The Challenge of African Humanism
by Deo Ssekitooleko
Deo Ssekitooleko is the Chairman of the Uganda
To all of you fellow humanists, I say see, hear, and
learn, for the onus is on us to fund, organize, and support humanist
activities over the next 50 years. It is our task to carry the
“humanistic mission” in this new millennium. It is our responsibility
to continue with the civilization “crusade” that was started by our
forbears. Without us there is obviously no continuity.
Good ideas never die on an institutional level,
though they do so on a personal level. Let us all know that with the
deaths of communism, fascism, and blind nationalism, humanism is the new
lifestyle, philosophy, and intellectual dimension to which one can feel
proud to belong. After all, did you not read the interview when the young
President of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Joseph Kabila, was
asked about his worldview? He replied, “It is not communism or
capitalism, but humanism.”
Humanism is still in its primordial stages at an
organizational level in Africa. African peasants have lost hope in this
earthly life. Their potential to think, invent, create, and change the
world around them has been lost. The struggle to feed and maintain the
physiological process is too burdensome for them to have enough energy to
ratiocinate about worldviews. The African peasant’s hope is in the
posthumous life elsewhere. Moreover, many peasants believe that ghosts,
demons, and gods will solve their earthly problems. The poorest of the
poor are undergoing a dehumanizing phase in their lives. Africa
experiences war, hunger, AIDS, Ebola, and floods—despite the fact that
there is much scientific knowledge to contain the situation. Our good
climate is, on the other hand, our problem. Whereas it is good for us
human beings, it is also good for the pathogenic microorganisms and for
the vectors such as malaria-transmitting mosquitoes.
The so-called elite leadership in Africa either did
not acquire the relevant education to change the world, or they have been
enslaved by other powerful, though negative, ideas. The most frequent
means of elite survival is to exploit the peasants through politics,
religions, taxation, armed struggles, and corruption at work.
Humanism in Africa should depend on the young people
who have not been completely indoctrinated by exploitative religions and
political ideas such as communism and capitalism. They have lived during a
period of post-cold war, post-colonial, and post-experimental ideas. Young
people dominate the Uganda Humanist Association (UHASSO), the Nigerian
Humanist Movement (NHM), and the Ethiopian Humanist Organization (EHO).
Should we then say that the flag bearers of humanism on the African
continent are young people, and that therefore, any necessary initiative
to promote humanism in Africa must target the young people?
Africa needs humanism more than any other continent.
We need this humanist movement to reach people’s potential in the
sciences, arts, politics, literature, and so forth. Indeed, for the last
100 years our potential for initiation and invention has been overshadowed
by Western religions, which in combination with African mysticism leave no
serious rational humanity on the African continent. Begging for assistance
from the developed West has become the norm for African politicians, as if
we had no lives before colonialism. Can you imagine the fertile soils, the
rivers and lakes filled with fish, the green forests, the minerals, the
wild life, the abundant fruits, and many other natural resources that
Africans have not used productively? The problem is that Africa must be
liberated from the worst enslavement of the mind. And the only liberator
is humanist enlightenment. We cannot live in medieval times when other
members of the same species are talking of postmodernism!
The Uganda Humanist Association is an initiative of
young people, many of whom are former students of Makerere University,
Uganda’s premier academic institution. The founding of this organization
was a response to the ugly history of Uganda, which has been dominated by
wars, political instability, and ethnic and religious conflicts. We wanted
an organization that looks at human beings as human beings. We despised
ethnocentrism, dogmas, human exploitation, and bad politics.
We chose the motto: “Towards a Free, Humanitarian
and Scientific World.” We started our campaigns in primary teachers
colleges, where we organized seminars against corporal punishment of
children. We encouraged the young teachers of the future to appreciate
science, and to teach it not merely as a subject, but as a set of skills
that can change one’s life and worldview. We thought that this was the
way to produce competent and rational Ugandans who could change the world.
We have also started initiatives that encourage young
Ugandans to marry across the “barriers,” be they religious, ethnic, or
racial. We are starting humanist fellowships, which can promote human
brotherhood/sisterhood. Originally, the African society was built on an
extended family, then clan and tribe. But we are saying that this is not
enough. There must be cross-cultural brotherhood/sisterhood, for we must
share ideas, cultures, and civilizations. We must pick the good and
discard the bad. If Catholics say to love your neighbor, that is good. But
when they say we should not question the Pope about celibacy and family
planning, we must resist with all our intellectual energies.
