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Saturday, August 19, 2017

Forcible circumcision in 2007-08 robbed men as old as 60 of their self-worth

Kenyans displaced during the 2007-08 post-election violence take refuge in the Burnt Forest Church, Eldoret, on January 6, 2008  /REUTERS
Kenyans displaced during the 2007-08 post-election violence take refuge in the Burnt Forest Church, Eldoret, on January 6, 2008 /REUTERS

Ten years since the chaos that erupted after the 2007-08 General Election, Kenya went to the polls again on Tuesday.

Over the years, there have been attempts, some even official, to erase the memory of the 2007-08 post-election violence from public consciousness. Yet, each time reality has found a way to impose itself. Victims still cry for justice and many Kenyans, scared by the possibility of a recurrence of violence, are fleeing towns and cities for their rural homes.

The shadow of what happened in 2007-08 looms large over this election. Repetition is only possible if Kenyans forget where they have come from. Never Again, just as it did in its former iteration as The Hague Trials Kenya, continues to keep the tragic events of 2007 at the fore lobe of public discourse. This piece is part of a multi-installment series that Never Again is rolling out to peel the veil of secrecy from some of the cruelest crimes committed against men in the post-election violence in Kenya, and the effects they continue to live with today.

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Dreadlocked men broke into Oloo’s* house in Nakuru on January 26, and they wanted more than his belongings. “They wanted to cut off my foreskin, too,” he says.

Oloo claims he is 28, and then later concedes he could be 38, even though he cannot tell when he was born. He could easily pass for 48.

He was displaced from Nakuru, where he had established a good footing, working in an Indian-owned company with free weekends to try out his carpentry skills at a friend’s workshop. He was able to send money home every weekend for his wife and three children. All that is history.

He thought that with the passage of time, now 10 years since the post-election violence, he would have forgotten and moved on. After all, it was just circumcision, or so he kept telling himself. But the action brought with it a myriad of challenges.

His attackers cut him crudely, leaving him with serious infections. He is numb: “In short, I don’t feel it. It is just there as a body decoration. It’s not serving any purpose.” When these memories surge forward, he will skip work to go and play cards with men in the village. That mean, his family will sleep hungry. He went to see a herbalist twice, and the herbs have helped a little, it is still hard work. He feels ashamed that he needs herbal help.

“That is what I have been reduced to. One might think it is trivial but when a man cannot get it up, it is a big deal.” He wishes that those who injured him would go through the same experience in order to appreciate what they robbed him of.

“I feel ashamed begging all the time,” he says. His children are sent home from school for a Sh50 fees balance. Manual jobs, such as ferrying luggage, riding pillion passengers on bodaboda, and casual farm labour do not meet his daily needs.

He feels bad as a man that he cannot provide for his family. A church nearby has agreed to help feed his family and although it doesn’t happen often, he doesn’t know when even that tap will run dry. It pains him that his family eats sukuma wiki (collards) cooked with salt.“We have been reduced to eating worse than animals. I can’t afford cooking oil for my family but I thank God that we get something to put in our stomachs.”

“I think of my parents a lot. If only they were alive, things would have been better.”

He pleads with the government to remember the internally displaced persons integrated into communities ,like himself, because they have never been recognised or compensated. He hopes to buy five acres of land where he would plant sugarcane, maize and beans.

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Like Oloo, Oduor* is looking to end a chapter that changed his life for good. He needs to move on. His face is a mask of fatigue. The hot temperatures outside do not make things any easier. His lips are dry and parched; it is clear he has not eaten all day.

One January morning in 2008, Oduor’s lifetime investment was spilled before his eyes. For over 32 years, the 70-year-old had lived in Nakuru enjoying a comfortable life with his family. He had been a government employee working in the Ministry of Works, a position of envy, until his retirement. He started working in 1972. He says his interaction with Kikuyus opened his eyes and he became an astute businessman, with interests in agriculture and dairy farming. He had large trucks of land. He was doing well for himself. He speaks fondly of the Kikuyu, whom he says were more family than friends. He beams as he recalls the good old days. They had nicknamed him Macharia, for they regarded him as one of their own.

“They always made fun of my broken Kikuyu whenever I tried words such as atiriri. They complemented him on his business acumen; and his self-confidence soared.

On the day he was attacked, he recalls, “Those Kikuyu men were saying that men who are circumcised are more intelligent than the uncircumcised ones, and, so, they justified their actions by telling we Luos that the only reason they were cutting our foreskins was to ‘make you be wise like us,” he laughs at the memory.

He reckons that the physical harm did little to change the way he feels as a man but he is disillusioned about losing his property and being displaced from a place he called home for 32 years. He lived in a tent for four months, and recalls: “There is no dignity in staying in a camp. There is no privacy. That your life is at the mercy of a few is so humiliating.”

He only received the Sh10,000 government assistance extended to IDPs. In the face of all the adversities his family had encountered, the money was a drop in the ocean. “But we accepted it, anyway.” Dividing the money between his family’s numerous needs was near-impossible. Nothing was adding up; everything needed fixing… including his medical bills.

“We were warned not to ever talk of the IDP issue again. We heard that the Deputy President warned anyone against saying they are still internally displaced, so we don’t talk about it,” he says with resignation.

If living in the camp seemed daunting, his move to start a new life in Miwani would prove even more difficult. Five of his seven children have died. He says that if he can only acquire building materials and put up a decent house, his psychological problems would automatically be resolved. When the trauma counsellor presses him, even offering to organise therapy sessions for Oduor and others, he politely declines.

The events of 2007-08 have not changed the way he thinks of the Kikuyus. He has chosen to let take it all in his stride and look at the positives.

“The only thing I require now is building materials and a piece of land,” he repeats. He misses his Kikuyu friends and admits that whatever happened in 2008 will not change his view of them.

*Pseudonyms have been used to protect the subjects’ privacy.

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