Moses Alusala is the Chair of the Kenyan Humanist Association. Recently he discussed his advocacy work, influences, and the political connections between African and African American non-believers with Black Skeptics.
What was the catalyst for your journey to humanism and non belief, if you consider yourself a nonbeliever? Let me first put you in context. I was raised in a doctrinally conservative protestant Christian denomination and had a fairly strict religious regimen on the home front. My childhood was marked by the dogmatic (confessional) approach of Christian evangelism, indoctrination and nurturing that developed in me cultural bias and prejudice, leaving little room for skepticism. As a youth, however, I cultivated an interest in literature on the ideologies of the liberation movements, African nationalism/renaissance, and Black consciousness which explored the dynamic relations between religion and society, and revealed Judeo-Christian and Islamic ideologies of conquest and domination. For example, there is a whole body of prejudices about African traditional religions which have their roots in the ignorant or malicious misinterpretations of missionaries. I awoke to the reality, and ultimate consequences of acceptance of a religious hegemony. Observation of the nature of current movements such as the Evangelical and Pentecostal, as well as hearing views from an otherwise closeted African humanist, affirmed my inchoate doubts on missionary theology. In short, my journey to humanism and non-belief was essentially an African centered liberatory process and orientation.
Which thinkers and or social historical figures influenced you on your journey? Franz Fanon, W. E. B. Dubois, Wole Soyinka, and Ngugi wa Thiongo.
What kind of advocacy work do you do around humanism in Kenya? Our main area of advocacy work is human rights and social justice advocacy through community forums where we challenge religious and social orthodoxies. Issues such as combating of harmful superstitions e.g. witch-killing, and patriarchal dominance are discussed. We also hold forums on science literacy and critical thinking among the youth.
How might ties between African humanists and African American humanists be developed? By participating in collaborative projects related to economic development, conferences, joint publications, as well as mentoring/exchange activities in a bid to develop a pan-African worldview. Participation of students, younger scholars, and younger women is a source of possibility for the future of liberationist agenda in African and African American humanist practices and discourses. I think it would be a wonderful thing too for African non-believers to join in on the Day of Solidarity for Black Non believers.
Do you see common ground between the two groups? Yes. I see both groups as concerned with the liberation struggle of disenfranchised peoples as a result of social inequalities experienced along lines of race, class, gender and sexual orientation. This is because, besides the fact of having a common ancestry, both are minorities and have a shared history of racism whose historical underpinnings is in slavery and colonialism perpetuated through the neocolonisation of globalization reinforced by organized religion.
Historically many African American secular humanists embraced freethought as a rejection and critique of western colonialism and imperialism do you find humanism of value to people of African descend in this regard? Yes. In fact to appreciate the value of humanism in this case, one needs to understand the legacy of colonialism in contemporary Africa. Colonization leaves many cultural legacies that perpetuate after nations liberation. In postcolonial Africa the greatest, most overt legacy left by white settlers is religion. The survival of Christianity in postcolonial countries is one way in which colonial mentalities are perpetuated. This signifies a loss of tradition and culture and a recognition and acceptance by native people of the superiority of western faith. The longer an oppressive force succeeds at dislocating traditional culture from the people, the further away people feel from their history and ancestry. As more and more generations are taught the new ways they fail to question their education and beliefs. Western ways become so effectively integrated into indigenous culture eventually becoming social and cultural norms persevering even after the colonizing forces have left. As Oscar Lewis notes, “poverty of culture is one of the crucial traits of the culture of poverty”. Humanism, therefore, provides an opportunity for peoples of African descent to question colonial cultural legacies and their influence on their education and beliefs, as well as rediscover their history and ancestry as a form of liberation struggle.
How has your involvement in the emerging community of nonbelievers changed your outlook on life? It has enabled me to learn the importance of identity politics. A group cannot gain acceptance when its members are closeted and accepting marginalization. As the movement gains momentum we can expect more identity-based activism, more reminders from the secular community that non believers are part of the Kenyan landscape. Coming out is therefore is a powerful means of demanding recognition, speaking out against religious based public policy, harmful superstitions, and opposing the vilification of secularity. Many Africans are in the closet about their religious skepticism. We only know too well how hard it can be to let go of the security of a belief system inculcated from childhood – and which for many of us is intimately intertwined with our identities, our families and our entire community support networks. This serves to validate and legitimize religious fundamentalism and orthodoxy because it suggests that there is something wrong with the secular worldview. All the same, it is a good thing that the non-believer community here is beginning to awaken to the necessity for a support system for those who face ostracism and vilification from various social circles. Additionally, involvement in the emerging community of nonbelievers has affirmed my belief that the most reliable allies in any moral struggle will be those who respond to the ethically significant aspects of life, whether or not they conceive these things in religious terms. Some of the most moral role models I have had are secular people who are very ethically motivated persons and do not see right and wrong as artifacts of a divine protection racket.