By Leo Igwe
Monrovia Liberia. Date March 26 2010
I am happy to be in Liberia, Africa’s first republic. I bring you all greetings and salutations from the International Humanist and Ethical Union and from all humanist and free thought groups around the globe. I want to assure you that all humanists wish Liberians well. We are strongly behind you as you embark on this critical task of rebuilding your country. Humanists are disposed to work with you all and to contribute to the process of reconstruction and rehabilitation in Liberia.
When freed slaves set foot on this land centuries ago, they came here not in search of food or water; they came here not in search of clothing or shelter; they came here not in search of your minerals or your famous ‘Grains of Paradise’.
Friends, when freed slaves arrived this country years ago, they came here in search of freedom, dignity and equality. Freed slaves came to this land in their quest for a place and a space where their humanity and human rights would be respected. That was why this country was named Liberia meaning ‘a land of the free’ by its founders. But since independence in 1847, has Liberia always been a land of the free? Has this land of liberty always been a beacon of liberty in Africa?. Has Liberia always been a commonwealth, a ‘res publica’ a public property?
You and I know that the answer to these questions is in the negative. Because poverty, ignorance, corruption, hypocrisy, despair, dogma, pessimism, superstition, blind faith, fringe education, ineptitude, lack of foresight, indolence, bad governance, bad politics, bad leadership, unenlightened self interest, parochial loyalties caused this nation to derail. Hence from 1989 to 1996, this country fought what is regarded as one of the bloodiest civil wars in the history of Africa. That war claimed the lives of over 200 000 Liberians. That war displaced over 1,000 000 million Liberians and forced them to live as refugees in Liberia, in Africa and around the globe. That war destroyed and devastated this nation’s infrastructure. That war truncated the growth and development of this country. That war traumatized the world.
But we are glad that peace returned to Liberia following the presidential and legislative elections of 2005 which saw Liberia become the first African country to democratically elect a female president. We are glad that Liberia has turned a new leaf- the leaf of peace, democracy and good governance. We are delighted that this nation is well on its way to truly becoming a land of freedom as envisioned by the founders.
My good people of Liberia, you all know that the peace which Liberians are currently enjoying was earned at a huge cost. Millions of people from Liberia and beyond paid dearly for it. So I say to you today “Guard this peace jealously” Dont allow this peace to slip from your hands again. Never allow this nation to return to the days of chaos and anarchy, wars, killings and destruction. Never allow warlords and criminals to over run your country again. So commit yourselves fully to rebuilding this nation.
Distinguished friends, I am here to share with you some thoughts, insights and ideas of how we can rebuild Liberia. I am not here to impose any idea on you. I am not here to offer you proposals you cannot reject, debate, challenge or criticize. I am not here to foist any foreign ideology on Liberians. Instead I am here to stimulate your minds. I am here to inspire you. I am here to motivate you. I am here to rob minds with you. I am here to draw your attention to the promises of humanism and human rights. I am to let you know how the values of humanism and human rights would help us realize a new Liberia.
Humanism is an outlook that focuses on humanity and strives to improve human happiness and well being in this world. Humanists believe in the dignity of every human being. The humanist outlook aims to bring out the best in people so that all people will have and enjoy the best in this one life we have. Humanists seek to realize the promises of humanism in so many ways. And one of the ways is by promoting universal human rights.
Friends, Human beings can fully and actively participate and contribute to development only in societies where their full human rights are respected. In many parts of Africa, human rights are not treated as universal and inalienable. Human rights are still not regarded as the entitlement of all human beings. Human rights are abused with impunity. Most of the problems that plague Africa are as a result of the disregard and contempt of human rights by state and non state actors.
Many African countries are stagnant and backward, they are plagued with poverty and strife because the governments do not fulfill their human rights obligations. Most people in Africa have allowed faiths and beliefs that alienate and subordinate the human being to some imaginary entities to guide their lives. Africans have not allowed the civilized values of reason, science, critical thinking and human rights to govern them. Instead in most African communities, ideas of life and mentalities informed by primitive instincts, oppression, exploitation, discrimination,inequality and injustice hold sway. In Africa, the dark age mentality, the barbarous and savage sentiments are holding our people hostage. Primitive religions and superstitions trump human rights. And that is why today, state sponsored homophobia and witch hunts are ravaging the continent.
My good people of Liberia, as you embark on this task of reconstruction, this is your opportunity to recreate, renew and relaunch your country. This is your chance to realize a new Liberia where human rights will be treated not as a gift from the state to the citizens but as the heritage of all Liberians.
So do not allow ideologies of despair, pessimism and anguish to overwhelm you, narrow or stunt your visions. Do not allow sacred illusions and comforting superstitions that denigrate human dignity and happiness in this world to corrupt your minds and your abilities to rebuild Liberia. Many of these mistrusted ideologies abound on the continent. The peddlers want to capture your ‘souls’ at the expense of your happiness, flourishing and self realization in this world. They want to take advantage of the misery, desperation and devastation caused by the war to foist on you these illusions that hamper your emancipation, empowerment and self actualization. So be vigilant.
Do not allow religious fundamentalists to corrupt your democracy. Today many faith based gangs are terrorizing the world, they seek to impose their dark and destructive visions on any society. Today many self styled soldiers and armies of God or Allah are on the prowl in Africa looking for weak states and fragile governments they can infiltrate, destabilize, theocratize and use to execute their criminal schemes. Since I arrived Liberia I have read about how a rumor, later found to be false, that a mosques was destroyed by christians led to an outbreak of violence between muslims and christians in the Lofa County. One of the reasons for the recurrent religious clashes in my country Nigeria is because these theocrats are in power. They have hijacked our democracy and sidelined our constitution. Theocrats mix religion and politics. They have no respect for universal human rights. They have no regard for the will and rights of the people. My country Nigeria is mired is religious crisis because the rulers have mix church, mosque and state. In matters concerning religion, the Nigerian government cannot uphold the rule of law. Instead it has allowed islamists to foist sharia law and islamic theocracy on the people. The Nigerian government lacks the political will to punish those who commit crimes in the name of Allah or religion.
