Agaw-Kemants on Critical Path to Freedom

Agaw-Kemants are indiginious people inhabit in Ethiopia, North Gondar, districts of:
Quara, Chilga, Lay Armachiho, Metema, Alefa, Vicinity of Gondar Town, parts of Gondar City, Wogra and Dembya. They numbered around 1-million. They have been struggling for recognition and self-rule for the past five years. If succeed, they will be the first indigenous people to regain political recognition through non-violent resistance in the history of Ethiopia. On the background of the case, the reader can refer to the literature, entitled Agaw-Kemant of Gondar Ethiopia Quests for Recognition, October 2, 2010, published by Worku Berihu on www.tigraionline.com.
The present article is to inform respective audience on the current development and related ups and downs the Kemant community is facing, to entitle for constitutional rights.                     

Allegedly Wrong Questions and Lack of Transparency on Activities of “Committee for Kemant Case Study”

As stated in the previous report, Agaw-Kemant’s non-violent movement for freedom cannot be resolved by force or intimidation in any form. Alternatively, durable political solution is achievable on basis of respect and mutual understanding. Amhara Regional Government, which is under public pressure appears in realization of this fact more or less. In the early December 2010, the entity called Committee for Kemant Case Study was formed. The committee was led by a person named Yaregal, from Gondar. The regional government’s move appeared to be positively noticed by the Kemant Interim Council at the initial step.  The purpose of the study thought to determine the size of the population and desire for self-rule.

On December 7, the committee leader with other two officials visited Kemant community’s worship place, opened synagogue, out skirt of Aykale town, 40 km west of Gondar City. They were amazed when they saw prayer and Old Testament religious activities, called Abraham Worship service conducted in Kemant language. At the end of religious proceeding, more than five speakers appealed to the officials the government to be justice for their request to exercise the constitutional rights, like other nationalities. One of the officials, who watched the service and listened their emotional speeches, was critical to Kemant educators who didn’t work hard to entitle the community for constitutional rights and preserve such authentic values and culture. The whole proceeding was reportedly recorded on video-camera and available in the regional government office.  

In the following week the committee fielded in Chilga, one of nine-Kemant woredas (counties). It had been there for the fifteen-days to communicate with more than four kebeles (the lowest administrative communities) out of 46 kebeles in that county. Then, it moved to Lay Armachiho, another adjacent county on January 23. It is not clear whether the committee will survey all nine Kemant districts. Already, the Kemant people representatives from Districts of Quara and Metema have been disappointed with the committee for heading Armachiho before visiting their districts. Also, eleven Kemant homeland kebeles from Wegera district are anxious to meet the study committee, like other woredas.

According to observers, however, the committee’s credibility presumably didn’t last long. Controversy was raised particularly over committee’s neutrality and transparency in the process. The whole thing is kept in secret. The content of the study materials are confidentially held. The Kemant Council was not consulted on proposed study. Nothing is known about duty and responsibility of the committee. Little is known the committee’s selection criteria and appointment. The main stakeholders and the owner of the case, the Kemant people or Kemant Interim Council have been excluded from the process. Critics argue the committee to be fair and justice it must include in equal number from Kemant Interim Council and two neutral observers from Federation Council.

The study process has been also criticized by the residents whom questioned by the committee. According to an authentic source the author has got, the complaints discussed below had been solicited to Kemant Interim Council by residents from the study area. These complaints are summarized as follows:

1. Omitting key factor in a questionnaire, example, one of the item to be completed by the participants reads like this, “what is your nationality”?     (a) Amhara     (b) Tigrian     (c) Other. The complaint in this particular item appears to be realistic. The obtained hardcopy was consistent with residents’ claims. A regional official who spoke on condition of anonymity
admitted fault on this particular item and said the regional government is under consideration to correct the problem. Obviously,
this item is essential to determine ethnic identity, but the subject under study (Kemant) has not been included in the choices and consequently the validity of study is irrelevant in the context of the proposed subject matter.

2. Asking wrong questions: for example, the residents were reportedly asked the following question: “Do you want reconvert to from Christianity to Judaism”? This question is not only inappropriate from a professional point of view; it is also presumably incursion of privacy and religious freedom laid down in the constitution of Ethiopia. They supposed to be asked only what was their religion not private matter whether they want to switch religious denomination or not. It should be noted that Agaw-Kemant identity is not necessarily aligned to a particular religion; they are Kemants whether they are Christians, or Judaism followers or Moslems. Internal diversity is common for many ethnic groups in Ethiopia.

3. The people who selected to answer the questions were hand picked not random, in some cases non-Kemants who live with the Kemant community were presumably asked.

