On 14-15 May 2021, amid the escalating multi-front conflict between the Ethiopian government backed by the Amhara militias in Tigray, Oromia, and Benishangul-Gumuz, the Jalqa region, located 100 km from the Sudan borders, witnessed bloody clashes between the Amhara militias and the Qemant over land tenure in the region, a process that is governed by the constitution which itself contains contradictions on the state’s land tenure. Backed by the Fano armed militia experienced in forced exclusion, displacement, and land grabbing – typical of what it has implemented months ago in Tigray – the Amhara seeks the expulsion of the Qemant people and seizing their lands.
Escaping the war, the Qemant crossed into Sudan and committed several illegal acts there including cutting the road between Gondar and El Matamma. Concomitantly, serious clashes broke out in Sirba, the headquarters of the Western Military Zone entrusted with protecting GERD against potential threats.
The Qemant people in Ethiopia
The Qemant are the remnants of Ethiopian Jews. Generations ago, the largest proportion of the Ethiopian plateau population converted to Christianity under the coercion of successive regimes. The Amhara region has a population of over 40,000 from the Qemant tribe.
Israel accepts Ethiopian Jews from the Beta Israel community. Unlike Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe and Latin America, immigrants of Ethiopian Jews aren’t subject to assimilationist policy upon arrival to Israel. In 2015, the Israeli government called upon Ethiopia to send the Qemant Jews residing in Addis Ababa, Gonder, and Bahir Dar to Israel but the Ethiopian government stalled. Ethiopia’s sullen inaction came after over 12,000 Qemant peoplefinalized their immigration procedures to Israel, following several visits by Jewish officials of Ethiopian origin to Ethiopia, to make a comprehensive assessment as a prelude to displace them to Israel given the harsh conditions of the Qemant; however, Ethiopia never let them out arguing that they enjoy all citizenship rights.
Ethiopia plays the Qemant card
Most of the Jewish Qemant in Ethiopia live in temporary waiting zones in the Amhara region around the city of Gonder, as Ethiopia refuses displacing them despite Israel’s numerous demands, amid growing fears of them coming under violent attacks as internal conflict between the Ethiopian government and other ethnicities heats up.
The Ethiopian government is exceedingly complicating the immigration processes of Ethiopian Jews to Israel to prevent the Jewish lobby worldwide from using them as a leverage against Ethiopia. The first migratory wave of the Qemant to Israel in the 1980s produced a significant role of them in Israel with some of them taking ministerial portfolios.
This, however, wasn’t Ethiopia’s sole purpose. Rejecting the Qemant’s minority legitimate demands, Ethiopia seeks to avail itself of the Israeli Minister of Immigration, Pnina Tamano-Shata, and the Israeli minister of national infrastructure, both are Ethiopian Jews immigrated to Israel in early 1980s, to help it push forward its agenda in international forums, particularly in its dispute with Egypt and Sudan over GERD and its dilemma with the United States and the West. Further, Ethiopia takes advantage of remittances from Jews abroad and the Israeli support for Jews in Ethiopia, i.e. Israel’s contribution to infrastructure development and other services in many cities such as Gonder, Bahir Dar, and Addis Ababa.
Moreover, the Ethiopian government use the Qemant in its internal conflict with other ethnicities. For example, a decision was issued for establishing an autonomous Qemant, with an administration district comprising of 69 villages. However, the decision hadn’t materialized due to the Qemant’s desire to annex three additional villages to their administration.
Ethiopia’s inflection point
The Qemant crisis shows the depth of Ethiopia’s internal calamity, with the state increasingly losing the capacity to absorb its internal communities, causing conflicts to enlarge. With Abiy Ahmed taking office as a prime minister, the internal crisis exacerbated substantially. Policies of the Ethiopian government didn’t leave any ethenticity, even minorities, immune from practices of persecution and disregard either by Abiy’s government or his Amharic allies.
Capitalizing on minorities in the context of the internal conflict makes achieving internal integration challenging. Granting minorities autonomy, even nominally, drive other minorities with larger demographic groups and more political powers to demand autonomy as is evidenced now by demands of several minorities either calling for autonomy or claiming independence, which puts Ethiopia under threat and gives its neighbors (who suffer its unbalanced and irrational foreign policies that amount, in some cases, to hostility (the opportunity to weaken and carve it up
Given these tensions, Ethiopia seems to have entered a critical stage of internal conflicts, and the stability of the country has become questionable, particularly given the insecure environment that Abiy’s policies created, not only inside Ethiopia but with its neighbors as well, who are following up with concern the impacts of Abiy Ahmed’s policies on the regional stability and civil coexistence within the state and on its borders in the presence of a highly diverse ethnic composition, and amid a rising tide of disassociation sentiments in the absence of the state or harnessing it to the service of Abiy Ahmed’s and Amhara’s ambition.
Now, after it has been globally seen as the US and West strongest ally in the Horn of Africa, Ethiopia is being seen currently as destabilizing the region due to its record of war in the Tigray region and its zero-sum confrontation with the US on this file. With Ethiopia’s internal conflicts going on in several regions as a result of its irrational policies, many countries are now seeing it as a source of instability in this troubled region that has numerous hotbeds of tension.