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An Interview with Michael Osei-Assibey

November 1, 2018

Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Numbering: Issue 1.A, Idea: Ghanaian Secular Leaders and Thought

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Title: Ghana’s 5%

Web Domain: http://www.in-sightjournal.com

Individual Publication Date: November 1, 2018

Issue Publication Date: TBD

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 2,522

ISSN 2369-6885

Abstract 

Michael Osei-Assibey is the President of the Humanist Association of Ghana. He discusses: humanism and irreligion; work prior to humanist positions; formal title now and tasks and responsibilities; inspiration; important books; emotionally trying experiences as a humanist; educational initiatives; social and political initiatives; trajectories; perennial threats to the freedom of the irreligious; and final thoughts.

Keywords: President, Humanist Association of Ghana, Michael Osei-Assibey.

An Interview with Michael Osei-Assibey: President, Humanist Association of Ghana[1],[2]

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

*Originally published in Humanist Voices (1 & 2).*

1. Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Did you start off a humanist? What’s your story into irreligion in general and humanism in particular?

Michael Osei-Assibey: I will like to believe so, but honestly I doubt that is possible in the settings I found myself. I have always enjoyed myths and fairy-tales. I grew up in a very religious household but my mother encouraged my love for reading. I will spend hours with my face in a story — chasing endings. It also helped that I was moved around a lot as a kid and each household I found myself in practised their faith differently. So, from age 6 to about 13, I went through about 6 different denominations of Christianity and, courtesy of my grandmother (a Muslim), practised Islam for a few months.

I was intrigued by the traditions and practices of all these beliefs but I always held them in the same regard as Greek mythology or the Legends told to me in my Akan and Ga traditional folk-tales. However, in moments of crisis or when overcome by fear, I will always have a strong urge to believe and hoped that I could say a few words and all will be well.

In senior high school, I started performing some thought experiments and had, for instance, one of my shoes as my god for a while to see how belief affects my life. I was surprised when I found out I seemed to be happier and had more luck in general. I realized having a belief may give one a positive outlook on life but it had no consequence on reality or the facts of life. This I will say was the pivotal moment in my journey to irreligion. I disassociated myself from organized religion right after senior high, preferring to apply reason and logic to everything.

Studying engineering in the university also helped to hone my analytical skills and made me want to perform a root cause analysis on any subject. I believe in trying to find the solution to living an ethical faithless life is how I stumbled on humanism. I may have been a humanist a long while before I even put a name to it but doing that 8 years ago was able to help me focus more on what I wanted from this journey.

2. Jacobsen: What kind of work did you do before the humanist positions?

Osei-Assibey: I am a building service engineer with a speciality in mechanical and plumbing systems. It is what I do to put food on the table so I can concentrate on humanism. Being a part of the built environment industry and running my own design firm affords me the time to do the things I am also passionate about.

3. Jacobsen: What is your formal position title now? What tasks as responsibilities come with it?

Osei-Assibey: I am currently the elected President of the Humanist Association of Ghana (HAG). I was the Organizing Secretary of the same organization in the previous cycle. I am also a board member of the Humanist Service Corps. I remember in thanking my colleagues and friends for giving me the opportunity to serve them as president, I told them my position will be in name only. To me “president” sounds too ominous so I prefer to see myself as a project manager and group cheerleader. My main job is to keep the association together and our projects running smoothly, together with my executive committee. In order to get all the members involved in as many of the activities as possible, we try to break activities into teams with every team member being a stakeholder in ensuring the success of that activity. One of the most difficult tasks that comes with the job is being the face and voice of the association. I plan however, to make my presidency about showcasing the outstanding individuals in the organization.

4. Jacobsen: Who inspires you?

Osei-Assibey: Remarkably, I am most inspired by the stories of the individuals in my organization, and the many humanists, feminists and freethinking youth I have met in person and online. Given how religious and antagonistic our society is towards new ideas, it takes intrepidity to be a freethinker and to be open about it. Even more so, whenever I hear the passion with which ideas and solutions are discussed and the depths of intellectualism involved, as well as the zeal to go out there and get things done, it gives me hope for Ghana and Africa.

