An Interview with Kato Mukasa — Board Member, IHEU

By Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Kato Mukasa is a Board Member of the International Humanist and Ethical Union. Here we talk about his personal narrative and views.

Scott Douglas JacobsenWas there a family background in humanism?

Mukasa: Yes, but the background was never very directly linked to humanism as I know it to day but it as more to do with awakening my critical thinking skills and increase doubt in whatever was being said by religious people. My mother was religious but my father was rather liberal. He read lot of literature on philosophy and gave me several works of Leo Tolstoy, Voltaire, works on Plato, Socrates and I found several critical novels written by Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe. What my father did was to encourage me to read, though I did not have lots of time with him growing up. The literature I read as a teen somewhat made me start questioning several things as a young person but it was my sceptical agnostic grandfather who seriously made me question all about religion. My grandfather never attended church and was too critical of religion and its leaders. By the time I joined secondary school I was questioning much about the God theories and believing more in employing my reasoning, research, and science in answering things that looked difficult to understand.

Jacobsen: How did you come to find humanism, or a humanist community? You are from Kampala, Uganda, and currently live there too.

Mukasa: I had read one book: ‘Wretched of the Earth’ in 1997 and the author talked about Humanism in the passing and when I first joined University in 1999, I attended Philosophy lectures out of curiosity and the teacher talked about different types of religious beliefs including unbelief. It was then that he explained Humanism in details that I then discovered that even when I had been taking myself as an atheist for some time then, I was equally a humanist too and somewhat I loved the idea and methodology behind humanism and the works done by humanists even more. I begun researching and finding out more about humanism that by end of 2001 I had noted there was already one humanist organisation in Uganda, the Uganda Humanists Association (UHASSO) which I later associated with and in 2007 found the Humanists Association for Leadership, Equity and Accountability (HALEA)

Jacobsen: What seems like the main reason for people to come to label themselves as humanists in Uganda, from your experience?

Mukasa: Those who do not believe in gods/ God but want to be doing works that empower the vulnerable, promote human rights and challenge retrogressive religious and cultural practices find it appropriate to label themselves as Humanists.

Jacobsen: What was the experience of finding a community of like-minded individuals?

Mukasa: It was nice to know that there were more other people with whom we share the same world view. It made me know that I am not alone and indeed I have a family of critical thinkers I can associate with.

Jacobsen: You studied commercial law at CUU Kampala, and economics and social administration at Makerere University. What were the main lessons and theories from these educational experiences?

Mukasa: The lessons are many but they all boil down to one thing in my view: that my skills and education is useless if I do not put it to serve my passion. My passion is in empowering others to discover the potential in them and to empower the most vulnerable and powerless individuals in our communities. Whether it is the knowledge in economics or law that I have I want to utilise to live a purpose driven life to keep on doing what I love doing.

Jacobsen: You have a broad base of professional experience through work as at and at International Humanist and Ethical Youth Organisation, and as the former president at Uganda Young Leaders Platform, former director at Bigtalk studio, and former member at Uganda Youth Network. What were the tasks and responsibilities involved in those positions, or at those organizations?

Mukasa: {Note, I have not worked at De Mensu but visited them. I have been more of a leader, manager or member of the organisations are mentioned. In brief my experience is more into management and making things happen in challenging work settings.

Jacobsen: At present, you are the director of legal services & humanist ceremonies at Humanist Association for Leadership, Equity and Accountability (HALEA), chair of the Uganda Humanist Association, and board member at the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU). What tasks and responsibilities come with this position?

Mukasa: All these positions are very challenging. At HALEA, I am in charge of legal affairs and Humanists Ceremonies. We have issues that call r the application of legal knowledge and I keep on working towards getting the vulnerable people we work with — out of trouble. I have handled rape and defilement cases, land evictions, parental neglect and domestic violence issues. For humanist ceremonies, I am currently championing the training of humanist celebrants in Uganda and other African countries. At UHASSO I and a team of committed leaders are working towards rebuilding it and taking it to greater heights. IHEU is one busy and result oriented organisation whose work is international. This keeps me busy attending board meetings and following up tasks given to me that in most cases link me up with sever countries.

Jacobsen: What seem like the core parts of humanist thought? Who are living and dead exemplars of humanism as an ethical and philosophical worldview?

Mukasa: Humanism is beyond critiquing religions and its dogma. It goes into changing people’s lives for the better and putting people first in whatever do. There are several humanists doing exceptionally good things but I will point out Josh Kutchinsky — The founder of HUMMAY- for his resilience in linking up humanists together ensuring that the world’ comes to the rescue of humanists in danger.

Jacobsen: How we expand the internationalist, humanist movement and its message of compassion, science, rationality, and unity?

Mukasa: It is important to identify freethinkers in countries where organised humanism is missing. Then it is at that stage that need to come up and support them get organised and support them start organisations that can have an impact in society.

Jacobsen: There can be many damaging effects from religion. What are the damaging effects of and the positive aspects of religion? How can humanism ameliorate those damaging effects — as you see them? How can humanism improve upon the positives of religion?

Mukasa: Religion makes many people swallow every lie in the name of faith. Many people in Africa do heinous crimes in the name of religion. Things like marrying off children, stopping the sick from accessing medicine in the guise of prayers can heal any disease and selling off property to donate money to the already rich pastors are some of the things that result because many religious people don’t question what their religious leaders say. There are also those who kill in the name of Allah and those who treat none believers as infidels. The positive aspect of religion I see is getting people together and believe in any cause a long as they believe God or Allah wishes it so. The damaging effects can only be ameliorated by promoting critical thinking and getting more freethinkers to challenge the ills that comes with religion. Humanism must learn that religious people are able to rally together because they re convinced in whatever they believe in. It is vital that humanists are well grounded in their own world view and be able to share it with the world from an informed view point.

Jacobsen: What are some of the big future initiatives for you? What have been some honest successes and failures of the Ugandan humanist movement?

Mukasa: At Pearl Vocational Training College, we starting a course to teach Humanists to become Celebrants not only in Uganda but in several African countries. I have been able to establish HALEA and we have been able to transform it into a strong and results-oriented humanist organisation that inspires many others especially in Africa. On the whole, the Uganda Humanists Movement has achieved lots of success in terms of starting legal organisations that are spread in all parts of Uganda. We have several humanists’ schools too that are training students to think beyond the national syllabus that is heavily influenced by religious indoctrination. The movement is still failing to effectively make Humanism a life stance that is well known an respected in the country. We need to work more on the publicity part of humanism.

Jacobsen: Also, if you take the Ugandan humanist movement, how can places, like Canada where I live, learn from its successes and failures?

Mukasa: Canada and other countries in more free world have no excuse for failing to have strong humanists’ organisations because they have at least more informed people and tolerant governments. This is not the case for us in Uganda n the rest of Africa but despite the many challenges we have managed to start humanists organisations and run them to some reasonable success. Our failures stem more on our lack of adequate resources including finances to make things happen and repressive regimes that curtail our operation and once humanists’ organisations can manoeuvre through this then there is no cause to worry about failing.

Jacobsen: Any feelings or thoughts in conclusion?

Mukasa: Humanism is the best world view that all humans should be embracing if we re to live in a more rational, happy and free world. Humanists must dare to stand up and be counted wherever they are, we must avoid playing second fiddle to religions and endeavour to champion causes that make the gods obsessed people see the relevancy in being humanists.

Jacobsen: Thank you for your time today, Kato, it was a pleasure.

Original Publication in Humanist Voices.

Scott Douglas Jacobsen founded In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal.

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