My Campus Activism and Lessons Learned
July 13, 2013
When I was appointed the representative of the Center for Inquiry–Kenya, I somewhat thought I had a challenging task ahead of spreading the ideals of reason, science, freedom of Inquiry and humanist ideals in a deeply religious society. This was way back in 2007 when, after having two meetings with the then Director of International Programs, Norm Allen, Jr. in Kenya, I was made the Director of CFI–Kenya.
At that time, I was engaged with a youth non-governmental organization that empowered youths within the peripherals of Nairobi. Therefore, at the outset of my appointment, I started my freethought activism with these youth organizations. However, it was very challenging working with most of these youth organizations because a good number of them were had wide membership base of school dropouts who viewed humanist ideals as too radical for their understanding. At this level, I realized that the best place to spread the ideals of reason, science and free inquiry would be at the institutions of higher learning. This was because at that level, most students had grasped some basic level of education required for them to grasp some ideas that were presented in humanism.
My first attempt towards campus activism was during a cultural day at the University of Nairobi where I approached some leaders of the philosophical club and shared with them an introduction to freethought, scepticism and humanism. Here, I gave them the Campus Freethought Alliance guide book, issues of Free Inquiry, Skeptical Inquirer and other relevant materials. When I left them, they expressed a lot of interest because most of them had a first encounter with such radical philosophy. Afterwards, they invited me to engage them on a more expounded talk on humanism, and most students raised particular curious questions about religion which went well and the participation was encouraging. This group matured and a series of debates, workshops and meetings was sponsored by CFI–Kenya aimed at building capacity on the understanding of humanism, science, reason and freedom of inquiry.
When the University of Nairobi proved a success, CFI–Kenya decided to take this experience to other colleges and campuses around the country. Our next launch was at the Kenya Polytechnic. Here, we sponsored a variety of debates and workshops and we had some overwhelming turnouts.
With this kind of mobilization success, we decided to seek out help from CFI to sponsor humanist speakers from around Africa who could engage the students, and this was granted in 2009. Through the coordination of CFI–Transnational under Norm Allen Jr, we managed to host Leo Igwe who was the CFI–Nigeria director to Kenya. Leo is a reknowned African humanist who has been featured on various radio and television channel for his fight against witch hunts in Nigeria. In Kenya, he addressed large groups of students at the University of Nairobi, Kenya Polytechnic, and met group leaders in various parts of Nairobi.
Leo Igwe (center with a suitcase) at CFI–Kenya
Leo Igwe at Kenya Polytechnic
Leo Igwe at University of Nairobi
With the motivation, we went ahead and reached out to Moi University and formed a group called the Moi Freethinkers. Moi Freethinkers started well and various meetings were held to discuss the dangers of superstition and holding events like Charles Darwin celebrations.
George Ongere gives a talk at Maseno University
From Moi University, we reached at the far end to Maseno University which is in the western part of Kenya. Maseno Freethinkers hosted Bill Cooke at the start of this year and were encouraged by his enthusiastic talk. Since then, they have never looked back.
The Center for Inquiry–Kenya is still reaching out to other public universities to sensitize students on the importance of freethought and humanism. The lessons we have learned by getting involved with campus activism are that institutions of higher learning provide the best ground for the spread of humanist ideals. This is because most students become widely exposed to different views and are able to break the chains of traditional conservative dogma which were forcefully planted in their heads. Some of these ideas have not helped Africa, like the belief in witchcraft, that has led to lots of human rights crises in Africa. Children become hacked to death, fed poison because of the ideas of witchcraft; albinos become targeted because of the belief in witchcraft. Humanist ideals, when cultivated on the minds of these students, help students learn how to remove these harmful ideas and become the best material in the fight against superstition as our experience has proved.
CFI sponsored event at University of Nairobi
Lastly, our largest newspaper reported on the surprising rise of atheism in Kenya. This is an indicator that more and more people are becoming liberated from the dogma of religion and this is somewhat good news to our movement. We believe with our campus activism, a lot more is going to be achieved.
About the Author: George OngereGeorge Ongere is the executive director of CFI–Kenya, and works with campus groups throughout the region.
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