By Prof. Yigzaw Kebede (e-mail message)
We speak Amharic, but we are not Amharas, but Amharas are our … friends and neighbors.
You might have heard about the Kemant request which is not yet settled. I am distributing this e-mail to clarify some confusion on issues which are circulating in the community. We are also ready to receive your genuine comments.
Here are some of the facts and false rumors:
1. What is the Keamnt’s request? The request is for recognition of identity and self rule. This is the same request that some people characterized as the demand for secession. Actually, the secession was neither our request and nor our interest, will never be our concern in the future.
2. Is our request illegal? Not at all. Our request is constitutional on basis of Article 39. Despite this is the truth, some government officials say the group who are pushing the request forward are illegal; some times they try to attach different names for us like terrorists, power mongers, pensioners etc.
3. Is request the interest of few individuals? Not at all. It is the request of all Kemants, different age groups and occupational categories- from shepherd to professor.
4. Why did we raise the request? Despite Kemant is the well known ethnic group in the past, we found that Kemants were not reported as Kemant in the 2007 Ethiopian Population and Housing Census. Before that, Kemants were reported in the separate entity in the 1984 and 1994 census. The total number of Kemants registered in the 1994 census was 172.291. The actual count this time is expected to be over 500,000 without exaggeration. Though the 2007 census report was the major reason for most of us to realize the denial of identity, before that there was also hint indicating Kemant was not considered as a separate ethnic group.
5. Is any wrong to request our rights? Not at all. We can’t say thank you to the government when it decided to declare we don’t exist.
6. Are we Amharas? No, we do speak the Amharic language but we are not Amharas, in fact I can say Amharas are our good friends and neighbors.
7. Does our request reflect hatred to other ethnic groups? Not at all. My lovely wife is not Kemant. I cannot afford to miss her even during lunch time. Our relation with other ethnic groups will be defined in the same way. We love every body! Please, don’t misunderstand us wrongly! Our quest for our rights has nothing to do with our relations with others.
8. Some people tried to convenience us that it is sufficient to be called an “Ethiopian” ignoring the struggle to regain our identify as “Kimant”. Such people further say, to be called Oromo, Tigirie, Amhara etc. is not necessary. We appreciate their opinions, but let us be called Kemants, like other Ethiopian friends do in their respective ethnic names. When the time comes we may ignore our ethnic name and just be called Ethiopian in mutual decision with other Ethiopian friends. Till that, please respect our being and call us by our name and allow us to have the same status like our friends in the other ethnic groups do.
9. Are there people who run to suppress our quest? Yes, there are some people including government officials in the region.
10. What would be the benefit to them by suppressing our quest? I don’t know.
11. Would it hurt other people if self-rule is granted? Not at all. Self-rule doesn’t mean that a person who is not Kemant can’t live in an area designated for Kemants. The Kemant people would not have the moral to discriminate other people. The claim of the Kemants is, to have a separate zone for administrative and political exercise. Initially, I was not advocating for the self-rule. But later on, when we discussed with government officials at different level in the region, I realized that some of them do not care about Kemants. They argued us very harshly that there is no Kemant. That really hurt me imagine a person who is administering Kemants denying their existence! It is beyond to bear! The direct and indirect harassments attacks against kemant people is becoming a day to day practice. That means the request for self-rule has now become very justifiable. The Kemants need to be represented at different levels up to a federal level. Like the other people, Kemants need to be represented, so that this can be a means to maintain, identify and promote their language andculture etc. We need representatives who proudly say I am Kemant and protect their rights.
12. Are the local media reporting the kemant request? No one of the reason can be the government officials might have instructed them not to do so.
13. Are the international media, who say they have a stake in Ethiopia like VOA, DEUTSCHEWELLE, report about the Kemant request? No we hear them reporting many things like a man from this ethnic group is hit by police, a woman from this ethnic group is arrested, etc. But they fail to report the request of Kemant and the suffering? It is unclear!
14. What was the decision of the regional government on the request? After years of pending, the regional government finally decided in august 2013. This was the major decision —— በዚህም መሰረት የቅማነትን ህዝብ የለም ብሎ የተከራከረ ባይኖርም የራስ አስተዳደር አካባቢን የማቋቋም ጥያቄው ግን ህግ መንግስታዊ መስፈርቶችን ባለማሟላቱ ተቀባይነት እንደሌለው ውሳኔ ተላልፏል. When it is translated into English, it means … Though there was no one who argued the identity of Kemants, the request for self-rule is not accepted for the criteria were not fulfilled.
15. What does this decision mean with regard to identify? Can we say our identity is given back? For me it simply describes the argument on identity. I can’t see any decision regarding the identity in fact they argued us a lot on our identity. This shouldn’t be denied. The concept of this decision is not clear to me.
16. Is there good reason to deny self-rule? No. They say, they have conducted research. The research was done to cover up their pre-determined decision, denying of Kemant’s rights in pre-text of research. The research was completely biased. Firstly, the Kemants were excluded from the research process. Secondly it was not studied by an independent body. We were aware of in advance, what would be the result of so called research. In practical reality, we satisfy all criteria including language. One weakness they always count against us is language. There are a minimum of 10,000 people who speak the Kemant language. Is this too small to the extent of exposing us to change our identity. Suppose there are no people who speak the language, should this enable the government to vanish us? We shouldn’t forget how much the Kemant people had suffered. I Know some people who still afraid to say, I am Kemant because of the different bad and nonsense labels given to this minority group, how can the Kemant can people develop the language in the presence of such belief among people. Fortunately there are many people who still speak the language. Do you think the language and culture of Kemant people can be revived in such circumstances? 1 don’t think rather it will deteriorate. This is not to exaggerate the past; we can easily forget the past making it history as far as we are treated each other respectfully acknowledging our dignity.
17. The media of the regional government and some other people are not favoring us. So, shall we regret for raising the request and keep quite now? Not all. All of them have their own prejudice and bias; we shall design a tool which will maximize validity. The peaceful struggle will continue until justice is served, hide and seek game will lead us no where!
18. Should this be the concern of only Kemant people? No. Others should internalize the problem and be part of the solution. The suffering of Kemants should be taken as their own problem.
19. What is the status of the request now? An appeal on the decision of Amhara Region is presented to the House of Federation. Let us hope we will not deprive justice from latter.
20. Why the world cry for Mandela? He has many qualities among them are democracy and fairness. The Kemant people had suffered in previous regimes and the suffering is now reaching its peak. One may despise these oppressed people, should not been forgotten that God is also observing injustice taking place.
Your reflections are most welcome
Prof. Yigzaw Kebede
University of Gondar