amhara State (Centre vs. the Fano group). Despite the different circumstances of their emergence and the different dynamics of the confrontation, all three conflicts fit into a simple logic: the federal centre seeks to eliminate the threat posed by the most active ethnic elites and their supporters. At the same time, a very natural question inevitably arises: are there conditions for the formation of a coalition of anti-government and opposition forces under attack, including the three main players – the TPLF, the OLA and Fano?

Rebels – OLA and Fano: a brief overview

Oromo Liberation Front

The OLA emerged in the 1970s in the wake of growing Oromo demands for institutional protection of cultural traditions, language and political autonomy to preserve group identity. Army officials point to its key role in the success of the Oromo revolution, along with youth and student organisations, which in turn generated widespread public protest. Although the government negotiated extensively with various opposition groups in the months following Abiy Ahmed’s rise to power in Ethiopia, including an informal agreement between the federal centre and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), an Oromo party with close ties to the OLA but not part of it, no real political compromise was reached. Fighting resumed in Oromia and has continued for more than four years, with the OLA not only controlling rural areas in many zones and woredas, but also periodically seizing major administrative centres and transport hubs.

In general, the  OLA political agenda is built around the following elements:

1) The  OLA seeks to ensure close communication with the population of Oromia, enlisting the support of “tribesmen”, in particular, in the summer of 2021, the Army organized a General Assembly at which elders, field commanders and representatives of all districts of the state elected the Supreme Command of the OLF -OLA – the main military and political party body;

2) The main requirements of the  OLA are to consolidate the status of a federal working language for the Oromo language, the release of political prisoners and the legalization of opposition parties, as well as the inclusion of the capital of Ethiopia, called among the Oromo “Finfinnee” in the state of Oromia;

3) Having substantial military resources, as well as control over a significant territory, the OLA is not trying to win the war “with one blow”, but on the contrary emphasizes its readiness for negotiations, but only with the participation of international mediators: however, all attempts to reach an agreement made in the recent past have not been successful.


Historically, the term “Fano” was used in the Amharic language to refer to freebooters who rebelled against the authority of feudal lords. It gradually took root in public discourse to refer to predominantly youth organisations and groups speaking out on behalf of ethnic Amharic people against political and cultural discrimination by the TPLF. In effect, Fano emerged as a unified organisation in response to the Tigray threat. Having actively participated in the 2020-2022 conflict on the side of Addis Ababa. The Fano militia played a critical role during the fighting in Amhara State, growing in strength and increasing not only its numbers but also its military capabilities. However, as the TPLF surrender approached, Abiy Ahmed’s government began to weaken the Amhara nationalists, who limited the search for compromise with the Tigrayan side and could already pose a threat to the Prosperity Party leaders themselves. In the autumn of 2023, after long preparations, including sporadic arrests of Fano leaders and clashes between government forces and individual brigades, Ethiopia launched a major counter-terrorism operation by the federal army and police against Amhara militias that refused to integrate into the armed forces. The fighting has been going on for about six months and has not brought the authorities any decisive success: the situation in Amhara State is increasingly resembling that in Oromia.

As a result, at this stage, the Fano leadership is forced to act with the following “constraints” in mind:

1) The radical position on a number of principled issues, including (1) The radical position on a number of principled issues, including the ownership of Western Tigray, and the organisation’s military capabilities make reconciliation with the government difficult, at least in the near future;

2) The support of the Amharic population is critical. As with any group waging a predominantly guerrilla war, the support of the Amharic population is crucial for Fano;

3) The Prosperity Party’s rapprochement with the TPLF, as well as new external challenges for Ethiopia (Somaliland), create favourable conditions for strengthening Fano’s position;

4) Putting pressure on the Amharic elites loyal to the government, especially in light of a series of reshuffles in the country’s leadership, could play a significant role in the process of weakening the pro-government camp.


Ivan KOPYTZEV – political scientist, research intern at the Centre for Middle Eastern and African Studies, Institute for International Studies, MGIMO, Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, especially for online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

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