Leo Igwe is stepping down as International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) Representative for Western and Southern Africa, in order to start a three year research programme on “Witchcraft accusations in Africa” at the University of Bayreuth, in Germany.
IHEU president, Sonja Eggerickx said, “Humanists will miss Leo’s work in Africa, and Africa will miss Leo’s work for Humanism. He has been a true champion of Humanism, even risking his life to save the victims of religious abuse. I’ve lost count of the times he has taken a stand for Humanism only to be paid back with arrests and beatings. We have never been able to thank him enough for his inspiring leadership and courage, but perhaps his best reward is to know that his work will continue in the form of dozens of activist Humanist groups across Africa who have been inspired by his wonderful work.”
Leo Igwe first contacted IHEU in the 1990s after he formed the Nigerian Humanist Movement, and he attended the 14th World Humanist Congress in Mumbai, India, in 1999. He went on to help organize IHEU conferences in Uganda and Nigeria in 2004.
In May 2007, IHEU hired Igwe as part of its push to help take Humanism in Africa to the next level. Igwe worked alongside Deo Ssekitooleko, IHEU’s Representative for East Africa, who is based in Uganda.
Since he started working for IHEU, Igwe has greatly boosted the presence, visibility, and influence of Humanism in Africa. Igwe’s work to start new Humanist organizations, and to nurture and strengthen fledgling groups, has helped the growth of organized Humanism in Malawi, Uganda, Nigeria, South Africa, Gambia, Senegal, Benin, and Ghana.
Igwe worked for the IHEU to gain observer status at the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which is part of the African Union. Igwe has been a frequent contributor to meetings of the African Commission, adding a secular voice to African debates on human rights.
The visibility of Humanism in Africa has risen dramatically, thanks to Igwe’s work. His articles and activities are frequently featured in newspapers in Nigeria and across Africa. And his work combatting witch hunts, especially in Nigeria and Malawi, has been featured on TV and radio in Europe and as far afield as Australia and North America.
On several occasions, Igwe has personally saved children who have been beaten, raped and faced death because they have been accused of witchcraft. It is to build on his work to combat witch hunts that Igwe is moving to the University of Bayreuth in Germany, starting October 2011.
Igwe said, “I wish to thank IHEU for giving me this opportunity to serve and to contribute to the furtherance of the Humanist cause in Africa. These past few years of working for IHEU will remain some of the best moments of my life. I never thought that IHEU would operate in this way in Africa in my life time. In spite of my research program, I will remain active and involved in IHEU activities and in promoting humanism in Africa.”