It is error alone which needs the support of government. Truth can stand by itself. ~ Thomas Jefferson


C himunthu Banda, Hetherwick Ntaba, Vuwa Kaunda - government's spokesmen muddying human rights with the gay issue

Thursday, March 31, 2011


 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:

(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
political oppression.
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.

Monday, March 28, 2011



When ASH’s George Thindwa gets his teeth into something he’s like a terrier with a rat. He’ll hang on to the end. His favourite quarry? Those who accuse others of witchcraft. Such cases, as we have documented before in this blog, are generally mishandled by Police and magistrates resulting in the unjust conviction of the unfortunate ‘witches’ and long spells of imprisonment.
Another strange case came up in February on George’s home turf – Lilongwe. Mercy Chikwatula (age 8) and  Grace Witness accused Jimu Ali (58) and wife Grace Macheso (47), Ms. Ida Samuel (20), Lucy Kudzawe (40) and Ellen Kasabola (36) of practicing witchcraft. In particular they alleged that they were taking the child on a magic ‘plane to Blantyre some 330 kilometers away and causing the illness of her mother and Grace and by witchcraft. Normally the ‘plane is considered to be a lichero or winnowing basket seen here in one of its correct uses holding a selection of boa or edible fungi
The case was taken to the Police who charged the five with practicing witchcraft which all denied.
When the case went to court the Police changed the charge to one of pretending to be a witch.
Seeing the weakness in the Police case George drew up a list of questions for the accused to put to the witnesses, including the Police officer. These questions and the unsatisfactory answers convinced the magistrate and, on March 25, she ruled that the accused had no case to answer. They were consequently acquitted.
However, the affair did not finish there. The accusers were unhappy with the magistrate’s decision and they and their supporters harassed the newly-freed ‘witches’ after they left the court, accusing them anew of witchcraft. This is an offence under the current law. In fact, it is they who the Police should have charged when the matter first came to their attention. The Police arrested eight people and charged them with the correct offence of accusing people of being a witch.
It appears that the Police at that particular location have been given a lesson in the law by our ‘terrier’, George, and are now intent on applying it.
Another great victory for Humanism in Malawi.
In the recent case, reported here, of Bertha Yohane who was freed by the High Court on appeal after two years in prison, ASH has instructed lawyers to claim compensation for wrongful imprisonment. It is ASH’s intention to help all those unjustly imprisoned for witchcraft to make similar claims.



By George Thindwa, 

Regular Science & Critical Thinking column published in the Sunday Times (Malawi) of March 27, 2011

Quote: Customs do not concern themselves with right or wrong or reason. But they have to be obeyed; one reasons all around them until he is tired, but he must not transgress them, it is sternly forbidden. Mark Twain

Critical thinking is the most valuable and underused resource. Malawians need to be critical thinkers to avoid being deceived, conned, misled and exploited. Critical thinking can help us to conquer fear, ignorance, and gullibility; challenge long standing political, religious and social dogmas. It can free our minds from superstition and nonsense. With critical thinking, we are unlikely to fall victim to faith healers, fraudsters like evangelical con artists, money multipliers, asing`ang`as and realise that some of what we see on satellite Televisions is not faith healing but fraud. The miracles claims are stage-managed and meant to hoodwink vulnerable gullible folks. Ask yourself, why can`t these miracles solve the many economic and social problems in their countries? Why can`t the money multipliers make themselves rich? Critical thinking is for everyone. There are many superstitious beliefs in Malawi that should be subjected to critical thinking. Our society would be better off then. So think critically.

Critical thinking is an ability to evaluate, compare, critique and synthesize information, think critically and analytically; thinking to generate questions and examine and challenge claims; questioning beliefs and assumptions. These are the eight essential guidelines on thinking critically.

1) Ask questions, be willing to wonder. Creativity is sparked by an openness to question the world around us. Critical thinkers examine all ideas and beliefs. New and old claims should be examined and questioned especially when evidence is weak.