The residents who witnessed these and other alleged prejudices from the committee members reported to Kemant Interim Council, which is leading the freedom movement. According to reliable source, the Council under public pressure to act had decided to reject the present process and proposed an alternative structure to get an objective output, which can direct to a durable solution. The non-binding resolution was reportedly made on January 15, 2011 at the emergency meeting. The five-point proposal calls for:

a)      Formation of a new assessment committee.

b)      Nomination of a half of committee members from Kemant Interim Council members or its delegates.

c)      Nomination of a half of committee members from the regional government body

d)      Inclusion of two independent observers from Federation Council, or federal government body

e)      Start of the process from the scratch and execution in transparent and fair manner.

On the other hand, the same official stated above disclosed report on youth protest. The leader of the field committee reportedly informed the regional government on the youth unrest on January 16. A group of young people presumably shouted at the committee members and subsequently the committee wanted to quite the duty. One resident from Aykale also confirmed protest by the youths. The youngsters presumably shouted, “stop prejudice, stop harassment, stop destroying our identity”. The official didn’t comment on the regional government’s reply on the reported protest.  

Realistic View and Correction Needed to Restore Confidence in Process

There is a scenario that likely held by the regional government officials. The scenario articulates a theory to explain the Kemant community leadership as a “power motivated entity”. On the basis of the same analogy, it generalizes that if they get some districts for self-rule out of contested nine districts, they may satisfy and stop the campaign. In reality, the notion appears to be no more than misconception and myth, which may lead to a bad decision-to-worst solution. In contrast, the group’s document in Amharic makes it clear that the Kemant community’s grievance is not for power, but about dignity, restoration of true natural identity and constitutional rights. Acceptance of natural identity is basic humanity, not subject to compromise. Therefore, all Kemants districts shall be for Kemants, for self-rule and linguistic and cultural rehabilitation. Any attempt to split the Kemant people is unconstitutional, unacceptable and threat to co-existence. Indeed, those non-Kemants who already have settled legally in the Kemant community homeland should enjoy social equality regardless of their role in the past and as far as they have respect for the constitutional rights and adjust in a Kemant community oriented social environment.

The regional government could avoid the current controversy and the cloud of mistrust in the process (the study). No question, some share of blame is count to the federal government for not following up the situation. The process seems constructed on notions of fallacy in systematic contradiction of constitutional rights of nationalities and universal democratic values.  Fallacy associated with an outdated political sentiment seems prevalent for not involving Kemant people and its representatives in the process, questionable neutrality as well as professional adequacy of the study committee, of course, transparency, which closely associated with accountability is not in place. In the current process, there is no mechanism to counter check, like complaints discussed above. It can be fair to generalize any possible outcome from this study lacks constitutional, democratic or professional validity.

Of course, the impending response of the regional government is the most likely no, the actual reasons for the negative response could be:

  1. To test Kemant leadership’s public support, to check how much community support they have
  2. To cover up the Study Community’s lack of ethical and professional integrity, and
  3. Discourage possible similar claims by others in the future

Yes, if the committee was formed for good intension and the government is serious on the issue for the durable solution, there is always a room for correction. So then, if that is the case, it should scrap the current committee and form a new one comprises of regional government delegates, Kemant people representatives and observers from the federal government. This is only the realistic mechanism to restore mutual confidence, which is not prevailing at the moment. Values of democracy is expressed in diverse ideas, tolerance, mutual respect and more importantly finding solutions around the table before problems slip out of our hands. No doubt, it is only proper way to consolidate unity by consent of people, lasting peace and development in the region and the country; in contrary, unrealistic or a manipulative approach cannot ensure sustainable solutions to chronic problems other than prolonging the pain, misery and eventually jeopardize future co-existence in the region. The Kemant people’s demand for freedom, equality, democracy and self-administration is not only acceptable in political aspect, of course, valuable in legal, moral and humanity aspects at national and global norms. As a result, the Kemant people have no choices, except pursuing non-violent campaign for freedom whatever the likely cost.

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One Response to Agaw-Kemants on Critical Path to Freedom

  1. Kenaw T. says:

    Coming from the indigenous Kemant society, I agree to the most part of this article. I would like to add a few things though. Kemant society, as you indicated, is a very traditionally rich and an older & indigenous groups of people had lived in the vicinity of the city of Gondar and a few Woredas around Gondar. Growing up in the Kemant family, I know the details of issues that Kemant had for many years. The real issue is that the orthodox-based leaders in the past want to destroy the name Kemant just because to secure their power in the region.

    The odd thing is that for many years the name Kemant was hidden from many Ethiopians and if you ask any individual from the central or southern Ethiopia, he/she will not know about Kemant but he/she will tell you a lot about Kunama, a few group of people live the Sudan-Ethiopian border (why?) It’s because all domination and intentional strategy of ‘Amhara’ leaders, which brings all Kemant together to get recognition now. Not later, just now.

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