Factors Affecting the Growth of Humanism in Africa
Several factors hinder humanism on the African
continent, and I will outline some of them:
Poverty dehumanizes to the extent of almost
degenerating its victims into another imaginary species. When a potential
scientist gets pre-occupied with the struggle to meet the basic needs of
life, he becomes stagnant. According to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs
theory, this is the physiological stage at which all other species are
stunted. But human beings become so because they are above other species.
When one is trapped at this level, genuine primitive competition in the
form of aggression arises to help sustain life. Most African leaders are
products of poverty and childhood dehumanization. They resort to wars and
other forms of aggression to acquire power in order to distribute meager
resources to themselves and their relatives. They look at people of other
families, clans, and ethnic groups as their former tormentors. Because
most African rulers are products of poverty, that only managed to get
education through mere luck, hatred and oppression of other human beings
become part of their philosophy.
One hundred years ago a typical African family had
enough food, abundant livestock, traditional clothing, access to medicinal
herbs, and other basic requirements. The problem is that Africa was
swallowed into a capitalistic world economy where she had not been
prepared to fit comfortably.
Poor Educational System
The education being offered to Africans is not
education in the real sense, for education must change one’s life and
must start from one’s immediate environment. What we get is a mere
transplantation of facts into our brains. We do not study how to process
our natural resources, make paper, design engines, and think critically.
We learn about how the Jews crossed the desert and how rockets are
launched into space with no emphasis on philosophy or critical thinking.
This causes humanism to hit a rocky road in Africa.
Asian and European religions brought into Africa have
completely tamed the African mind. The belief in another life after death
has helped to cause African people to postpone innovation about life
challenges. Can you believe that various churches in Africa call
themselves Life Ministries, meaning that they are targeting life after
death? Unlike Indians, Chinese, and Japanese who insisted on their
traditional spirituality, which is part of their culture, Africans have
either become Arabs or Jews.
Whereas each religion is part of world civilization
at a particular stage, Africans have failed to filter the relevant ideas
from these religions to improve their lives. Rather, they have completely
swallowed everything. Though African traditional religions might be
regarded as primitive, on the other hand, they did not suspend life, as
have those that have been imported.
My view is that humanism in Africa should start by
secularizing religions, encouraging tolerance, promoting unity, and
advocating a scientific outlook. In Africa, those people who have come out
to challenge imported religions unfortunately have been the bad
guys—like Zaire’s Joseph Mobutu and Central African Republic’s Jean
The belief in miracles and events happening by
themselves is a hindrance to the development of rationalism, free thought,
and humanism at large. Had the education being offered been relevant, this
would not be a problem. It is alarming to find many educated people still
believing in witchcraft. In Uganda, young children are found dead with
body parts cut off by witch doctors as sacrifices to the gods and ghosts.
It is sad to note that the government has done nothing to combat this
madness. Should we say that typical African leadership believes in
witchcraft and fears disturbing the ghosts? This is a serious project for
It is my wish that humanists participate in politics
and help to change the status quo. Poor politics has led to a poor social
situation in Africa. It is surprising that the developed West continues to
donate funds to African governments, though the funds are not translated
into development. Much of this aid is shared by the ruling classes, and in
most cases, used to buy weapons to keep them in power.
The Way Forward for International Humanism
Humanists must come out with a work plan that does
not only target Europe, North America, and Asia. Humanist conferences must
be organized in Africa to address the many social evils that have kept the
continent stagnant. We propose that international humanist conferences be
organized even where humanism is not yet developed, for this is the only
way to popularize it.
Humanism must work practically to address world
issues including such calamities as wars, refugees, child soldiers, AIDS,
and other world problems. We hereby propose the formation of organs to
address this point, such as the Humanist Relief Services (HRS) or
Humanists Without Borders (HWB).
We appeal to the International Humanist and Ethical
Union (IHEU) to establish a Youth Humanist Fund (YHF) to support the
International Humanist and Ethical Youth Organization (IHEYO), which would
support youth humanist groups throughout the world.
There is an urgent need for humanist missionaries to
address various issues throughout the world. We appeal to humanists from
the developed countries to visit the Third World and address some of these
negative issues such as witchcraft, wars, bad politics, epidemics, and
UHASSO in particular requests that all willing
humanists donate old computers and textbooks on philosophy, humanism,
science, world history, and education. This will help us to start our
information technology training and projects.
Long live humanism. Long live the Enlightenment.
[For more information, contact the Uganda Humanist
Association at P.O. Box 4427, Kampala, Uganda. Or email Deo Ssekitooleko