Moses Kamya is the Headteacher of Mustard Seed Secular School in Busota, Uganda. Here we talk about religion and humanism in Uganda.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: What is your own background in religion – and your own family’s background in it too?
Moses Kamya: I was born to a Catholic dad living with a Protestant mum, both primary school teachers. None succeeded in converting the other. I was baptized in the Protestant faith. Dad tried to convert me to Catholicism while in upper primary but was unsuccessful due to long catechism lessons yet he was working in a distant place.
I grew up a Protestant, studied in Catholic schools, a ubiquity in my country up to senior four. It was at university while pursuing a bachelor degree in education that I got access to ideas of humanism.
Jacobsen: How the non-religious begin to gain some political leverage in Uganda, in a serious way?
Kamya: Uganda is a deeply religious country since colonial times. its of late that secular views are steadily taking root mainly beginning from higher institutions of learning. It’s until after attending an international humanist conference in Kampala in 2000s that I was encouraged together with other colleagues to take humanism to another level.
We were encouraged by likeminded from all over the world that attended this conference to devise means of propagating humanist ideals in Uganda. I personally came up with the idea of a humanist school in 2005. This is how the mustard seed secondary school was born in Busota.
Jacobsen: What have been honest failures and real successes in the non-religious movement within Uganda? How can Ugandans learn from the failures and build upon the successes?
Kamya: The humanist movement is seriously challenged working in a deeply religious environment. Society’s attitude is negative and not to forget that the existing laws are supportive of religion and against secularism.
Nonetheless, we now have 3 secondary schools to my knowledge a host of primary schools that operate as humanist schools on Uganda. We formulated an ethos funded by IHEU on how we teach and administer positive discipline in our daily duty and care for the learners.
Society, where we operate, has come to appreciate rationalism as a way of life. Humanist clubs in our schools encourage a scientific approach to solve problems as opposed to superstition and irrationalism, characteristic of all forms of organized religion.
The way forward is to strengthen our humanist schools to continue this initiative.
Jacobsen: How does religious gain privileges in legal, political, and social life within Uganda? How is this unjust if it occurs? What might be a remedy for it?
Kamya: Xtian missionaries introduced Christianity in Uganda in the 1970s. The major schools and hospitals were owned by churches and mosques. As a result, even the first political parties to be formed in Uganda during colonial rule and after were formed along religious lines, Catholics had their own, Protestants theirs, the same applies to Moslems.
Religion thus occupies a special place in our politics. Eg choice of cabinet ministers has to follow the principle among others of religious equity. The way forward is to empower youths with an indoctrination-free or for that matter secular education to be able to grow up independent thinkers that will compete for political office to change the laws.
Can you imagine that religious education is still compulsory in Ugandan schools? We need humanists to influence policy.
Jacobsen: If you point the direction to some admirable non-religious people who broke ground for the irreligious in Uganda, can you name names and also name books in order to guide the curious young person that may have interest in leaving their family religion and becoming a freethinker?
Kamya: There are a host of personalities in Uganda who have openly professed living secular lift styles. Dr. Kikongo, Dr. Change Macho, Dr. Stella Nyanzi, all from Makerere University are a case in point.
There are other colleagues, Deo Ssekitoleko founder of Uganda Humanist Association (UHASSO), Peter Kisirinya of Isaac Newton High School (Masaka).
Jacobsen: Any final thoughts or feelings in conclusion?
Kamya: Kato Mukasa of IHEYO, and not forgetting myself. Luckily, enough we have abundance of humanist literature in the Ugandan humanist schools, thanks to kind donations from UHST UK. Humanism for schools is a darling tittle for the learners.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Moses.
Kamya: I feel honored to be part of this interview. It has reinvigorated my resolve for the cause of humanity, i.e. leaving this world a better place than we found it. Thanks to all our supporters for enabling us to fulfill our humanist aspirations, without which we would probably remain wishful thinkers.
Long live the spirit of humanism!
Scott Douglas Jacobsen founded In-Sight Publishing and In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal.