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My Turn: An education in peace that’s worth emulating

For the Monitor
Published: 10/21/2019 7:00:10 AM

Among the daily news reports of war, civilian casualties, refugees and post-traumatic stress disorder, and praise for military warriors, there appeared in the Concord Monitor a report of an alternative to military solutions (Monitor Nation & world, Oct. 12).

The Nobel Peace Prize for 2019, in recognition of efforts to end his country’s long-running border conflict with Eritrea, went to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

The significance of this report is that Abiy’s efforts to end the conflict were not dependent upon military conquest. The agreement he orchestrated has been held up as an example of how historic change can come about in even the longest and most intractable conflicts.

Diplomatic relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea have resumed, and the two leaders and senior officials from both nations have met frequently to discuss how to reconnect the two countries.

This report of an alternative to coercive military force is an encouragement to those of us who despair over a lifetime (three generations) of seeking resolutions to conflicts through military threats and actions.

The United States has military involvement throughout the world in places such as Ukraine, Palestine/Israel, Turkey/Syria, Afghanistan, Kashmir and so many other places involving the United States and dozens of other countries.

The educational path of Abiy Ahmed gives us a guide for the development of a new mode of leadership free from a dependence on military force.

Abiy’s formal education had just begun at the place where many leaders have finished their education. As a young man with the Ethiopian National Defense he earned his first degree in computer engineering from Micro Link Information College in Addis Ababa in 2001. But he did not stop there. He later received a master’s in transformational leadership from the University of Greenwich in London. And in 2017, Abiy completed his doctorate at Addis Ababa University, Institute of Peace and Security Studies. His thesis focused on intra religious conflict resolution near his hometown, Jimma, and is titled, “Social capital and its role in traditional conflict resolution in Ethiopia: The case of intra religious conflict in Jimma Zone.”

It is apparent that his doctorate on conflict resolution has been influential in the development of his skills to make peace with Eritrea, and work toward creating harmony among leaders of the Horn of Africa.

In contrast, during this U.S. presidential election cycle, and in the presidential debates, a career in the military is held by many as a significant qualification to become commander in chief.

If a candidate has not served in the military, they are expected to express strong financial and verbal support for a nation of volunteer warriors.

One of the primary key skills of the president is perceived to be the ability to utilize military strength, including nuclear armaments, to conduct foreign policy.

However, taking Abiy Ahmed’s lead, we would be wise to seek new leaders for our own country who have a background of education in peace-based conflict resolution.

Nobel Peace Prize spokesperson Berit Reiss-Andersen said, as she announced the award on Friday, “When Prime Minister Abiy reached out his hand, President Afwerki grasped it, and helped to formalize the peace process between the two countries.”

We need the wisdom of leaders who have been educated in the skills of conflict resolution, empathy and listening. We need candidates for president and Congress who are willing and able to reach out a hand to adversaries with confidence in effective peace initiatives.

That would be a sign of real strength. That’s where the security of the United States begins. That would be refreshing daily news to lift our spirits and renew our confidence in the integrity and wisdom of our elected officials.

(The Rev. John Buttrick, United Church of Christ, lives in Concord.)

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