On Ghana, Humanism, and HAG
Roslyn Mould is the Coordinator for the West African Humanist Network. She wrote this article with Scott Jacobsen to shine a light on Ghana and humanism.
By Roslyn Mould & Scott Douglas “Nana Kwesi” Jacobsen (Ashanti)
Ghana remains one of the areas in which Humanism has been flourishing to a large extent; often, it is due to the hard work of the Humanist Association of Ghana (HAG) and affiliated groups. Humanism is an oasis of rationalism for the members of the community. Of course, about 60% of Ghanaians continue to adhere to a Christian faith and other faiths take up 35% while the remaining 5% are nones. This makes for an interesting dynamic in the country and for humanists in general. The rise of irrationalism seen in other nations as a danger also simply remains the predominant mode of reasoning and the mindset in the country. Some coming from the context of post-colonialism. Others emergent from tribal or cultural beliefs prior to colonialism of European nations and maintained through colonization right into the present. Indeed, since the start of the European slave trade, the missionaries were the ones bringing the fundamentalist forms of religion to Ghana. Ghana did not exist as a nation-state prior to colonization. Tribal groups with similar, but disparate, belief systems existed in what became the Gold Coast and was later renamed Ghana during Independence. Scientific rationalism and philosophical reason in a modern Enlightenment Era sense came more into formal fruition in Ghana via Humanism. Furthermore, the Humanist tradition was founded by the Humanist Association of Ghana, even as a super-minority within the nation now. It provides a space for safety, community, social support, dialogue, and activism of concern to Ghanaian humanists. It has earned a positive reputation within human rights, feminist, LGBTQ+, and other circles in Ghana.
Ghana is a diverse nation, but still there is rampant abuse by religion of the general public. The abuse comes from the fundamentalist forms of religion injected into the tribal groups or forced on them during the process of colonization and from the impacts of the tribal beliefs in particular around health and medicine in a modern context. The abuse of the citizens by the religious relates to the restriction of the advancement and empowerment of girls and women, the environment, animal rights, and bilking the incomes of the already poor either by national or international standards and other human rights.
Humanism can provide, not the only but at least, one path for the emancipation of women in many contexts, of the reduction in tribal feuds, and in the ability of the public to reinvest the money given in zakat or tithings towards the public good, e.g., social security systems, healthcare initiatives, early childhood education, post-secondary cost reduction initiatives, and so on. Women can gain a sense of and an actual equality with men. Tribal feuds could have a basis for mutual tolerance and even resolution grounded in human rights. The finances of the public could more adequately be used for the public good rather than for tithings and similar religious offerings or falling into the wrong hands.
Science is important in matters of health. The introduction of a scientific philosophy can orient the magical thinking and the alternative medicine movement financial flow into the work of building a real healthcare scheme with real impacts on the health and well-being of the nation’s population. Before white people colonized, in particular white men, the tribal groups — tribes with Chiefs as leaders, councils of elders, and herbal priests/native doctors (spiritual spokespersons) — had the native herbalist consulted on matters of physical and spiritual health. In the current period, these traditions continue. This creates an issue of quality control. With the trust in herbal medicines which were passed on from generation to generation, there has not been full research and quality control to ensure genuine functional herbs are being sold and marketed. There has also been an influx of pseudoscientific alternative healing methods such as acupuncture, chiropractic medicine, and homeopathy as well as Faith healing over the last decade.
In terms of women’s rights, there has been a recent uprising of Feminism in Ghana and HAG has been one of the first major groups to advocate for equality and women’s rights. Humanists have become associated with outspoken feminist groups such as Pepper dem Ministries and the AWDF’s Young Feminist collective. Humanist members also took part in Women’s Marches and helped to organize 2018’s Accra women’s March in support of the March on Washington. HAG has also worked with American Humanist group, Humanist Service Corps over the last few years since they began assisting victims of witchcraft accusations in Northern Ghana. 99% of victims are women of all ages who are made to flee from their villages to ‘witch camps’ for fear of being lynched to death after allegedly being accused of witchcraft; most of which are confirmed by native doctors.
Humanists in Ghana have volunteered with a number of science and environmental rights groups to promote science and environmental awareness. HAG participated and won the ‘Float your boat’ race to support Environment 360 to promote awareness of recycling and proper disposal of plastics in our environment. They also took part in March for Science over the last 2 years and promote scientific programs and activities such as those at the Accra Planetarium. HAG’s last major conference in 2014 focused on promoting science with the theme “African Youth for science and reason”.
Humanists in Ghana over time have become major allies to the LGBTQ+ community in Ghana. All their major conferences and monthly meetings have been inclusive to the community and provided platforms for the promotion of queer rights. HAG has also supported the movement in attending their meetings and honoring invitations to speak on radio and TV on issues bordering queer rights and violence against the LGBTQ community.
HAG has started a concept of promoting Freethought in Schools starting with Tertiary Institutions such as the University of Ghana in Accra. HAG has been actively engaging with students on campus to find Freethinkers and invite them to the group and also create their own safe spaces on campus to have intellectual discussions based on Freethought. Later this year, plans are underway to launch the first Freethought Festival.
HAG has partnered with Learning Support Solutions, a local NGO to support the Kotobabi cluster of schools in Accra. HAG raised funds to set up the first shared library for the schools and continues to support in providing teaching materials and IT support for the schools and raise awareness for deprived schools such as these which have limited or no facilities to make teaching and learning easier and more comfortable.
It is their hope that HAG would be the beacon of Reason and logical thinking to encourage the people especially the youth to be critical thinkers and remove the fear of questioning and would continue to provide a safe space for nones and minorities. Humanism in Ghana does not only entail speech platforms but also include actions of the group that embody Humanism.
HAG making a presentation of books, teaching materials and a laptop to Learning Support Solutions for the Kotobabi cluster of schools, Accra
Float your boat race Environmental awareness event
HAG members at a beach cleaning exercise
HAG member, Carly giving a presentation at the event marking International day against Homophobia, Biphobia and Transphobia in Accra.
At a HAG meeting discussing Food Security