Recently, HALEA, our sister organisation in Uganda held an open forum debate on this important issue. Here in Malawi religious leaders occupy a central position when it comes to political dialogue and have generally been seen as a force for the good as far as the condition of the populace and their rights are concerned. However, we contend that their continuing position of influence is an adverse reflection on the weak condition of secular civil society organisations.
Their continuing hold on the minds of the people deter some debates on issues of human rights such as the debate on homosexuality and abortion. Two words are used in Malawi to prevent all sensible debate - "The Bible/God/Religion" and "Our Culture". However, these two contentions need to be properly debated and removed from consideration since there is freedom of religion and freedom of culture. Not one religion's set of morals or one aspect of culture should claim to dominate.
Let us hope that we can organise a similar series of public debates.
And here are two sad stories on Ugandans who suffered for being gay:
TAKING HUMANISM TO THE PUBLIC: THE CASE OF UGANDA
(A Brief Report)
Kato Mukasa, Project Coordinator, OPEN TALK DEBATES.
On Friday 25th March, right in the heart of Kampala City, the Humanist Association for Leadership Equity
and Accountability (HALEA) organized a public debate on the controversial theme: Separation of
Religion and State. Drawn from different walks of life, the 217 participants included university students,
teenagers from primary and secondary schools, politicians, academicians, members from the civil
society, representatives from cultural institutions, religious leaders and Pan Africanists.
The Panel had Dr.Samuel Walter Lubega, a former presidential Candidate in the February 2011 elections,
Hon Charles Rwomushana, a political analyst and free thinker, Pastor Solomon Male, the Director of
Arise for Christ Church, a gentleman well know for openly attacking fellow pastors for cheating their
sheep. It had Reverend Canon Aaron Mwesigye, a scholar and theologian, Madam Ann Mugisha, the
Secretary for International Affairs from Uganda’s leading opposition party, the Forum for Democratic
Change. There was Mr. Robert Kanusu, the Press Secretary of Uganda Peoples’ Congress (UPC), Mr. Erick
Sakwa, the head of the Youth Desk at the UPC, Lawyer Muwada Nkunyinji, representing the Uganda
Muslim Lawyers Association,Mr. John Ngabirano of the Pan African Movement and Mr. Asimwe Steven
from the ruling party, National Resistance Movement’s Communication Bureau.
The Open Talk Debates – a name given to brand the debates organized by HALEA for teenagers and the
general public – are meant to be open to all, free from biases including the exploitative religious and
cultural practices and the debates are interactive. The panelists presented their views and the audience
had their take. The Key issues noted were:
1. Religion and the State are bed fellows and aid one another in the oppression and exploitation of
the masses. They all use the so called ‘divine authority’ to justify their economical, cultural and
2. All participants acknowledged the need to have religious leaders out of partisan politics and
most of the panelists illustrated how religious leaders were involved in the February 2011
elections- and most of them having been candidates – they explained how unfair it was to have
religious leaders taking sides in a political context.
3. Participants explained why it is a toll order to separate religious leaders from politics because
they are part of the body politic. Some noted that the intervention of religious leaders is
necessary from a human rights view point.
4. Many educated Ugandans are increasingly becoming skeptical as many panelists openly declared
their being non religious, some questioned where religious leaders get the moral authority to
‘manage their affairs’ and some warned that religious leaders are likely to remain with the
ignorant, the poor and illiterates.
Open Talk Debates are new in Uganda and have been welcomed by the participants who hitherto never
knew that there can be a forum on which controversial and highly sensitive issues that question
retrogressive religious and cultural practices can be discussed and the concerned parties are called upon
to account for their actions. As a moderator, I found my job very demanding as I in most cases had to
calm down the panelists especially from the religious circles who now and again felt offended by the
other aggressive and open minded panelists. Thanks to HAMU and IHEU, the debates are happening and
many people are getting aware of organized humanism and yes, many people are gradually coming on
board. HALEA is increasingly letting people know that humanism is the idealism that seeks to unify all
human beings under the banner of their common humanity. Indeed, humanism can offer a rational,
logical and better way to living a complete life. The entire debate was filmed and will soon be available
on DVDs but without a website, HALEA can not have our dear readers view it. Efforts are being made to
enable the public here in Uganda view the entire debate. We also call upon all well wishers out there to
enable us design or get a website on which such videos and future activities can be freely viewed. On
behalf of HALEA, I also take this opportunity to thank Jean and Barrie Berkeley for attending the debate. I
thank you all and as we always say at HALEA: One Generation plants a tree, another Generation gets the
shade. Our struggle continues.