2) Define the problem clearly. To solve a problem, you must in the first place define the problem clearly. Many times proposed solutions fail because they are not addressing the correct problem.

3) Examine the evidence. Demand good evidence before accepting a belief as true.  Ask for evidence to support a claim.  As much relevant evidence as possible should be examined.

4)  Analyze assumptions and biases. Critical thinkers need to be aware of their own biases and prejudices in order to keep those influences to a minimum.

5) Avoid emotional reasoning. Feelings and intuitions are not enough to base an argument on. Give little credit to a person who can only support his opinions by emotions. Science and our understanding of the world, progress on facts and not feelings.

6) Do not oversimplify. We live in a complex world. Avoid easy generalizations and understand that there may be several viewpoints that make valid claims. Know that “the devil is in the details’; i.e. a claim that seems impressive may turn out to be false once the details are examined.

7)  Consider other interpretations. Be creative in formulating hypotheses that offer potential explanations of behavior and events. Find an explanation that accounts for the most evidence with fewest assumptions.   Generate as many interpretations of the evidence as possible before settling on the most likely.

8) Tolerate uncertainty. Maintain an open mind. Be receptive to new ideas and possibilities. Do not be dogmatic. Science cannot answer every question. Some answers are probabilities. Critical thinkers must admit when they are not sure of something.


Tuesday, March 22, 2011



Dear friends,Atheists, secularists and Humanists, HALEA is organizing a public debate on the theme of Separation of Religion and State.The Big Debate is scheduled for 25th March, at Club Obligato, in Kampala city.HALEA therefore invites all those that can attend to be there or send views on the subject that will enrich the debate.We have invited politicians, religious leaders, scholars, students and opinion leaders to share their views.Below is a brief concept note being given to the targeted participants.Hope to meet you there or hear from you, Kato Mukasa, Coordinator, Open Talk Debates ( +256 772- 576635)
Topic: Separation of Religion and State. Should Religious Leaders be barred from Politics?
Whereas Uganda’s motto is for God and My Country, there is no official State religion, thus, - at least going by the 1995 Constitution – Uganda is Secular Nation. Secularists argue that religion should not be involved with the ordinary social and political activities of a country. However; religious leaders greatly influence the leadership and governance of the nation. The Inter Religious Council of Uganda (IRCU) has been actively involved in the recently concluded elections.IRCU for instance met all presidential aspirants to ensure a free and fair election.IRCU also organized  special days ( Feb 11,12&13) to pray for peaceful elections.  We have also noted how politicians use religious leaders to gain power and sometimes offer them expensive gifts using tax payers’ money.
On several occasions, the Catholic Church has asked the Central government to restore a good working relationship with Buganda Kingdom in order to resolve their current stand off. Similarly, the Uganda Joint Christian Council (UJCC) is known for among others condemning Uganda Police Force for its brutality in stopping public rallies. President Museveni has too often, condescendingly told religious leaders to concentrate on spiritual matters and leave politics to him. In his sermon last Sunday (20th March), Fr.Archiles Mayanja, of Rubaga Catholic Church insisted that the church can not keep out of politics because it is part of the body politic. We now ask whether the role played by religious leaders is equated to participating in politics.
We also note that some religious leaders have openly participated in politics and yes, in partisan politics too. The late Fr.John Mary Waligo was un apologetic supporter of the ruling party, NRM.The late Fr. Sseguya was an RDC, Imam Kasozi openly supports JEMA party and we know several men and women of God including priest in Parliament and other positions of leadership , many of them on the NRM ticket. Pastors such as Peter SSematimba and Robert Kayanja have openly supported the NRM party. We appreciate the fact that political contests in Uganda are generally marred by mudslinging, open bribery and vote rigging. Uganda is sharply divided along religious, ethnic and political lines and there is an urgent need to foster peace and unity as a basis for real development. Former UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion/Beliefs, Abdel Fatah Amor, noted: ‘There are only two problems, when the state owns religion and when religion owns the state’
Given the above picture
·         Should religious leaders be de linked from partisan politics or the body politic as a whole?
·         When does the involvement of religious leaders in the body politic become unnecessary?
·         What should be the role of religious leaders in Uganda’s political setting to day?
POLITE NOTE: Open Talk Debate is a forum for critical intellectual discussion and not emotional outbursts. The debate is organized by HALEA.
-          HALEA: Humanist Association for Leadership Equity and Accountability

