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Ethiopian Elders and Sukkot: Wisdom in the Wilderness

Another in our series of blogs sees Tanenbaum Peacemaker Dr. Ephraim Isaac from Ethiopia, talk about how locally led initiatives are key to building peace on Peace Day in Africa and around the world

During the last fifty years, there have been terrible conflicts in the Horn of Africa that have cost millions of lives. In that period, about five hundred large and small conflicts worldwide have occurred in which a larger percentage were inspired by religious motives or promoted by religious leaders.

I was born during the Italo-Ethiopian conflict. When the war ended in 1941, I was about three years old. One of my playmates was killed during the liberation war. As a child I never understood what it meant to be killed by a bomb, but it left a deep hatred of war in me. Fortunately, my father, a Yemenite Jew, was a strong believer in the Hebrew Prophets who taught peace, love and respect.

A favorite of my father was the Prophet Isaiah. He said about three thousand years ago “nations will no longer wage war against each other; they shall beat their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks”.

I believe religion can be a force to reduce warfare, even if warring cannot be eliminated. Messages about peace are practically universal in religion.

In general, since ancient times, the tradition of all the peoples of my homeland, Ethiopia, have been known as a tolerant, hospitable, and generous peoples. So, my mother too, who came from an Oromo-Cushitic tradition taught me love and peace.

I grew up seeing wise Oromo elders sitting under big sycamore trees talking about peace and reconciling with enemies. The tradition of the Oromo I knew was among the most tolerant and peaceful.

In 1989, together with a distinguished group of Ethiopian professions and elders (among them Dr. Haile Selassie Belay, Dr. Tilahun Beyene, Dr. Ahmed Moen, Dr. Mulugeta Eteffa, Dr. Astair GM Amante, and others) I helped found an ad hoc peace committee that has now evolved into the well-known Horn of Africa Peace & Development Center (PDC) in Addis Ababa.

This group has remained intact with a Horn of Africa elders group for over twenty years. From time to time the group also forms Coalition of Ethiopian Elders for specific conflict resolution purposes. We as a family of peacemakers and elders have led many successful peace building efforts in modern Ethiopia, the second most populous country in Africa.

Such actions have to be locally led. That is why village elders worldwide are the key to world peace and reconciliation. Only simple and modest actions taken by wise unassuming local elders in specific contexts and regions can contribute to lasting peace. Is the world ready to show respect to such wise elders and collaborate with them?

In my humble opinion, sitting under a tree and speaking directly with conflicting parties for little or no pay, can achieve much more to bring peace in the world and promote reconciliation worldwide, than sitting at round tables in beautiful hotels and expensive conference centers.

This is the season of the Jewish holiday of Sukkot when Jews move out of their fancy quarters and comfortable beds and live for about a week in a simple hut made of simple sticks and shrubs and leaves. It behooves all of us who seek peace in the world at this time of International Peace Day to come down from time to time from our high sofas and sit on humble ground for the sake of peace and reconciliation.

I myself plan this Peace Day 21st September 2013 to have a reception at my place, to sit on humble ground with some of my friends to talk about the method of peace and reconciliation based on action.