Report from the International Humanist Conference, Accra, 2012
Over 55 people attended Ghana’s first ever international humanist conference at the SNITT Guesthouse, Accra, including participants from Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Liberia and the Netherlands.
It was organised by the Humanist Association of Ghana (HAG) and the International Humanist and Ethical Youth Organisation (IHEYO), who sponsored the event.
After opening addresses from Gea Meijers (IHEYO) and Daniel Addae (HAG), Leo Igwe delivered his presentation on The Necessity of Humanism in Africa – Leo drawing on his experience as ex-President of the Nigerian Humanist Movement and his anti-witchcraft campaigns. He noted that it is not the socio-economic conditions in Africa that make humanism impossible, but it is those conditions that make it necessary.
This was followed by an explanation of Humanism as a life stance and in action by Alphonso K. Weah (IHEYO), director of YOCADS. He introduced the concept of an ethical life stance and explained that organised humanists have adopted the Amsterdam Declaration of 2002. This simply states that humanism is ethical, rational and combines social responsibility with human rights. He also spoke about the organisation he works with in Liberia – Youth for Community Academic and Development Services.
Professor Raymond Nonnatus Osei, a humanist working at the University of Cape Coast, gave a challenging presentation on The Relevance of Secular Humanism to the Contemporary African Society. He noted none of the arguments for the existence of God survive intellectual scrutiny and that the link between religion and morality is tenuous. Noting that traditional African society tended towards communalism he argued that the adoption of socialism was an African response to the individualism and profit motive of international capitalism. The wealth sharing principle of traditional African society was therefore humanist in outlook as were many other traditional African values. He therefore advocated a humanism that did not use adversarial tactics around the non-existence of God, but to root itself within an African experience of communalism emphasising social ethics over individual rights.
Damilola Adegoke, from the Ibadan University Humanist Society, finished the morning session with Superstition, the Youths and the quest for Development. It was a lively presentation with a great deal of humour which looked at some of the superstition that was marketed by pastors.
After lunch we had 2 powerful speakers on human rights. First was Nana Oye Lithur (Chief Executive Director of the Human Rights Advocacy Centre) who spoke on LGBT rights and also some of the challenges human rights activists have suffered when raising this issue. She clarified that being lesbian or gay is not against the law in Ghana but the law prohibits anal sex which can occur in all types of relationships. She noted the various forms of stigma, that same sex desire was not alien to traditional Ghanaian society, health issues which are now being addressed by the government, and the problems of abuse and rape by police. She also highlighted a case of a retired high court judge who is attempting to push a law through the courts that will remove LGBT people from their entitlement to human rights.
Gyekye Tanoh is policy analyst at the Third World Network and spoke on women’s rights. Women’s rights could be in the form of equality of income and egalitarianism or in educational opportunities and access to advantage. He said African society needs humanist interventions in human structures that dictate the way of life of people, noting that patriarchy legitimates the oppression and subjugation of women. We (Africans) need an explanatory power to fight for women’s rights.
In the final session of the day ‘Yemi Ademowo Johnson, project director of the Young Humanistas Network gave us a presentation on Superstition, the Youths and the quest for Development. He looked at and defined various superstitions, their consequences and the task ahead of us.
Titus Sei Massally, from Humanist Watch Salone in Sierra Leone, gave us practical examples of how his organisation is involved in the promotion of human rights and argued that humanism and human rights are inseparable.
The final 2 days were smaller workshop sessions for those humanists already working in West Africa. Kajsa Hallberg-Adu (from Blogging Ghana and HAG) on lead a session on how we already use social networking and the other possible ways we could employ it in our work and Gea Meijers (IHEYO) continued with the Principles of Networking.
We had a wonderful trip to the Accra Planetarium where we received two presentations and critical discussion from its owner Professor Jacob Ashong.
The rest of our time was spent discussing forms of organisation, the formation of a West African Humanist Network, deciding on our shared values and discussing what we wanted to see from such a network.
The Humanist Association of Ghana started to form on social media platforms and eventually formalised themselves, launching their blog on February 2012 as an official way of announcing the birth of the group. We appreciate the support of IHEYO in its decision to hold this conference in Accra and help a young group such as ours in its development and also to all the people that helped promote and write about this event.