On July 26, 2011, nearly 30 people took part in the first ever Humanist meeting in the West African nation of Benin. The one day seminar on Laicite au Benin (Secularism in Benin) was sponsored by the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) and featured IHEU representative Leo Igwe as a keynote speaker. The meeting concluded with many people eager to start the first ever group for atheists and Humanists in Benin.
The programme was held at the Conference Hall of Codiam in Cotonou, the capital of the republic of Benin. The aim of the conference was to explain and promote the secular outlook, bring together humanists and secularists in the country to form a group. Most of the participants were university students, lawyers, journalists and human rights activists. The seminar started with an opening by two members of the local organising committee, Ghislain Gbenakpon and Maxime Agoua. Leo Igwe then made a presentation on Humanism and Secularism in Benin–see below.
Like other African countries Benin is a deeply religious society. According to Wikipedia about 6 percent of the population is said to have no religious affiliation http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Benin.
There were many questions and interventions particularly on the issue of witchcraft. Witchcraft accusation is a big problem in Benin, where belief in witchcraft is very strong. In most case in Benin, it is elderly women who are targeted, accused and abused in the name of witchcraft. One of the participants said it would be impossible to eradicate the belief in Africa, that an Africa without witchcraft was not possible. Another participant suggested we should rather consider collaborating with witches and wizards and utilize what he called the positive aspect of witchcraft.
Comments, arguments and debate over witchcraft — whether it was real or mythical — went on for hours.
One thing was clear at the end of the event: the seminar generated a lot of interest. The participants saw the need for a Humanist and freethinking group in Benin. And some of them indicated interest in working to realize the project. Over 50 copies of IHEU’s French-language magazine, Informations Humanistes Internationales, were distributed at the meeting.
–Adapted from a report by Leo Igwe
Humanism and Secularism in Benin
an address delivered by Leo Igwe at a seminar on Secularism in Benin (Laicite au Benin) at Codiam in Cotonou, Republic of Benin on July 26 2011
Thank you friends and the good people of Benin. I bring you all greetings from the International Humanist and Ethical Union, its member groups and individual supporters. I thank you for creating time to be here. I call you friends because I believe we are together in this struggle to realize a secular country and a secular continent and a secular world. A secular Africa is long over due. But as you know we cannot have a secular Africa without a secular Benin.
So we need to make secularism happen in our life or at least commence the process of making it happen some day.
I believe we are together in this quest for the enthronement of secular and humanist values: reason, science, critical thinking, compassion and cooperation with one another, democracy and human rights. This seminar is convened to underscore these common goals and to explore ways of achieving them.
For all of you in Benin, this important campaign starts here. It starts by making your country a secular republic in principle and in practice. It starts by identifying those programs and policies that frustrate the evolution of a secular society. It starts by working and campaigning to realize those secular promises contained in our constitution and in the various human rights instruments, which this country has signed or ratified, but have continuously eluded most people over the years.
In many cases, the constitutions of African countries say that the states are secular; but in practice, they are not. They privilege one or two religions and discriminate against their citizens on the grounds of religious belief and unbelief. We need to ensure that the money meant to fund public health, public schools and infrastructure is not used to finance religious myths and dogmas.
Benin like Nigeria, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire etc. has a history, a common history. Benin has a history of ancient kingdoms marked by tyranny and despotism, wars and conflicts, slavery and superstition. Benin has a history of transatlantic slavery, colonialism by the West, forced conversion to Islam and Christianity, of invasion and conquest by foreign religious and political mercenaries. Benin has a history of independence, military dictatorship and a struggle for democracy and human rights.
Unlike my country Nigeria, Benin has made significant progress in maintaining peace and unity, in organizing credible elections and enthroning multi party democracy. But as you know there are still a lot of work to be done in areas of tackling poverty, illiteracy, and superstition. We still have a lot work to do in improving the quality of education, governance and ensuring the respect of universal human rights, and in maintaining a wall separating church, mosque, shrine and state.
We need to continue to struggle for the realization of a dignified life for all. We cannot afford to be complacent at this time or anytime.
I want to assure you that we at IHEU are with you — the people of the Republic of Benin — in your struggle against the forces of oppression, exploitation, irrationalism, religious fundamentalism and superstition. These are the forces that have hampered the progress of many societies across the world. These are forces that have held the progress, development and emergence of Africa hostage.
That is why we encourage the formation of humanist and secular groups. That is why we are organizing this seminar today. That is why I urge you to get involved in promoting humanism and secularism in Benin.
I hope you can take advantage of this opportunity and join efforts with us in organizing humanism and secularism in Benin. Because we need pro-active secular and rationally-minded individuals and groups to work together, to defend secularism and realize a secular and tolerant society. We need committed, creative, courageous and diligent individuals to help fulfill this important mission.
Humanists and secularists need to work together to combat the belief in witchcraft which is causing a lot of problems in Benin and in Africa. Witch hunts ended in Europe centuries ago, but continue to ravage Africa early in this 21st century. Many people across the region continue to blame their problems and misfortune on witches and wizards and other imaginary entities. Many people continue to commit criminal and atrocious acts based on primitive fears and imagined sense of evil and misfortune. Many people across Africa particularly the elderly, women, children and people living with disabilities are suffering and dying as a result of accusations of witchcraft. The time has come for us to work and campaign to end this needless suffering and set our people free so that everybody young and old, male or female, ‘able’ or ‘disabled’ can live a dignified and happy life in this world.
After all, the evidence of another life after death in another world is simply not there. We need to liberate our society from the grip of this religious illusion and the witchcraft mentality that is darkening and destroying the lives and minds of Africans. We need to encourage the spirit of doubt, debate and critical examination of issues.
We need to commence the process of changing the mentality of our people. I know it is difficult. I know it is risky. But I am convinced it is important. I know it will take time for us to achieve it. But we need to start now. We need to start here today in Benin.
I hope some day we or generations yet unborn shall look back at this event as one of those programs that marked the beginning of this process of liberation, enlightenment and emancipation in Benin and in Africa.
For a secular Benin
For a secular Africa
For a secular world