How ancient Zera Yacob’s philosophy remains useful in modern Ethiopia

Zera Yacob

In 1667, an Ethiopian philosopher by the name of Zera Yacob, wrote a Treatise in which he recorded both his life and his thoughts. Exiled from his hometown, he lived his time of solitude in a cave in the Takkaze Valley contemplating fundamental questions regarding human nature, truth, ethics and equality.

In the notion of morality, he argues that an action’s morality is decided by whether it advances or degrades overall harmony in the world. Currently living in a world of consumerism his ideology towards creating harmony and the chain reaction effect of an individual decision towards greater harmony, should be emphasized especially in the time of mass media taking control of the existing information. He challenges us to question, doubt the information one consumes and investigate through empirical data and intellectual analysis.

In the time of war, the flow of information is massively manipulated, the glistered reality is tinted by one’s propaganda, we should take the context  and examine the pretext of an existing condition, he suggests.

In his famous autobiography and collected thought text called ‘Hateta’ he asks the question “I thought further and said: ‘Why do men lie over problems of such importance, even to the point of destroying themselves’? 

In another manifestation he navigates the notion of equality, he tells us all men are equal, one should not assign one person for life, another for death, one for mercy, another for judgment. Our reason teaches us that this sort of discrimination cannot exist.” This becomes more vital in  the time of conflict. In the current condition of war in Ethiopia, the vast theme of the conflict is escalating towards identity, which stipulates the intolerance of a different identity and socks deep to the root of human nature, an area Zere yacob contemplated.

He argues, Human beings are exceptional beings in that—should they exercise their will power to its fullest capacity—they can decipher truth from falsehood and unfailingly choose truth over falsehood. However, the nature of humans, when they resort to themselves only, is not sufficiently adequate to be enabling. Under their own direction, they cannot know the difference between truth and falsehood which inclines to reason and rationality. 

Finally, Zera Yacob makes great moral strides in the solution of a major problem in moral philosophy, what is to be done to avert cruel civil wars? His answers are challenging. First, for him, there is only one incontestable doctrine, as far as the believers are concerned. A doctrine thats motivated by truthone is invariably led to experience the disclosure of truth, through which, one can develop appropriate sense of duties, of obligations to oneself and all those others with whom we share the world.