Ethiopians must focus on our shared sense of morality to resolve conflicts

6 mins read

Prof. Belay Seyoum
February 13, 2021

Ethiopians have endured decades of large-scale human rights violations in the hands of their own government. During the campaign of red terror (1977-1980), thousands of young people were gunned down and their bodies littered the streets. It is estimated that the Derge killed over 200,000 people during this period merely for opposing the government’s total control of power and lack of political participation (even though many of the parties embraced socialist ideology similar to that of the Derge).

Human rights violations continued under the TPLF-led government. Prisoners were routinely tortured, humiliated, stripped naked with a jerry can filled with water tied to their testicles and paraded in front of other prisoners in violation of the country’s constitution that prohibits such practices. Human rights organizations have documented sleep deprivation, overcrowded cells, lack of healthcare and other terrific abuses in places of detention. It is difficult to deny the physical and emotional scars this leaves on a generation of young people that were subject to these inhumane treatments. The prime minister publicly admitted that torture was taking place and abuse by security forces was a pervasive problem. In an interview with a human rights researcher, one Federal police officer stated:

“We are above the law. We beat and torture people to get information whether they did anything or not.  Either they will give us information or in the future they will be too scared to oppose us. It is a win-win”.

Read Aloud:   Africa: Dynamics of Conflict, Promises of Renaissance, Aljazeera Studies Center, Doha, Qatar

While the human rights reforms under prime minister Abiy have taken place and state security violence has abated somewhat, communal violence has drastically increased since 2018 leading to property damage, internal displacements and deaths of thousands of people. Largely incited by ethnic politicians, people clashed over border demarcations, group rights to land, water resources, use of the flag—issues that could be resolved through peaceful means through existing formal or informal institutions.

How can a country with over 3000 years of civilization descend into such savagery and barbarism? An important explanation for this is the erosion of shared morality. One manifestation of the erosion of shared morality is the dehumanization of “others” i.e., political opponents, ethnic or religious groups. The failure to recognize other people as fellow human beings is an important enabler of violence across cultures and throughout history. Perpetrators often deny human attributes to victims and describe them as animals, cockroaches or worms not entitled to sympathy. In Ethiopia, perpetrators of ethnic violence have similarly described their victims as neftegnas, settlers or used similar terms to give them permission to inflict penalties. Failure to recognize the victim’s humanity shows indifference to their suffering and enabled perpetrators to act out their violent impulses without remorse.

Read Aloud:   Is it too late to have an honest look at where we are transitioning to?

Another explanation for the prevalence of such evil is the absence of compassion. Compassion or empathy is the moral glue that holds communities together. It guides moral judgments and actions to reduce harm and suffering to others as well as to increase their freedoms and rights.

In Ethiopia, we have witnessed cases where police officers have failed to deter violence because the victims belonged to a different ethnic group, security officials in the provinces failed to show up in cases where victims were killed and property ransacked and torched simply because victims were considered “settlers”.

It is important to have a shared morality in which all citizens protect one another regardless of ethnic or religious affiliation. We have to change the moral standard in order to decrease violence and stand up for what is morally right. Perpetrators may have legitimate grievances that they feel are morally right to pursue. However, nothing justifies the use of violence to achieve these ends. Leadership plays an important role in setting the tone. It is critical to address this breakdown of shared morality through education of leaders and young people. Empathy and compassion need to be restored. Violence and cruelty find expression when constraints of civilized virtues are thrown off. One aspect of civilized virtue is self-control and empathy for others since its absence hampers interdependence and socialization that is critical for social and economic progress.

Read Aloud:   Dynamics of Conflict and Promises of Renaissance: Does freedom really matter for Ethiopians?

From the times of the ancient Greeks to today, there are versions of natural law morality that have been accepted by people without regard to cultural or religious background. These transcultural moral norms prohibit certain activities in order to promote peaceful coexistence that is a necessary condition for pursuing the common good. Shared morality is critical for maintaining and enhancing social relations. It provides a common set of standards for judging right and wrong in the conduct of social relations. This includes but not limited to not doing harm to others, being compassionate and caring, being trustworthy and reliable, pursue justice and use purely peaceful means to resolve conflicts. Morality cannot be purely individual. In order to operate as a social unit, we need a shared morality. People who do not have a shared sense of morality common in their group are no different from psychopaths that are abnormal and disordered.



  1. The current commonly acknowledged Ethiopian culture of societal hierarchy encouraged the majority of Ethiopians to reward the anti-peace violent elements (the bullies) in our society. In Ethiopia the current economy is based on the war economy of Ethiopia , at all walks of lives amongst Ethiopians the anti peace violent bullies continue to get praises and admirations from the Ethiopian society while the Ethiopian society continue to demean the peaceful or the humble ones treating them as less of an Ethiopian than the bullies.

    Bullies exist at all ages in the Ethiopian society unlike other societies around the world where it is only common to see bullies amongst school age children only . In Ethiopia shamefully even some parents bully their own children thinking they are toughening up their children by bullying them, which is destroying the basic fiber the family institution is based on , which inturn led to a loss of a considerable segment of members of Ethiopian generations to psychopaths way of life.

  2. It is expected of us that we have been keenly watching watch is going on in the old country. We should not also lose sight of what is going on right here where all call it home. Today the former President Trump was acquitted of all charges by the senate. It is very welcome news for those 74 million plus people who voted for him. It has also left the road open for him to do whatever he wants to his political life. He will now be like a wounded leopard. The next four years are going to be very interesting. He and his protégés have a huge mass that feels threatened and looking for a savior. Not scary but worth to closely watch. The pandemic will be over sooner or later within a year or two and it may not be a lingering issue to be politicized. If the economy goes sour in 2023 or during the months leading to 2024, there is a good chance Trump may even be re-elected. It he is not, another protégé could win the election. Phew!!! It is going to be a heck of a ride!!!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

5 × one =