Leo Igwe of the Nigerian Humanist Movement recently traveled to Australia to discuss the challenges that humanists and skeptics face in Nigeria. Most of those gathered to listen to his presentations walked away believing he is the lone non-theist hero in all of Africa.
However, Australian non-theists are not the only ones that embrace this mistaken notion. Indeed, most African American non-theists know very little about organized non-theism in Africa. For example, the Blacker-than-thou hard core Afrocentrists of the Black Atheists of Atlanta seem to be completely oblivious to the history of organized non-theism in Africa. Perhaps this should not be surprising considering that they apparently know very little about organized non-theism among Blacks in the U.S., and the great history of African American non-theists.
Leo Igwe is just one among many courageous African non-theists engaged in activism. Not long ago, I helped Igwe start an anti-superstition campaign in Africa, focusing primarily on combating the persecution and murders of alleged witches and wizards (mostly young children and elderly women, the most vulnerable members of society.) The Nigerian Humanist Movement has also fought for good science, church/state separation, the rights of women and sexual minorities, etc.
In Uganda, the Ugandan Humanist Effort to Save Women (UHESWO) rehabilitates prostitutes. They provide job training, temporary housing, jobs, business development, computer training, etc. However, they obviously cannot save everyone. Some of the destitute women continue to sell their bodies. Many of them complain that the men they have sex with refuse to use condoms, increasing the likelihood of the spread of HIV. For these women, members of UHESWO provide condoms.
Also in Uganda, the Women of the Free World Organization (WOFEWO) imparts humanist values to young girls. A few years ago, I presided over the inauguration of what is probably the only humanist soccer team in the world–the Emitos Girls Football Club. For African girls, often discouraged from participating in sports, this is a major source of empowerment. WOFEWO continues to empower girls–especially those from the villages–in many other ways.
The Secular Humanist Association of Malawi has made tremendous strides over the past few years. I have helped the group make humanism a national topic of discussion. The organization was part of a national radio debate on Christianity and secular humanism. They have had regular columns in the nation’s two largest newspapers. They have opposed the persecution of witches and defended the rights of sexual minorities.
In Kenya, organized humanists have held debates on the existence of God, intelligent design versus evolution, etc. They have held Darwin Day celebrations, fought against the persecution of alleged witches and wizards, etc.
These are just a few examples of the many African organizations of non-theists doing excellent work. Indeed, when I first formed African Americans for Humanism in 1989, there were two humanist groups in Nigeria, and one in Ghana. By the time I departed the organization in 2010, there were over 70 such groups in 30 African nations.
All of these African groups have been progressive. African culture (food, music, dance, clothing, etc.) figure largely into the succcess of these organizations. However, African humanist leaders consistently challenge harmful traditional ideas, customs, and practices.
The future of organized non-theism in Africa looks bright. It is not now, nor has it ever been, a one-man show. It is also worth noting that, unlike organized non-theism in most parts of the world, organized non-theism in Africa tends to attract mostly young peope. This will only bode well for its future.