Cleanse the Mind to Clean the Country

May 25 , 2019
By Seble Hailu

Seble Hailu was the past president of the Association of Women in Business and is currently doing her doctoral studies in sociology at the Oxford (Omega) Graduate School in Dayton, Tennessee. She can be reached at

At the Association of Women in Business May 2019 annual forum, we held enlightening discussions on the political and economic challenges of Ethiopia. It included the failed economic policies or their implementation, the unresolved issues - rolled down through generations - regarding ethnic nationalism and identity, and how we, as individuals, contribute to the problems and possible solutions.

While attending the forum, I received a text message from the Prime Minister’s Office.

“Let us clean our neighborhoods from rubbish and our minds from resentment and hatred,” it read.

A few years ago, I was at the UNESCO office in Addis Abeba for an interview when a quote captured my attention.

“Since wars begin in the minds of men, it is in the minds of men that the defenses of peace must be constructed,” it stated.

All the armaments we produce, the army personnel we train, the law enforcement systems we design and the Ministry of Peace we establish may well contribute to keeping us safe and secure. However, it requires deep introspection in the human mind to remove the infection of hostility, resentment and enmity toward others. This is why we need to start working on building peace within ourselves.

The legacy of war is casualties and trauma. The economic impact of violence to the global economy was 13.6 trillion dollars in 2015, 11 times the size of global foreign direct investment, according to the Global Peace Index Report.

If the world affords to spend this much money on war, it does not take much imagination to understand the kind of good it can do if such resources were focused on addressing one of the root causes of conflict.

As a nation, we all feel wounded and traumatised by authoritarian leaders who tried to solve problems with guns. Our fear, paranoia, illogical arguments and defensive as well as offensive discourses are rooted in what we have experienced in the past. We are in survival mode and protective of our identity.

We all need healing. This requires individual responsibility to work on the self and co-create the nation we desire to have. Dealing with our past, by letting go of the wrongs done to us, is the initial process of cleansing.

Just as cleaning the physical environment is only the initial work, so is addressing how we feel about the past. The former requires planting trees, watering them and nurturing nature to sustain the cleansed ecosystem. Similarly, the removal of “resentment and hatred” needs to be complemented with an active and creative peace building process, which requires effort, determination, commitment, perseverance, attentiveness and respect for self as well as for others.

Again, to solidify this abstract concept of peace building in the mind, we need to develop a culture of listening and understanding to hold crucial conversations.

After moving on from the past, the mind needs to be filled with ideals we can all agree are constructive. If we all talk but do not listen to each other, we continue to foster hatred and resentment. We may disagree on a number of matters, but it should not be beyond our mental capacity to understand why they think the way they do and respond politely.  Shoving our opinion down other people’s throat is counterproductive.

Sociopolitical and economic issues of the past century have not been addressed through a process that involved all the representatives of the different groups in the country. As a result, they keep resurfacing either in the form of violence or aggressive provocations.

This does not bring peace of mind. We need to be respectful as we voice our concerns. By humiliating others, we do not elevate our argument or cause. It requires maturity, self-confidence and good mannerisms to learn to express our ideas without stepping on others’ toes or forcing our ideas on them.

By holding crucial conversations, we need to create new norms and cultures that help us to live in harmony. Since our problems are deeply rooted in historical events and interpretations, we cannot dismiss them as if they are trivial. Deeply wounded people need deep healing, but this requires effort to let go of the past and create new realities.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s (PhD) appeal to clean our psyche requires that we address one another with respect by listening and understanding each other.  In other words, to build peace in our mind, we need to develop character as well as proper communication skills.

Indeed, clean thoughts are not good enough to sustain peace. Our thoughts, attitudes and skills are preliminary tasks that are necessary conditions to collaborate for action in building our nation. We cannot be bystanders, for we are part of the problem and we all need to be part of the solution to heal the nation.

We need to have a positive attitude, engaging in solution-oriented actions, creating space to hold crucial conversations and addressing each other with respect by listening to others.

PUBLISHED ON May 25,2019 [ VOL 20 , NO 995]

Seble Hailu was the past president of the Association of Women in Business and is currently doing her doctoral studies in sociology at the Oxford (Omega) Graduate School in Dayton, Tennessee.

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