Humanist Voices
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Humanist Voices

Conversation with Viola Namyalo on Uganda and Africa — AfRC, Chair, Young Humanists International

By Viola Namyalo (AfRC Chair, YHI) and Scott Jacobsen (SG, YHI)

Viola Namyalo is the Regional Committee Chair, formerly Working Group Chair, of the African Regional Committee, formerly, African Working Group, ofYoung Humanists International (formerly International Youth Ethical and Humanist Organisation). She has been working with the Uganda Humanist Association and the Humanist Association for Leadership Equity and Accountability (HALEA) for more than five years to empower youth and young mothers.

Here we talk about some updates, from her Chairship, in Uganda and Africa for humanists.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: We have been working together, happily, through Young Humanists International for a long time now. Let’s do a quick recap of your time in leadership in the African Working Group and then the recent transition into the African Regional Committee, as the Chair in both regards. Looking back, what do you consider some of the more significant developments in the African region for Humanism and young people (18-to-35-year-olds)?

Viola Namyalo: We have seen youth get involved in Humanist activities more than before. We have got active young people from all regions of Africa including North Africa; a region that has been inactive for some time. In Uganda, young people have started groups in areas where humanist organization were not existing, they are still growing and with time, they will be official members of HI.

Jacobsen: Now, as we transitioned from the International Humanist and Ethical and Youth Organisation (IHEYO) into Young Humanists International (YHI), from an Executive Committee (President, Vice-President, Secretary-General, Working Group chairs, and Communications Officer) to an Executive Board (President, Vice-President, Secretary-General, Regional Committee chairs, and Communications Officer), and from the Working Groups to the Regional Committees, we have seen some institutional changes. What do these institutional and title changes mean for the African region’s humanist youth?

Namyalo: The institutional changes (especially the change of the name, from IHEYO to YHI) made the youth wing sound more youth-friendly. As young Humanists from Africa, we are happy to be part of this and we promise to keep the light burning.

Jacobsen: What have been some of the more exciting developments more recently, late 2019 or early 2020 for Ugandan humanists?

Namyalo: The introduction of Humanist ceremonies in Uganda.

Towards the end of 2019, HALEA started a project whose aim was to introduce Humanist ceremonies in Uganda and also have Humanist marriages legalized in Uganda. Currently, there has been publicity about the project both on social media platforms and radio. Of recent, HALEA, Humanists and all well-wishers just signed a petition to legalize Humanist marriages in Uganda. We want the people ns authority to legalize Humanist marriages in Uganda. The going is not bad so far, there is hope for something good.

Jacobsen: How have these exciting developments reflected many positive changes in the African region?

Namyalo: Through the Humanist Ceremonies Project, more than 10 Humanists from different African countries have been trained as celebrants. In 2019, we saw the first Humanist wedding in Kenya Celebrated by one of the celebrants that was trained through this project.

Since we have more than 10 qualified Humanist celebrants in different African countries who will also want to legalize marriages in their countries, Uganda is setting a live example for all of them. If things go as planned, other African countries can adopt the same strategy to legalize marriages in their marriages.

Jacobsen: For the Humanist marriages and Humanist celebrants in Uganda, as you brought this to more fruition and to the public through the media, what have been some of the early reactions within the Humanist community? What have been some of the reactions of the general public in Uganda?

Namyalo: Humanists in Uganda and Africa at Large are very happy about this project. This is a great step ahead. The most beautiful thing about this project is that, it will give Humanists a chance to celebrate life in a way that Carries meaning and also generate some income for the organization.

The general public seems unbothered at the moment; I have had a few people write to me explaining how they are praying so hard for our plan to be unsuccessful because they think it’s unholy.

Jacobsen: Do these reactions reflect some of the reactions other national publics to Humanist groups in other countries working on similar projects?

Namyalo: I think so. However, it might differ a little depending on the country. A country like Kenya which is more secular than Uganda, it’s reactions might be more positive than in a Muslim country like Algeria. I think it mainly depends on the country.

Jacobsen: Uganda has an impressive number of secular and freethought groups. Why is Uganda an area with more groups than other African states?

Namyalo: I think we have an impressive number of groups because the existing groups have done a good job that inspires more groups to come up especially in places where there are no groups.

Jacobsen: How is the situation for African women in the Humanist movement? In short, how are things good and bad?

Namyalo: It’s not easy for someone to come out as a non-believer in Africa. It becomes much harder for women because in most cases women are either under the guidance of their parents or their husbands, some are afraid of getting a bad image, losing their jobs while others are afraid to lose a chance to marry arguing that men will walk away from them once they learn that these women are Humanists

For this reason, I have so much love and respect for women that stand out and be open about their state of being non-believers, Roslyn Mould, Gaylene Cornelius, Khatondi Phiona and others. You are great examples; the African Humanist community is so grateful to have you.

I think empowering women to stand tall and be themselves should be done.

(I wrote an article about opening up, I recommend it to everyone that has challenges with this issue.)

Jacobsen: How can things be improved for more inclusion and for a wider range of voices in Humanism for the youth, and bolder and more visionary projects in Uganda and beyond in Africa?

Namyalo: More visibility of the articles and activities done by young people is needed, organizing more youth conferences or perhaps camps more often can make a difference as well. These events give a chance to young people to meet and brainstorm on what should be done for the betterment of the community.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Viola.

Image Credit: Viola Namyalo.

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Official Secular-Humanist publication by Humanist Voices

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Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. Jacobsen supports science and human rights.

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