Secularism and humanism are on the rise—not just in Europe, Canada, and the United States, but all over the world, including the Global South. For example, according to a recent Pew report, the percentage of non-religious people in Latin America has been steadily rising; back in 1970, less than 1% of adults in Latin America identified as non-religious, but today it is up to 8%. And some Latin American nations have significantly larger secular populations, such as Uruguay with 37% being non-religious, the Dominican Republic with 18%, and Chile with 16.
The African continent is a particularly noteworthy; while the nations of Africa are among the most religious in the world, irreligion is also present there, more now than ever. According to one study, 5% of those in Benin and Cameroon, 6% in Ghana, 9% in Tanzania and Madagascar, and 11% in Gabon and Swaziland claim to have no religion. And according to a Gallup survey, 5% of those in Rwanda, 6% in Kenya, and 12% in Zimbabwe and Ivory Coast stated that religion was not an important part of their daily lives. These percentages do not, of course, tell us how many individuals are outright atheists, per se, but they do indicate that a significant proportion of men and women is not that religious, if at all.
One African country I’ve become interested lately—as a result of my recent involvement with Bright Brains—is Uganda. Although Uganda is a very religious country, and one ever under the pernicious influence of American Evangelicals, secularism and humanism are alive and well. And one of the leading Humanists today in Uganda is Bwambale Robert Musubaho, who runs several Humanist schools and orphanages in the country.
I recently interviewed Bwambale and Humanism in Uganda, and his specific work there.
Phil: Can you tell me about your work with Humanist schools and orphanages in Uganda?
Bwambale: I work with Kasese Humanist School which is right now having three campuses at separate locations; we have Kasese Humanist Primary School—Rukoki , Kasese Humanist Primary school—Bizoha Campus Muhokya & Kahendero Humanist School, and of late we established Kasese Humanist Secondary School located on the same property at Rukoki. My work at the school is entirely planning, coordinating and networking with the international community. I am a founding member, working as School Director for all the campuses. Much of the work I am doing now is in construction. At all the schools, I have been the leader behind the construction.
Phil: How did you get into this work?
Bwambale: I got into this work after thinking so hard on how I can get involved in the world of charity. I began by creating an organization under the name Kasese United Humanist Association, whose sole role was to empower local people in Education, advocate for human rights freedoms, fight ignorance, religious bigotry, unemployment, and attend to environmental concerns and sustainable agriculture. I had realized some mess and injustices going on in my community and thought that if I got involved, perhaps I could try what I can to make life better.
Phil: Are there other Humanist schools and orphanages in Uganda, or are yours the only ones?
Bwambale: Yes, there are other humanist schools in Uganda, but for their case they are secondary schools. So far I know of Isaac Newton High School based in Masaka and Mustard Seed Secondary School based in Kamuli. We do have some humanist primary schools coming up in Kasese area. As for orphanages, I know none other than the Bizoha Orphanage based at our Muhokya School.
Phil: In what ways are Humanist schools and orphanages different from religious schools and orphanages in Uganda?
Bwambale: Humanist Schools and orphanages differ from religious schools in the ways below:
* We teach religious education on comparative terms.
* Our learners are encouraged to think for themselves and are given opportunities to think freely without any sort of commands.
* We cherish evolutionary science other than creation science.
* Our school welcomes learners from all religions; it matters less if one is religious or proclaimed non religious since we look at our schools as a center or source of knowledge and not a place of worship.
* We have secular posters or messages on classroom walls or compounds.
* We observe and celebrate secular days by holding celebrations, happy moments or memorial events.
* There are no religious instructions or observance of religious tenets.
* We do not indoctrinate our learners to any religion or belief system but what we do is to enlighten and allow our learners to be curious, explore and come up with their perceptions.
* We do not perform rituals of any kind.
Phil: Many secular people don’t like religious missionaries working in Africa trying to convert people to become religious. But some religious people might look at your work and say that you are trying to convert people to become humanists. What would you say to that criticism?
Bwambale: My concern in my works is not all about trying to convert people to be humanists but all am entirely doing is to enlighten the people about living a free life free from dogma or indoctrination. I am more interested in passing a message to people to first of all appreciate being human and appreciating how humanity has got potential to attend to the challenges facing humanity, am interested in people making decisions basing on empirical evidence, appreciating the role of science advancement in improving life and appreciating that the human brain once used correctly can help in attempting the challenges facing us. Am very much interested in people appreciating themselves as people and accepting that we all have a stake in making this world a better or worse place. In my view, I think humanism is within us and it’s inborn, no body under the sun is born with religion. I think religion is something that is imposed on humanity by people who have hidden agendas.
Phil: What are some of the biggest challenges your schools and orphanages face?