So my good people of Liberia, strive to make the New Liberia a secular state where the government is an impartial arbiter and guarantor of the rights of all individuals no matter the religion or belief they profess. The new Liberia should be one where all individuals-believers and non believers are equal before the law. In the New Liberia every individual will be free to profess, renounce or criticize any religion or belief.
No individual will be oppressed, persecuted or discriminated against as a result of the person’s religious belief or unbelief. In the New Liberia, freethought should be the norm. Because it is only when individuals can think, express and exchange ideas freely that we can generate excellent thoughts we need to build a new civilization for Liberia.
Humanism expresses confidence in the ability of human beings to solve the problems they cause and encounter. Humanists have faith in the potentials of humans, not God, to better their lives. ‘No deity will save us’, says the Second Humanist Manifesto, ‘we must save ourselves.’ So we must take our destiny in our hands.
As long as there are human beings, there is hope- there is hope for Liberia, there is hope for the world. All Liberians should renew their confidence in their ability to salvage this nation and fix its problems. I know all of us were traumatized by the war. I know that many of you lost parents, brothers and sisters, friends and colleagues. I am aware that such memories are painful and difficult to forget. I know that such memories could even make some to think that there is no meaning in life or in existence.
My good people of Liberia, do not forget that there is no great nation on earth today that did not at one time or the other in its history suffer similar or worse fate or tragedy. But they overcame it and have gone ahead to build great and prosperous nations. So the people of Liberia, you will overcome. This is the message of the International Humanist and Ethical Union to you today.
There is no need to despair because there is no problem caused by Liberians that cannot be fixed by Liberians. I urge you to put those painful memories behind you, and forge ahead. And do not allow them to stop you from reinventing your lives and from envisioning new meanings, prospects and possibilities for yourselves and for your country. Life still has meaning, and that is the meaning we, human beings, give it.
Humanists seek to realize the promises of humanism by fighting superstitions. Africa is a deeply superstitious continent. Beliefs informed by fear, ignorance and unreason dominate the thought and culture, the norms, morals, politics, the justice and education systems. And they include beliefs in witches and wizards, in juju, charms and magical concoctions, in ritual sacrifice of humans and animals, in gods, devils and deities, in spiritual manipulation of issues, in divine revelation, divine intervention, occult powers and the supernatural world.
Many of these superstitions are so entrenched and have refused to go away despite the ‘presence’ of modern science and education. They continue to darken the African society because Africans regard them as truths, as self evident truths that cannot be questioned. Africans have adopted these myths and misconceptions as sacred traditions that should not be critically evaluated or challenged. That is why today in Africa, superstition related atrocities are common and widespread. People alleged to be witches and wizards are still persecuted and executed in Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Kenya, Uganda, the Congos, Cameroun, Gambia, Central African Republic and Malawi. Ritual killing and sacrifice of women, children, babies and albinos, physically and mentally challenged persons still take place in Nigeria, Uganda, Swaziland, Tanzania, Burundi, Mozambique etc. You must have heard that today(March 26), some government officials were arrested for their involvement in ritualist activities otherwise known as GBO-YO business.
Also you all know about the practice of sasinwoo here in Liberia. People suspected of witchcraft, who are in most cases women, are given this poisonous substance to drink.
They are choked with broomsticks or have their flesh burnt with red hot iron. I was told that this practice was common during the reign of Charles Taylor. In fact I was told that there was a section of the Ministry of Internal Affairs approved by the government to administer sasinwoo. Currently we are looking into a case in Grand Geda Country in the Southeastern region of Liberia of 5 women jailed some years ago for killing some children through witchcraft. If these women are still in jail, we shall, after thorough investigation take up their matter with the government of Liberia. We shall work and campaign to secure their release. We shall work to ensure that nobody in Africa is abused, persecuted or executed for mere accusation of witchcraft. We shall work to end state sponsored witch hunts in Liberia and throughout Africa.
Dear Friends, the frequent occurrence of these barbaric practices has made many people to look down on Africans or to think that Africans are sub humans. That Africans do not think. That Africans do not have intelligence or have very little intelligence.
But you and I know that those who entertain these views are greatly mistaken. Africans think. Africans have intelligence like other human beings. The problem is that most us in Africa do not think critically. Blind belief, dogma and religious fanaticism reign supreme. And because we in Africa have clung tenaciously to dogma and superstitious beliefs, development driven by science, critical thinking and technological intelligence has eluded us. Most Africans do not apply their intelligence fully, freely and unfetteredly in all areas of human endeavour. In African schools, indoctrination, memorization, regurgitation and recycling of old ideas is the norm. Schools do not reward curiosity, criticism or free inquiry. African families do not inspire their children to explore and experiment, to create and recreate, to invent or innovate, to question, debate or doubt aloud.
My good people of Liberia , history has thrusted on us the duty of rebuilding and renewing Liberia. So let’s leave superstition and embrace reason, science, critical thinking and compassion. Let’s work to realize a new Liberia guided by the values of Enlightenment, critical awakening and intellectual rebirth.
In conclusion, we know that humanism cannot play a critical role in the new Liberia project without active, competent and committed humanists and human rights activists. Hence I am using this opportunity to call on all humanists and humanist oriented individuals at this forum to come forward so that we can work to establish an effective humanist group in Liberia. I invite all human rights activists and groups, all civil society organisations, students and teachers in this country to cooperate with us so that we can realize a Liberia where the full human rights of all individuals are respected.