5. Jacobsen: What book continually enlightens you — worth the re-reads?

Osei-Assibey: This is a good question. It’s not going to be any of the usual suspects, I promise. I spent my teenage years performing so many thought experiments about the human condition, reading on the subject feels like being in an echo chamber. One book however that I can read over and over again is Douglas Adam’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. It doesn’t read like your normal sci-fi and you can start reading from any chapter and somehow, it makes sense! Within are so many commentaries on the human condition but they are presented in a humorous and subtle manner that makes for an excellent read. Most importantly, there are no endings to chase. For those who like to over analyse everything, it’s the perfect book to write numerous thesis on. To those who just want to relax, it will have you smiling and shaking your head at the sheer ridiculousness of it all.

6. Jacobsen: What has been an emotionally trying experience as a humanist in Ghana?

Osei-Assibey: There certainly has been and will be many experiences that will be emotionally trying for humanists in Ghana but personally, it’s been the times that bigotry cut close to home. We can not choose the families we are born into and one can only hope that the people you love will share the same empathy you have for humanity. However, it is that same level of empathy that helped me through those times, with the realisation that we are a product of our environment. It spurred me on to talk about issues of sexual orientation, tribalism, religious intolerance and critical thinking with members of my family, no matter how uncomfortable it got.

7. Jacobsen: What are the ongoing educational initiatives of the Humanist Association of Ghana?

Osei-Assibey: HAG started a book drive, I believe in December of last year. One of our member, Helen List, Owner of the Afia Beach Hotel, organized a Christmas book drive to make a Christmas Tree out of books which she donated a majority of to the HAG efforts. The working plan is to encourage reading in the public schools in our communities. HAG has been in talks with the Kotobabi Cluster of Schools to listen to their problems and discuss whatever solutions they propose and how we could be of help. Although their problems seemed overwhelming as with all other public schools, HAG is committed to helping out however that we can. The First step is the donation of books and stationery to the primary schools as well as working with Learning Support Solution to provide learning support to the students. We also intend to create relationships between the private schools with access to educational psychologists and teachers with specializations to create an avenue for sharing ideas. HAG is also in talks with the Accra Planetarium to find a way to get the students in these schools interested in Science and experience the universe in the planetarium.

HAG already has a relationship with the Young Adults Support Services of OAfrica, a non-profit working to empowers children and young adults in need of care and protection because of institutionalization, abandonment, neglect, disability or abuse to become productive members of the community. We have had a presentation with the young adults under their care on social issues and hope to continue along the same lines of bringing the discussions to them and giving them the tools of critical thinking to be able to discuss these ideas.

Members of HAG also run the HAGtivist podcast which is in its third season. On there, we discuss social, political and cultural issues through a humanist perspective.

Finally, we hope to start debate programs in at least one university before the first quarter of next year. Universities are supposed to be breeding grounds for free thinking but that is not currently the case. We hope that these debate programs will change that.

8. Jacobsen: What are the current social and political activist projects of the Humanist Association of Ghana?

Osei-Assibey: As much as HAG tries not to be reactionary, it is difficult given the climate we find ourselves. Our online activities targets LGBTQ rights in Ghana with our most recent one being an open letter to the speaker of parliament (insert link) on his homophobic stance. Our monthly meetings invite the general public to discussions on activism, inequality, climate change, political and economic thought, etc. Currently, we are having conversations on the marriage between economics and humanism in order to better understand the inequalities in our society and how to tackle them.

HAG also affiliates itself with pro-environment groups such as Environment 360, and we will be participating in this year’s Float Your Boat competition (an initiative to raise funds to educate kids about being environmentally aware) of which we were last years winners. We designed and constructed a raft using recycled plastic bottles, and raced with it.

Our current focus online is starting conversations on critical thinking with a series of articles planned to discuss the issue of pseudo-science in our healthcare system. The rise of homeopathic clinics and alternative medicine centres is worrying and we need to help with the sensitisation/education of the public of the potential damage they can cause.

