The Necessity of Humanism in Africa

According to Ghana’s first president, Kwame Nkrumah, “Fear created the gods, and fear preserves them, fear in bygone ages of wars, pestilence, earthquakes and nature gone berserk, fear of acts of God. Fear today of the equally blind forces of backwardness and rapacious capital.”

Sadly this saying was true of Africa of Nkrumah days and true of Africa of today. Millions of Africans are suffering and dying due to fear and ignorance. Many people across the region are languishing under the tryranny of objects and schemes created by fear – fear of the unknown and of their own mortality. And this underscores the imperative of humanism; the urgent need for an outlook based on reason and compassion that enhances humanity. Africa needs humanism to realize its potential, and here are some ways humanists can help Africans fulfill this need. Humanists can help Africans by providing a place and a space where they can think freely without the fear of god or fear of acts of god. A freethinking climate is necessary if we are to generate ideas we need to recreate and renew our society. Humanists can help African children and youths by campaigning for the improvement of education and for the inculcation of thinking skills which they need to live meaningfully in the contemporary world. The prevailing poverty and unemployment in the region are mainly due to lack of required skills.

Humanists can help the women and girls, the elderly and disabled persons in the continent by being their voice, and speaking out for them and ensuring that they are treated as human beings; that they are not targeted and abused for who they are, branded as witches and killed. Humanists can also be the voice of gay people in the region by speaking out for their dignity, humanity and equal rights. Humanists need to counteract the wave of homophobia sweeping across the region. Many Africans look up to humanist-oriented individuals to help enlighten and liberate the people from faith organisations and institutions that terrorize and tyrannize over their lives; fanatical groups that spread unreason, fears and prejudice. Many people across the world are looking up to humanists to help wake Africans up from their dogmatic and superstitious slumber. The international community is looking up to humanists to work and campaign to end witch-hunting and erase this stain on the conscience of our generation.

Humanists need to take action to combat the exploitation by fear-mongering god-men and -women, prophets, pastors and imams, the peddlers of paranormal wares who make fortunes out of popular gullibilty and desperation.

Africa needs humanists to help free the people from the bondage of superstition, fanaticism and dogma. People are looking up to humanists to work and campaign for the realization of a secular society and the enthronement of a government based on the will of the people, not the will of god or the earthly instruments.

The African continent is facing real threats from the forces of religious extremism, dogma and superstition. These forces of the dark ages have hijacked our politics, they corrupt our democracy and hamper social change and respect for universal human rights. Most of Africa’s democracies are de facto theocracies – traditional religious, Christian, Islamic and Chrislamic theocracies.

Today we know that democracy can sometimes be used to deny the rights of minorities or justify harmful traditional practices. We know that the fears that are crippling Africa are not only the fear of the acts of god but more the fear of those acting in the name of god – the priests, pastors, prophets, imams, sangomas, witch doctors who confuse, manipulate and exploit gullible ignorant folks. The witch hunters, the jihadists and ‘crusaders’, in Mali, Nigeria, Uganda, Sudan, Egypt, Kenya, Somalia, Algeria and in other places who kill and maim – or incite people to kill, maim and abuse – in the name of their god or the supernatural.

In Africa, humanism can be a force for peace, freedom and emancipation. In many parts of the continent, many societies are at war due to religious bigotry; many people live in a war or slavish situation due to irrationalism and superstition. Tradition often trumps human rights, nonsense trumps common sense in countries across the region. Religion and superstition-based violence is ravaging many communities leaving death, darkness and destruction in its wake. And it is left for humanist and freethinking individuals and groups to promote and deliver the peace dividends – the emancipatory and enlightenment capital – of humanism.

To this end, Africans should heed those wise words of Nkrumah and take action for humanism and rationalism by providing the much needed space where ‘the cluster of humanist principles which underlie the traditional African society’ can be harnessed and nurtured to further the cause of African renaissance and enlightenment.

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