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January 16, 2019

Grievous bodily harm in the name of culture

Grievous bodily harm in the name of culture
Grievous bodily harm in the name of culture

Last week I was keeping in touch with events in Kenya by reading the news websites when I came across a story about a 40-year-old man, employed as a truck driver, being frog-marched by a baying mob to a forced circumcision in the Central Kenya town of Othaya.

According to the report, the man had been dodging his 'age-mates' (that is, fellows he ordinarily would have undergone the tribal initiation that is circumcision with) for years, but had finally been 'cornered' (as if he was a filthy rat) that morning and taken to a clinic where the baying mob “waited at least 40 minutes for the procedure to be carried out”.

Apparently the prurient townsfolk of Othaya “lauded the move saying the man had to be circumcised” as “they claimed several of his relationships ended after the women realised he was not circumcised”.

At this point I had so many questions. I know Othaya is a small town and in small town gossip gets around faster than in a big city. However as the man himself had not complained about his foreskin, why was it up to the community to forcefully divest him of it?

Also, what business do people have discussing whether or not a person is circumcised or not? And now that they have forced him to undergo the operation, have the pots of ugali or githeri in their kitchens increased?

When I shared the story on Facebook, some of my friends seemed to agree with me, with one posting that he was “stunned at the bald reporting of this. Even if it was a necessary medical procedure instead of the mutilation that it clearly is, it's his right to refuse a medical procedure. That doctor should be struck off and locked up, along with the mob who assaulted him”.

Another commentator suggested: “In England it is an offence to even take once pulse without consent. Before you place your hands on anyone you must ask. Well unless they are in a coma. And if they are the machines do all the work.”

Yet another friend’s contribution to the debate was: “This is one of those illegal things done in the name of culture.”

While in effort to explain the “bald reporting” another friend suggested: “It is quite likely the journalists from the photographer to the reporter to the sub to the editor agree wholeheartedly with the action” and thus the fact that nobody was going to get all hot under the collar about it.

And it is this lack of any sort of a reaction that has horrified me as much as the actual story of this poor man who according the report had carefully avoided losing his foreskin for whatever personal reasons.

I couldn’t help but wonder if forced circumcision has become some sort of commonplace sport and if having excess skin at the end of one’s penis is now a criminal offence in Kenya.

Now in Kenya we all know that male circumcision is practised in many communities and often serves as a rite of passage to adulthood. We are also aware that there are communities in parts of Nyanza, Rift Valley and Western provinces that do not traditionally circumcise.

Those who have an interest in such matters will also know that for about a decade now, Aids researchers and others have preached the gospel of medically performed circumcision as being safe and reducing men’s risk of HIV infection during vaginal sex by about 60 per cent.

It is shocking there seems to have been no follow up by the police, lawyers, even the ambulance chasing variety or even the good people at the governance, health and human rights non-profit organisation that is the Independent Medico-Legal Unit (IMLU).

If sex without the consent of one party is rape, then surely circumcision by force is assault compounded by grievous bodily harm and the perpetrators should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

I know there will be many who disagree with me, but I suggest such people stop for a minute and think about what actually happened to this poor fellow. The trauma, the public shaming and the physical attack on his person, is that what the heroes and heroines we celebrate on Mashujaa Day were all about.

Follow me on Twitter @MwangiGithahu

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