Conference Reports

IHEYO International Humanist Youth Conference 2004
Kampala, Uganda 20-24 May


Group picture


Humanists all over the world, like many others, are concerned about the state of decadence, the widespread hunger, and the elusiveness of peace on our planet. As is evident from the Humanist Manifesto of 1933 to the Amsterdam Declaration of 2002, Humanists worldwide have been striving to make this world, the only one we have, a better place.

It was in this context that IHEYO organized its third international conference, with the theme 'Global Humanism for Peace and Social Justice'. The conference took place in Kampala, the capital of Uganda, from 20-24 May, 2004. Over 75 delegates attended, coming from Uganda, Nigeria, Kenya, Belgium, the Netherlands, Finland, Norway, Germany, Austria, Tanzania, Rwanda, and Congo DR.

IHEYO-KAMPALA 2004, the first conference of its kind in Africa, examined critical questions that can endanger, promote, and sustain international and intranational peace. Global Humanism in this context was seen as offering an effective solution - the only longterm solution - to amicable resolution of conflict and redemption of the social injustices that have been meted out to many individuals and groups all over the world.

The conference opened formally on Friday 21 May, at the Agha Khan Assembly Hall, Makerere Road, Kampala, with presentations concerning the general definitions, scope, and tools of global Humanism and underlining its importance to current problems.

This was followed in the afternoon by a peace rally under the banner 'No alternative to Peace'. The rally, with a candlelight procession, was held to mourn the victims of wars, most especially women and children.

picture of the rally

From Friday afternoon to Sunday evening, more than 13 workshops were held, with over 15 speakers, covering a variety of topics, including Humanist education, leadership and grassroots work, homophobia, HIV/AIDS and the rights of those living with HIV/AIDS, street children, peace, women and Humanism, poverty and the Third World, and secularism and human rights. The central theme of the conference was dissected from all these angles.

On Monday, 24 May, the 2nd IHEYO General Assembly was held at the Sitar Restaurant, Workers House, Kampala. The IHEYO bylaws were amended and 18 organizational members of IHEYO accepted.

In addition, a new board member was also elected -Mr Asaba Lawrence of the Ugandan Humanist Youths - to further assist with the volunteer workloads in the Executive Committee. The high point of the conference was a resolution on sexual orientation approved by the IHEYO GA.

We would like to use this opportunity to thank our sponsors, the Institute of Humanist Studies, HIVOS, and IHEU for their support and encouragement. Our thanks, too, to our hosts, the Uganda Humanist Association. And to our participants, we extend our invitation to the next major IHEYO event: see you in Paris in 2005!

written by 'Yemi Johnson, Secretary General of IHEYO

The workshops

Summaries of two of the workshops follow, adapted from the reports of Marita Eriksen, to give a flavour of the importance and vitality of the IHEYO conference.

The Future and Youth Humanism in Africa

This workshop explored the ways in which Humanism can be spread among African youth. Leo Igwe (Nigeria) gave a presentation in which he emphasized the importance of understanding Humanist philosophy and then spreading awareness of Humanism among African youth through a variety of means, involving education, advocacy, and networking.

There was much discussion about the particular challenges of spreading awareness of Humanism in Africa. The unavailability of the Internet to many makes printed literature vital, but for those with access to the Internet, online discussion groups are invaluable as a means of contact within Africa and with the worldwide Humanist community.

The preparation of some kind of 'training manual' for Humanism was recommended by the group, together with the use of dance, music, and drama to express and explore Humanist issues.

Humanist groups should concentrate on concrete, practical projects, and try to secure local funding through sponsorship rather than awaiting funding from outside. Spreading awareness of Humanism in Africa is a major challenge, but the youth of Africa must be in the vanguard for change, and this workshop helped to explore ways in which more young people can be drawn into the movement.


The Homophobia workshop was led by the young gay activist. Homophobia is rife in many parts of Africa, fanned by religion, and reflected in the media and the law. The Ugandan penal code, section 140-141 states that the punishment for homosexuality is seven years in prison. (Lesbians, though not mentioned separately, are treated in the same way as gay men.)

Prejudice is fuelled by misunderstanding, myth and superstition - that it is against African culture, that it is a sin against God, a disease, and even that lesbians are vampires.

In such an environment, gay people face immense difficulties. Sexually transmitted disease is widespread among homosexuals in Uganda, but they dare not go for treatment because they will be asked to bring their partners. With homosexuality criminalized, activists for gay and lesbian rights have no legal platform to do their work.

The presenter herself approached the Ugandan Human Rights Commission, but with no success. Established NGOs are nervous of advocating gay rights for fear of losing funding. The widespread perception that homosexuality is 'a white man's thing' that is being spread in Africa makes the funding of gay rights groups even more difficult.

The group was able to discuss and share experiences involving homophobia. So widespread and deep is the problem, Victor noted with sadness, that even some of those who call themselves Humanists are uncomfortable with the recognition of gay rights. With the activities of gay rights groups so circumscribed, the workshop attendees considered the establishment of a strong communication network between groups vital for inspiration and mutual support.