Bwambale: Misconceptions by locals who don’t know the meaning of Humanism or being a humanist, some locals tend to associate humanism to devil worshipping or satanic. The rumors are propelled by enemies of the schools mostly religious zealots and selfish locals who are enemies of development. Salaries payment to the staffs sometimes delays or they get paid in bits due to poor collections as some parents pay in bits. Disease out breaks is common among learners due to the living conditions in their homes. Poverty, ignorance remains a key factor affecting people here.
Phil: What are some of your biggest successes?
Bwambale: Having our schools on permanent homes owned by ourselves. All learning spaces have classrooms. The Child Sponsorship scheme where more than 100 children schooling in our schools have sponsors who meet their tuition needs. School’s potential to have in place income generating activities like the Bizoha Tractor, maize & cassava milling plant, land for rent etc. My projects have got international attention and this has been possible because of my online presence which has exposed me to organizations and individuals who have helped much in boosting up my works financially, morally and materially.
Phil: Let’s talk about humanism. What does humanism mean to you?
Bwambale: Humanism to me means the potential of humanity appreciating themselves being humans and accepting to put humanity at the center of everything. When I look at the challenges and successes reached at in life, humanity plays a significant role in bringing about change. Humanism stresses for good morals and teaches us to reject or fight against bad morals. Humanism is standing for evidence, reality and facts. Humanism aims at solving problems and accepting that humanity has the potential to solve problems. Humanity has got the answers and in this regard I see no intervention of a fabricated or invented supernatural. Humanism is accepting nature and rejecting a super nature which in most cases is created by humans themselves after failing to understand nature and how it operates. All in all, all humans are naturally humanists but some are taken up and indoctrinated to believe that some imaginary sky daddy or being is their creator or inventor which to me I think is not correct.
Phil: When did you become a humanist?
Bwambale: In the early years of 2000 but joined organized humanism in 2009
Phil: Were you raised with religion? If so, how did you lose your religion?
Bwambale: Yes, I was raised with religion; I belonged to the Anglican church, was baptized and confirmed. I lost my religion in the early years of 2000 when I started being skeptical about the natural world and things in it, was asking myself questions, asked religious people plus other people both in school and out of school and their answers to my queries did not satisfy me, so I became critical and curious of religion.
Phil: Do you have any children? If so, do you raise them as humanists?
Bwambale: Yes, am a father of 2 children now, my first born is a girl aged 6 while the second one is a boy aged 3. Am raising them as all round children with curious minds, morally upright, good mannered, honest and responsible children. I would not say I want them to be humanists or religious but I want to expose them to all philosophies so that they are in better position to make a decision by themselves when they grow up. I was baptized in my early years but surprisingly I declined having my children undergo this ritual since I already gave them names, they do have birth certificates and are using those names even in school. I did this because I am avoiding similar questions to surface up when they grow up. I don’t want to be blamed to indoctrinating children and dedicating them to spirits. I am very confident that fact is better than fiction, so my children may automatically take the path of believing in facts.
Phil: How many humanists do you think there are in Uganda? What percentage of the population?
Bwambale: Can’t tell the exact number, but I guess it’s small, less than 5 %
Phil: Religion is very strong in Uganda. Why do you think that is?
Bwambale: Colonial influence—Uganda was colonized by the British who ushered in the Anglican religion code named Church of Uganda, other foreign religions followed suit.The African tradition has elements of gods in their set up so several gods or deities were invented in the early times. The influence of American evangelicals in the affairs of Uganda as a nation have seen several religions created, other American-based churches are mushrooming everywhere. The foundation of Uganda as a country is worrying, the country is set up on a Christian foundation, and the country’s motto is For God and My Country.
Phil: Are you ever worried that your schools and orphanages are in any danger from religious people who might want to destroy or harm your endeavors?
Bwambale: I am not worried at all that my schools or orphanages are in danger because I am confident that Humanism and Science which I stand for is clean, very interesting, harmless to society and aims at empowering humanity to stand on their feet and combat challenges we have by ourselves.
Phil: What would you like Americans to know about Humanism in Africa?
Bwambale: That humanism is much needed in a country like Uganda which strongly believes in magic and superstition which pose a greater danger and makes people weaker. Humanism is much needed in Africa to fight off the homophobia that is common in most African countries plus other injustices like abuse of human rights freedoms, condom use, abortion rights, right to believe and right not to believe. Americans should also know that the presence of humanist organizations or projects is a sign that our people are waking up to say no to religious bigotry and yes to Science advancement and technology.
Phil: How can we help your work?
Bwambale: You can help my work by sponsoring a child at any of my schools. Volunteering in my projects as teachers, nurses or farmers. Spreading the message to friends, relatives and working colleagues about our innovations. Donating finances or material to my initiatives. Offering moral support, knowledge, advice to my projects.
Phil: Thank you for your time and work!