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CFI Kenya Report: An Approach Towards a Humanistic Africa

George Ongere

August 17, 2012

When students in most learning institutions in East Africa become engaged for the first time in the topic of evolution, they become astonished at the mention that some of the fossils discussed were found in East Africa. Some have always shuddered at the thought that good-looking human beings like us descended from apes, but even then the reality that the skulls and tools that gave evidence to this were found in their countries have always left them in wonder.

Of course, in East Africa, the works of the Leakey family, and mostly Richard Leakey, have been of great importance and influence in the international arena. Richard’s expedition on Lake Turkana in Kenya led him to the discovery of a skeleton of a homo erectus who died 1.6 million years ago at about the age of nine to twelve. This was a nearly complete skeleton of a hominid that died in the early Pleistocene and it was the most complete early human skeleton ever found. This specimen is displayed at the Nairobi National Museum as catalog number KNM – WT 15000. Also, the fossils discovered in Olduvai Gorge in Tanzania give further evidence that human beings evolved.

Moreover, the Nairobi National Museum has the greatest collection of early human fossils anywhere in the world. The display includes primitive artifacts revealed by the Leakey family and fossils from Lake Turkana. In 2005, the museum closed for the public and reopened in June 2008 after extensive modernization and expansion which resulted in a magnificent piece of architecture including the sculptures of different stages of evolution of man at the gate, pictured below.

evolution artwork Artwork at the gate of Nairobi Museum

Obviously, the above discoveries and works should have convinced the East African population that all that we see in this natural environment came through a gradual process that took a long period of time and should consequently dampen the belief in fairy tales of a supernatural being who took soil and modeled a human in his image and all the other fables contained in various religious books.

However, due to the continued poverty, corruption, and other disasters of the third world, most East Africans and a good number Africans in general have avoided thinking and believing that they came through the gradual process called evolution. Most have held the conviction that they were created by a supernatural being who would one day appear and deliver them from the poverty and problems of the third world to the paradise of an afterlife. No wonder why Africa is still reported as a religious continent.

Therefore, it is not surprising to note that important dates like February 12 of every year pass unnoticed in Africa. That was the day Charles Darwin revealed the great truth in his publication of “The Origin of Species.” Nevertheless, the Center for Inquiry sponsored this year’s Charles Darwin Celebration at Moi University.

Ongere at a Darwin Celebration George Ongere at a past Charles Darwin Celebration

Moi University is located about a kilometer from Eldoret Town in the Western part of Kenya. Here, CFI-Kenya engaged Moi Freethinkers; a free thought organization that was founded by CFI-Kenya in 2008. At the event, most students responded with enthusiasm and most presentations were on the topic of evolution with additional topics like natural selection. The intellectual content was good. However, CFI-Kenya noted that most students had little knowledge on the topic of evolution and the topics of humanism and here we promised to hold various events to build their capacity on the subjects.

Ongere presenting George Ongere presenting at Moi University

Moi Freethinkers group photo Moi Freethinkers; an Oncampus at Moi University

On another note, starting September last year, CFI-Kenya started a project “Support a Humanist Orphan.” This initiative started when we engaged the rural village of Kisumu in our anti-superstition campaign. In Kisumu, many kinds of irrational belief have taken root. Here, cases of witchcraft accusation and witch-hunting have been common. Another example of irrational thought in the village is how the community is dealing with HIV/AIDS; CFI-Kenya reported on this on CSICOP. Many victims of HIV/AIDS were made to believe that they had been healed after attending various religious crusades and were told to stop taking anti-retroviral drugs. Most people from Kisumu travelled to Loliondo in Tanzania and were given some herbs by a retired Lutheran priest and were assured that the supernatural powers of the drugs had cured them. The result was that many victims lost their lives, consequently leaving behind many orphans. Once these children are left behind, they face a bleak future and many drop out of school.

Ongere and school administrators George Ongere talks to the school administration about the humanist orphans

In most parts of Africa, the fates of such children are left to the unknown and most succumb to death due to hunger and malnutrition. And in countries like Nigeria, children accused of witchcraft are hacked to death and some are fed poison. Some also migrate to small urban centers where some end as street children or, in the case of the females, start prostitution. This then leads to a rise in unsafe sex, and thus more HIV/AIDS.

The above predicaments caused by superstition involving the young generation is what tempered CFI-Kenya to start the “Support A Humanist Orphan.” Here, we identified eleven orphans, of whom five are boys and six are girls, who had been left to the unknown, and took them back to school. The stories of these young children are touching and one is left to wonder why Africa has to embrace such irrational beliefs that thwart human rights and gag the younger generation, and why that continues to persist even in this era of enlightenment.

The aim of “Support A Humanist Orphan” is to help children in the rural of Africa who have been victims of witchcraft accusation and any other misfortune caused by irrational thought. When they grow in our care, they will be exposed to critical thinking skills and this will prevent them from being indoctrinated by religion and the superstitious society around them.

eleven humanist orphans The eleven humanist orphans

Already, by adopting the initiative, CFI-Kenya has been granted permission by the various rural schools to launch any program we believe would help open the minds of the pupils and students. By now, CFI-Kenya has started forming debating clubs in the rural schools where they will engage in debates that open the minds to critical thought. Hopefully, through this we will be able to introduce an alternative to religious studies that they are now forced to swallow.

It is our belief that so far this is the best approach towards a humanistic Africa.

In my recent report, I wrote that we celebrate Charles Darwin day on 12th because it was the date he published the book "On The Origin of Species". That was an error. We have always held Charles Darwin Day on this date to Celebrate his birthday and his contribution to science.

Am sorry if it might have caused some inconvenience.


George Ongere

George Ongere's photo

George Ongere is the executive director CFI-Kenya.