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Caregiving Beyond Belief in Africa

By Leo Igwe

In this piece, I make a case for caregiving beyond belief in Africa. I provide a much-needed balance in the perception and representation of caregiving in the region. Caregiving makes it possible for individuals who are in need to relieve their burdens. A caregiver helps a person who is unable to help or take care of himself or herself. A person may be unable to cater for himself or herself due to ailments, frailty, or disability, due to impairment linked to old age or mental disorder. A caregiver provides basic assistance including assessing medical needs, preparing a care plan, assisting with basic needs such as eating or bathing, providing companionship and emotional support, helping with housekeeping and monitoring medications, helping with grocery shopping and preparing meals, assisting with transportation, etc. It is pertinent to note that everyone who lives long enough would need some care at some stage in life. Caregiving is an existential imperative. So, it is necessary to broadly explore this concept and practice.

Care can be given based on belief or nonbelief, for confessional or nonconfessional purposes. So, we have caregiving because of belief and caregiving beyond belief. Caregiving because of belief is a form of care that is motivated or predicated on faith in God or religion. It is caregiving for Christ’s, Mohammad’s, or Allah’s sake. It is caregiving in this world for the sake of the next. 

But caregiving beyond belief is a form of care without God, it is predicated on love, reason and compassion for humanity, happiness, and well-being in this world. It is a form of care that is delivered for care’s sake. 

Unfortunately like other sectors of life, the caregiving industry has been hijacked by religion. People of faith and religious organizations dominate the management of hospitals, and health and caregiving agencies. Thus caregiving has been mis/represented as a religious duty and a divine calling. Those who render care services have turned the enterprise into an extension of their missionary work. Motivated by religion, caregivers evangelize, convert, or coerce care receivers to embrace or profess religion or belief in God. Caregiving is largely faith based. 

Meanwhile, millions of Africans do not profess any religion or faith in God. Millions do not take religion seriously. They live their lives free from superstitions or dogmas. Millions of Africans are of the notion that this is the only life that we have, and want to make the best of it. They identify as humanists, atheists, agnostics, freethinkers or simply as nones. Otherworldly schemes and narratives do not fascinate them. Millions of Africans do not find the idea of a paradise in an afterlife attractive or persuasive. When ill, frail, disabled, or faced with mental problems, these Africans do not want faith based care. They cannot relate to any form of care that is linked to religious creed or faith in god. Millions of Africans want and yearn for a caregiving program that is secular, rational and religiously neutral. They desire caregiving beyond belief. 

While on their sick or deathbed, many Africans do not want caregivers who are prayer warriors and evangelizers. They do not want caregivers who cannot separate their profession from their confession. Nontheistic Africans do not want care providers who preach, pray, or pressure them to give their lives to Christ, Allah, or any deity. They detest the idea that caregivers exploit their vulnerable conditions and force religion dictates down their throats. Many Africans dislike the practice whereby pious helpers take undue advantage of their illness, or disability and impose their faith on them. 

This situation in the caregiving sector is sad and unfortunate. It is unethical, abusive and exploitative. This pervasive caregiving practice does not reflect the religious and belief needs, realities and diversity in the country. People who, when they were able, healthy, young, and capable lived without belief in God, should, when they are sick, old, or frail, be given the care that they need, that is care without belief. And to realize this important change, humanists, atheists, and agnostics must train and volunteer to be caregivers. We cannot continue to whine and complain about this situation, while we refuse to do something about it, to change or transform the care sector. Like our religious counterparts, humanists and other nontheists need to set up caregiving companies and provide caregiving services beyond belief.

Leo Igwe is a board member of the Humanist Association of Nigeria and Humanists International, UK.

Leo Igwe
Leo Igwe
Leo Igwe (born July 26, 1970) is a Nigerian human rights advocate and humanist. Igwe is a former Western and Southern African representative of the International Humanist and Ethical Union, and has specialized in campaigning against and documenting the impacts of child witchcraft accusations. He holds a Ph.D from the Bayreuth International School of African Studies at the University of Bayreuth in Germany, having earned a graduate degree in Philosophy from the University of Calabar in Nigeria. Igwe's human rights advocacy has brought him into conflict with high-profile witchcraft believers, such as Liberty Foundation Gospel Ministries, because of his criticism of what he describes as their role in the violence and child abandonment that sometimes result from accusations of witchcraft. His human rights fieldwork has led to his arrest on several occasions in Nigeria. Igwe has held leadership roles in the Nigerian Humanist Movement, Atheist Alliance International, and the Center For Inquiry—Nigeria. In 2012, Igwe was appointed as a Research Fellow of the James Randi Educational Foundation, where he continues working toward the goal of responding to what he sees as the deleterious effects of superstition, advancing skepticism throughout Africa and around the world. In 2014, Igwe was chosen as a laureate of the International Academy of Humanism and in 2017 received the Distinguished Services to Humanism Award from the International Humanist and Ethical Union. Igwe was raised in southeastern Nigeria, and describes his household as being strictly Catholic in the midst of a "highly superstitious community," according to an interview in the Gold Coast Bulletin.[1] At age twelve, Igwe entered the seminary, beginning to study for the Catholic priesthood, but later was confused by conflicting beliefs between Christian theology and the beliefs in witches and wizards that are "entrenched in Nigerian society."[1] After a period of research and internal conflict due to doubts about the "odd blend of tribalism and fundamentalist Christianity he believes is stunting African development," a 24-year-old Igwe resigned from the seminary and relocated to Ibadan, Nigeria

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