Monday, March 21, 2011


When in 2009 ASH Executive Secretary George Thindwa saw the original report of the conviction of Bertha Yohane and her sentencing to four years imprisonment on charges of witchcraft he swore to himeself that he would work to have her released.
She is now released after successful appeal and back with her family as the photo taken at Thindwa's home clearly shows.

Yohane expressed her gratitude:

"I had no idea that any people or organisation that did not know me personally could be so kind as to help me."

A report on the outline of the case appears under the heading "Another witch freed" in the blog of March 17, below.



A short article on the award of the 2010 Nordic Rainbow Humanist Award to our association featured on Page 2 of Malawi’s Sunday Times. The article was highlighted on the front page (see photo). This is another example of how ASH is thought of as newsworthy by the local media - another boost to our public image.



By Bonda Chifundo, Chancellor College

Quote: When even the brightest mind in our world has been trained up from childhood in a superstition of any kind, it will never be possible for that mind, in its maturity, to examine sincerely, dispassionately, and conscientiously any evidence or any circumstance which shall seem to cast a doubt upon the validity of that superstition. I doubt if I could do it myself. Mark Twain

Superstition encompasses beliefs in gods and witchcraft. Humanism rebuffs superstition, all supernatural beliefs and places man at the centre of life.  Let me show why Humanism is better than superstition by looking at these  three ways; reliability, the contribution each makes to humanity, and the view each holds of the human race.
RELIABILITY: Superstition is based on beliefs that have not been experienced and for which little evidence exists. It is founded on the precept of the unknown, unseen and should be feared. Superstition instils fear; a tendency not to question it even if one sees flaws in it.  Fear is unhealthy; it restricts people from reaching their full potential and enjoying life. Humanism promotes the need to question everything and promotes free inquiry. Beliefs must be questioned. As a result, Man has made great strides in life. It was humans not gods who discovered modern medicines, created modern technology and invented things. All the inventions and positive discoveries are a result of human effort on its own.  
CONTRIBUTION TO HUMANITY:  Superstition has been the major cause of conflicts, death and human suffering. Religion has caused millions of deaths by persecution and we still have wars among different religious groups.  Religion and other superstitions consume a lot of time, money and human labour and waste a lot of resources. If the money going to building churches  were to build schools; help the poor and time spent in prayer well utilised in human development, we would be better off.  Humanists don’t worship in churches, thereby saving resources, advocate that everyone must be productive; promotes reasoning without having to conform to imaginary supernatural entities. Through reasoning, man has achieved great wonders. Humanism promotes scientific explorations, whose discoveries have promoted a better life for humanity to our present world.
VIEWS OF HUMANITY; Superstition places man below the supernatural powers and therefore obliges man to subjugate himself to them. In Christianity man is below Jesus and God. Man’s purpose is to glorify these entities. Superstition denigrates man and elevates the unknowable. Superstition leads people to see others as members of a group and discriminates against minorities. In African tradition and the Holy books, woman is merely a creation to serve man. Humanism believes in the power of the human being, and that there is no supernatural source of help. Humans must solve challenges of wars, poverty, and disease on their own. Humanist do not discriminate against anyone and through evolution see men and women as equal, who live this life in the here and now without discrimination.
We live in the 21st century where we cannot be guided by doctrines and dogma. The world is now different and changing. Humanity must examine the world without fear, pursue its dreams and create a better world, free from the baleful influence of belief in non-existent powers.  That is what Humanism has to offer.