The Qemant are an ethnic group that resides in portions of the Amhara Region, namely the Quara, Chilga, Lay Armachiho, Denbia, Metema, and Gondar Zuria Woredas. A number of Qemant ethno-national movements exist, and their agitation for greater autonomy within the Amhara Region often leads to violent conflict. Clashes have recently re-ignited amid rising ethno-nationalism and the upcoming national election.
Amhara Regional authorities accuse the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) of backing violent Qemant ethno-nationalist movements by providing ‘weapons and money’ (BBC, 19 May 2021). In turn, Qemant groups accuse Amhara ethno-nationalist youth movements, such as the Fanno, of perpetrating the violence that targets Qemant families during periods of instability.
Historically popular political movements in the area include the Qemant Self-Determination and Identity Committee and the Qemant Democratic Party, both of which advocate for greater autonomy for ethnic Qemant within the Amhara Regional State. As ethnicity is the basis for territorial governance and political organization under Ethiopia’s ethno-federalist system, these political movements argue that areas inhabited by ethnic Qemant should hold the status of a special Zone within the Amhara Region. In 2018, seven of eight Kebeles included in a referendum to determine the administrative jurisdiction of the Qemant people voted to remain under the jurisdiction of the Amhara Regional State, dashing hopes of achieving any special Zone status at that time (Addis Standard, 7 February 2019). The Qemant Democratic Party may attempt to run candidates in the 2021 national election.
Violence has drastically increased since the removal of the TPLF from power and the rise of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in 2018. Amnesty International estimates that 130 people were killed in intercommunal violence from January to October of 2019, which also displaced thousands (Amnesty International, 2020). Clashes resumed again in April of 2021, with fighting erupting after a town hall meeting in Aykel town turned violent. Federal troops have since established a military command post in the area (Addis Standard, 22 April 2021). Security incidents in areas surrounding Gondar city are common (DW Amharic, 28 May 2021).
Tensions are high and the frequency of violent confrontations in Qemant areas is expected to rise. This trend will continue unless the Region drastically increases its security presence or a political solution is found.