The Kemant Minority In Northern Ethiopia Politics Essay

23 Mar 2015

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Since the creation of modern state in Ethiopia, in the late 19th century, ethnic minorities have been facing major difficulties to their survival. While unknown number of minorities are believed to have already disappeared, some others considered to be the verge of disappearing [1] . Ensuring minority protection is a major political goal for the current ruling government (Kiden, 2008:7). The constitution provides for the creation of political space through recognition and respect for culture, identify and languages of ethnic groups. The state, at least in principle, treats minorities as equal members of the country and respects their rights to preserve their identity as well as their socio- political aspirations. In practice, however, these rights are far from being realized.

The Kemant are ethnically, religiously and linguistically distinct people and because of their distinctiveness they have been victims of stigma, exclusion and marginalization. "They experienced prejudice and stereotype for centuries" (Zelalem, 2000:30). Their claim for recognition and self-governance has spent many years without ultimate response from both the federal and regional governments. At a time when their language, culture and religion, as a result sheer identity, are at the verge of extinction [2] , they are not given due attention. This is reflected by the fact that they are not officially recognized yet. Non recognition hinders not only rights enshrined in the constitution but also the enjoyment of internationally recognized rights [3] ; it leads to the violation of economic, social and cultural rights and to their ultimate marginalization in the society. The Kemant case proves the truth of the maxim that "justice delayed is justice denied".

It is paradoxical that the Kemant had been recognized as a distinct people until the 1994 National Census [4] . They were in existence when both the federal and the first Regional Constitutions were adopted in 1995. As the 1995 Federal Constitution did not recognized all ethnic groups that existed at the time of its adoption, nor did the 1995 Amhara Region Constitution and the 2001 Revised Constitution recognized nationalities that existed in the region at the time of their adoption. Among such ethnic groups are the Kemant. Certainly, they have been denied their de jure existence while they have ever de facto existed.

Against this backdrop, the claims of the Kemant people can be examined from at least two perspectives:(1) assessing domestic laws for the protection/recognition of minorities and how they are adequate to address the multiple problems faced by ethnic minorities; and (2) exploring how the Kemant recognition and self-rule movement is working, the strategies and tactics used, to pursue their goals and why the movement is not yet effective to accomplish their claims. Unfortunately this essay does not cover all these aspects. That would be virtually impossible task involving hundreds of pages. Rather the essay investigates one main question: Why the Kemant minority are 'unjustly denied' of official recognition to exercise their constitutional rights? Relevant legal documents, books, journals, articles and electronic materials are used and qualitatively analysed to address this specific question.

The Kemant Minority: Historical- Socio- Legal Context

The Kemant are residing in the northern Gondar of Amhara Region; they speak a dialect of Cushitic language and practice 'Pagan-Hebraic' religion. They are considered as the original inhabitants of north central Ethiopia. Living in the area of the historical 'Kemantland', they have been progressively, then massively Christianised and Amharized in the last century (Gamst, 1969:1). Their language, Kemantney is stigmatized because of their traditional religion. A mechanism adopted by them to adjust the harsh social environment was self-denial (Worku, 2010:2).

In 1994 their population was 172,327.19 [5] . Despite the fact that there might have been discrepancies between the census and the exact population, they had ever been recognized as distinct people. However, the Transitional Government (1991-1995) had not included the Kemant among ethnic groups eligible to establish regional self-government. This law and practice was a prelude to the federal constitution in 1995.

Furthermore, in 2007 population census they were not counted as a separate ethnic group. Ethnic groups as small as 298 (Qewama) and 320 (She) were recognized and counted (CSA, 2008: 86-87). Although there is lack of official census at present the population is estimated to be over 900,000. This makes them 12th in population size among Ethiopian ethnic groups (Belay, 2010: 10).

Claims for Recognition and Self-rule

Since 1991, there has been an effort by individuals belonging to the ethnic group for recognition and self-governance. The movement was primarily against marginalization by the dominant amhara ethnic group and to preserve their identity. However, the 2007 census accelerated the pace of their struggle. In May 2009, 'Provisional Committee of Kemant Identity and Self-Governance Claims Council was established. They seem to have started organizing themselves in unprecedented way to push ahead their claim based on the constitution and historical facts. [6] 

Their claim is not only a struggle for their right to express and protect their identity, but also for political autonomy of some kind to establish a Zone level administration. It is in line with the constitution which asserts that all ethnic groups have the right to speak and develop their own language, to express and promote their culture and history; they have the right to self-administration within a particular territory and the right to representation at the regional and federal levels of government (FDRE 1995 art 39).

In such legal context accordingly, the Awi, Himra, Oromo and Argoba minorities in Amhara region have already enjoyed recognition and representation since 1991. They have established their own self-government within their respective territories. The Kemant, however, do not enjoy self-government, nor are they recognized as distinct people. They are not represented in the Regional Council as well as in the house of federation. They have little or no say at the political level as they are unrepresented or under represented at all levels of government.

The above discussion shows some of the historical, social, political and legal contexts in which the claims of the Kemant ethnic minority are emerged. Their main issues are: (1) recognition of their identity; (2) claim to exercise their constitutional rights like other ethnic minorities; (3) representation in both regional and federal governments; and (4) self-administration [7] . These issues are interrelated with one another. The right of self-administration of a minority like the Kemnat emanates from its status as such. In the absence of recognition, the group can't claim a right to self-rule at any level. The same holds true representation at the regional and federal levels of government can't be achieved without de jure recognition.

The main actors involved in the process of recognition/non-recognition are the Kemant people (local level), the Council for recognition and self-governance (at the regional-local level), Scholars (local -regional level), the Amhara Regional State (regional level), and the federal government (national level). Although I acknowledge the importance of analysing and critically reflecting on these stakeholders, this essay deals with the Amhara regional state in addressing the claims of the Kemant.

The Artcle 39 (2) of the revised regional constitution provides that the 'people' of the region has a right to "enjoy an effective participation in the system of the federal government in a freer, non-discriminatory, appropriate, fair and equitable representation." At the regional level, nationalities and peoples residing in the region have a right of representation. Accordingly, the regional government is saying that it should prove whether the Kemants' quest is in conformity with the requirements enshrined in article 39(7) the regional constitution. However, the people of Kemant are claiming that under this pretext the government is working to delay the quest. In fact, in early 2010 the government established a committee for Kemant case study to determine the population size and the peoples' desire for self-rule. However, controversy was raised over the committee's neutrality and transparency in the process. The Kemant council was not consulted and nothing was clear about the duty and responsibility of the committee. At this time discussions are going on between the government and the council over the procedures to conduct a case study.

Why Kemant are denied Recognition?

Although understanding the reasons for the denial of their claim for recognition requires a further investigation, taking the over context in to consideration I can argue that it is primarily due to lack of political commitment at all levels of government which delayed their quest for recognition and self-rule. As stated in Belay (2010: 52-54), starting from the time of the Transitional Government of Ethiopia, there has been strong opposition from the government to the claim that there exist distinct people called Kemant. Particularly, those officials in the lower hierarchies have exerted their effort to intimidate those groups who have tried to assert their identity and hindered the claim from being come to the attention of the higher hierarchies of the government. In other words, the political commitment in the region is to assimilate the Kemant into the Amhara ethnicity and culture contrary to the desires of the group. In fact, it is hardly possible to undermine some other internal factors within the Kemant minority which affected their struggle.

Historically, Kemant People, like other Agaw people throughout the region were whom the first to suffer from the identity conversion campaign of the false Solomonic Dynasty until 1974(Zelalm, 2000: 37). This historical fact left these people under strong identity crisis and slows down in a coming back process to their original identity. Even today there are Kemant individuals who labelled themselves as Amhara and struggle against Kemant's quest for self-administration [8] . Though they may not strong influences up on freedom movement, but they can still create confusion to please their superior political masters.

The other problem is the approach that Kemant leaders use to regain the constitutional rights, which proved its dysfunctionality. For the last fifteen years, Kemant Committee leadership has chosen a struggle approach that takes them nowhere. They have very feeble committee that represent the people to regain the denied constitutional rights. This committee is informal that does not have institutional capacity to resist the mischievous reaction of the regional government.

Conclusion

Therefore, the Kemant has a constitutional right to assert, develop and promote its own culture, religion, language and history as means of preserving its national identity. In other words, state acts, be it regional or federal, which take away this right is unconstitutional. The fact that the majority of the Kemant speak Amharic should not be taken as a ground for denying them recognition and self-governance. Rather, it should be considered as a positive factor tying both the Amhara and the Kemant together while maintaining their distinctions.



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