Kwabena “Michael” Osei-Assibey is the President of the Humanist Association of Ghana. We will be conducting this educational series to learn more about humanism and secularism within Ghana. Here we talk about divvying-up tasks, flak from some of the public, and then outreach, too.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen: In terms of the work of the Humanist Association of Ghana, as with other organizations, there is an issue with capacity and capacity-building. How do you divvy-up tasks for everyone? How do you deal, as an organization, with public flak? How do you go about reaching out to a less-than-friendly public at times?
Kwabena “Michael” Osei-Assibey: Like all sentient entities, HAG has faced a few crisis on the way to finding itself. The first was at its inception when we faced an identity crisis. The question of who we are came up a lot. At that time we were just a freethought social group, a space for outliers to meet and be comfortable in their own skin for a few hours. Made up of atheists, deists, agnostics, universalists and freethinkers of various dispositions, settling on humanism as a tag that binds us all was not an easy decision. We lost some members in resolving that crisis. Then came our crisis of purpose – What does HAG want to be. Even if we agree in principle that humanism should be the glue that binds us together, does it call us to a higher purpose? Do we just remain a social group that meets and provides space for freethinkers or are we capable of more. Our first two conferences showed us that we are capable of more. However, they also showed us that with purpose comes responsibility, something that not every member was willing to accept.
The organization remains purely a volunteer organization. Projects are proposed by members who then look for support from within the membership or from our pool of sister activist organizations. For example, a member, Selasie, passionate about the environment, proposed a partnership with another organization, Environment 360, to help clean up the beach as well as participate in a DIY boat race with boats made from recycled plastic bottles. Members got on board and we planned, executed and won the race. Another typical example is our monthly meetings and planned discussions that we have. When I wanted to have a series of conversations on humanism and economics, I sought out experts in the field with the help of members and we had a series of lectures and dialogues on the subject; from capitalism to socialism, and inequality to social justice. Similarly, our series on The history of the universe till now and what predictions we can make about tommorrow, was facilitated by a member, Eugene, who was passionate about the topic. Same can be said about participation in our podcast series as well as video series. In the case of tasks requiring technical audio visual skills, our current communications officer, Thaddeus, has been invaluable in that regard. The central theme here is that, we currently rely on passion for a project and the executives do our best to support whatever project members propose.
Our executive body, is also mandated under our constitution to perform certain keys tasks. Again, all this is volunteer based and so the executive body will sometimes ask for help from the membership body. There are always members keen to step in and help and HAG has been very fortunate in that regard. I will however state that it has not been easy balancing work and volunteering for activist work. The work-life-activist balance is something that I and many of our frequent-flyer volunteers struggle with and sometimes activism fatigue sets in. HAG is currently on the trajectory to be a political force in national conversations and we should be looking towards building the framework for such a time. We will be falling on Roslyn’s experience working with international humanist bodies as well as patrons like Leo Igwe to help with capacity building and planning for such a time. That said, I foresee a future in which HAG has a physical office with a few paid officers to help coordinate all projects and the volunteers that come with them.
Public flak is to be expected in our part of the world given the high levels of religiosity. There are two kinds we face, as a collective and as individuals. As a collective, we sometimes have to issue statements to condemn certain actions or write op-eds about sensitive issues. Depending on the issue, we either face a disproportionate amount of negative comments or quiet support by most sides. For instance, any post or statement showing support for the LGBTQIA+ community will draw in the vilest of comments while our op-eds about noisy churches will even get support from some section of believers. In any of these cases, we moderate the comment section with the goal of educating through calm logic and reasoning, encouraging empathy and solidarity with marginalized groups. On a few occasions, comments have to be deleted because they may cause more harm than serve any educational value. As individuals, our social media walls are prime with public flak on our personal posts about humanism and we mostly treat them the same way we do on our HAG pages. A few of us, in solidarity with minority communities, go on TV or radio to talk about sensitive topics. This is where it gets a bit tricky. Our faces and voices become known and may put us in danger, however, we always argue that our privilege will protect us and so far, we have been right.
In meeting the public, everyone has a different style but it mostly boils down to finding a common ground and being affable. You will almost always find someone discontent with the government, or state of practice of religions and that is a great starting point. Asking questions and just listening while always finding something to agree with before introducing your disagreement or perspective allows for whoever you are speaking to, to feel appreciated and connected to. Also, laying the foundation that you can agree to disagree or that you are not tied to your identity or beliefs and is willing to change your views with new evidence, provides some hope and assurance to whom ever you are speaking to. Mostly, curiosity wins. Most people have never met an atheist or know what humanism is and so are driven by their curiosity to understand how and why any sane person will not believe as they do.
Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Kwabena.
Scott Douglas Jacobsen is the Founder of In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal and In-Sight Publishing. He authored/co-authored some e-books, free or low-cost. If you want to contact Scott: Scott.D.Jacobsen@Gmail.com.
Do not forget to look into our associates: Godless Mom, Nice Mangoes, Sandwalk, Brainstorm Podcast, Left at the Valley, Life, the Universe & Everything Else, The Reality Check, Bad Science Watch, British Columbia Humanist Association, Dying With Dignity Canada, Canadian Secular Alliance, and Centre for Inquiry Canada.
Image Credit: Kwabena “Michael” Osei-Assibey.
Other Resources: Recovering From Religion.
Image Credit: Kwabena “Michael” Osei-Assibey.