9. Jacobsen: What are the likely trajectories of the humanist movement in Ghana for the next 5 years?

Osei-Assibey: One of the few things that fills me with hope is the increasing number of people asking questions and showing signs of scepticism. A few years ago, social media was flooded with religion, pseudoscience and people falling for all sorts of scams. However, more people seem to be asking questions now and being more sceptical about information that they receive. This trend give me hope because it is out of scepticism that humanism is birthed. There are also a lot more openly irreligious people and a lot more people openly criticizing religion with some movements even arising within churches themselves, questioning the historicity and morality of the bible and the activities of the church and religious leaders. What do I see this culminating to in 5 years? The last poll in 2010 placed nones at a little over 5%. By 2022, nones should be over 10% of the population with humanists, atheists and agnostics making a chunk of that number.

10. Jacobsen: Who are the perennial threats to the freedom to be irreligious in Ghana?

Osei-Assibey: The biggest threats are those who will be most affected by an irreligious, secular society. Religious leaders have been increasingly whipping up the hate against people who do not believe or finding subtle ways to reaffirm the faiths of their flock by pitting them against logic and reasoning. There are many times that religious leaders have been called out for their actions but seem unfazed, bouncing back with more rhetoric about how the ways of their deity is mysterious or how the “anointed” can not be touched. Sometimes, it feels like they are grasping at straws and the backlash they receive from other people of faith give me hope that their power and influence on society is waning. In our organization, we have come to realize that economic independence is also a major factor in presenting non-belief or coming out as irreligious especially to the youth who are mostly still dependent on their parents or family. I have sometimes had to advise friends not to reveal their non-belief to family yet in order not to face the most likely harsh results of being disowned.

11. ​Jacobsen: Any final feelings or thoughts?

Osei-Assibey: Becoming a humanist was a tough decision because it meant I will be going against the grain with respect to family and society at large. What has made it easier is the relationships that have been cultivated into one that I can call family. I found the love of my life, a feminist and a humanist, who shares my passion for fighting inequality wherever we find it and we will be getting married in December. I also found friends who add meaning to my life and share in the crazy notion that we can effect positive change in our own small way, and in our own small circles that may resonate and ripple across the entire country and continent.

12. Jacobsen: Thank you for your time, Michael.​

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] President, Humanist Association of Ghana.

[2] Individual Publication Date: November 1, 2018: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/assibey.

Appendix II: Citation Style Listing

American Medical Association (AMA): Jacobsen S. An Interview with Michael Osei-Assibey [Online].November 2018; 1(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/assibey.

American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2018, November 1). An Interview with Michael Osei-AssibeyRetrieved from http://www.in-sightjournal.com/assibey.

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S. An Interview with Michael Osei-Assibey. Ghana’s 5%. 1.A, November. 2018. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/assibey>.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2018. “An Interview with Michael Osei-Assibey.Ghana’s 5%. 1.A. http://www.in-sightjournal.com/assibey.

Chicago/Turabian, Humanities (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott “An Interview with Michael Osei-Assibey.Ghana’s 5%. 1.A (November 2018). http://www.in-sightjournal.com/assibey.

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. 2018, ‘An Interview with Michael Osei-Assibey, Ghana’s 5%, vol. 1.A. Available from: <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/assibey>.

Harvard, Australian: Jacobsen, S. 2018, ‘An Interview with Michael Osei-Assibey, Ghana’s 5%, vol. 1.A., http://www.in-sightjournal.com/assibey.

Modern Language Association (MLA, 7th Edition, 2009): Scott D. Jacobsen. “An Interview with Michael Osei-Assibey.” Ghana’s 5% 1.A (2018):November. 2018. Web. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/assibey>.

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. An Interview with Michael Osei-Assibey [Internet]. (2018, November; 1(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/assibey.

License and Copyright

License

In-Sight Publishing and African Freethinker by Scott Douglas Jacobsen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at www.in-sightjournal.com.

Copyright

© Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and African Freethinker 2012-2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Scott Douglas Jacobsen, and In-Sight Publishing and African Freethinker with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  All interviewees co-copyright their interview material and may disseminate for their independent purposes.

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