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Snatching manhood a first step in brutalising the Luo

13 August 2017 - 11:08

Adesola Adeboyejo stood before the judges of the International Criminal Court and began to iterate the crimes for which the men in court were being charged.

Outside the windows of the ICC courtroom, snow was falling as she read aloud from the prosecution’s Pre-Trial Brief: “Luo men were allegedly subjected to forced circumcision, penile amputation and castrations using broken bottles, pangas and knives by members of the outlawed Mungiki group.”

It was November 2011, during the confirmation of charges hearing for Uhuru Kenyatta, Francis Muthaura and Maj-Gen Hussein Ali.

“The sexual attacks were allegedly targeted at members of the Luo, Luhya and Kalenjin communities in the two towns in Rift Valley Province, which were alleged to have been abetted by the police. Luo men were forcibly circumcised, others castrated in front of their families in actions intended to degrade them and deprive them of their dignity.

"A Luo man was forcibly circumcised using a piece of broken bottle in Nakuru while another one had his testicles cut," she added.

The 2008 Commission of Inquiry into the Post-Election Violence, from which the prosecution had drawn much material, noted in its report: “The Commission knew that while women normally are the main victims of sexual violence when order breaks down, men too had experienced horrid types of sexual violence after the Kenyan election. These included sodomy, forced circumcision, and even mutilation of their penises. Between hearing of women who had been gang raped and mutilated, the accounts of ethnically driven sexual violence against certain men was also horrifying.”

Forced circumcision is as personal as it is brutal. “For someone to chop your manhood, they must touch it,” says Betty Okero, who runs Jamii Thabiti (Stong Familes).
Since the 2007-2008 post-election violence, Okero has been working with different clusters of survivors, in different capacities -- including men who were sexually bruitalised in the attacks. She knows their stories by heart.

Luos, she says, do not think it is such a big deal not to circumcise men. “It doesn’t make them less of men anyway.”

“They were doing it as if their lives depended on it,” she says, in reference to the Mungiki militia. She believes the forcible circumcisions and penile amputations were part of a well-orchestrated plan and it will take time before the survivors get over it.

“The reason forcible circumcision and penile amputation is not documented so much is because men did not want to come out and speak about it. It is such a shameful violation.”

Many survivors chose to deal with it privately rather than make it a public discourse. She says most male survivors she has dealt with prefer to mention all the other violations and not the penile amputations or forcible circumcision, so getting to help them is difficult. As much as the rape of women is traumatising, they [women] try to handle the pain by talking about what happened to them.

Therapy and support groups hardly go as far as getting male survivors to mention the actual words like forceful circumcisions, often preferring to use phrases like ‘botched accident’, or, depending on how far the knife reached, refer to ‘cutting too much’ (penile amputation), ‘cut him badly’, ‘or ‘cut him just a little’. For those who had their scrotums squashed, they will often say, “They removed everything.”

Dr Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, in her research, ‘Watu Wazima’, offers a gendered analysis of forced circumcision during the post-election violence. She classifies the forcible circumcisions and penile amputations of Luo men as feminisation of Luos. The forced circumcisions, she says, were not just acts of violence; they must be understood as occurring within the context of Luo feminisation.

That Mungiki were able to kill by circumcision by first feminising their victims. “Once the construction of Luo men as feminine was firmly entrenched, there was almost no defence needed for brutalising them. Feminisation comes before brutalisation.”

The economy of gender functions in ways that devalue the feminine even as it simultaneously empowers the masculine. The Kikuyu men were, at the moment of violence, rendering their Luo victims feminine.”

The story of forcible circumcisions and penile amputations is a ghastly illustration of the consequences of ethnic politics gone rogue; of a people consumed with pathological hate for their own. It is not just a story of longlilo (Dholuo for a man without manhood), it is about the violations that tore families asunder. Four of the seven survivors interviewed had lost their wives to depression.

The Kenyan experience shows how, in a moment of political tension, anyone, even men, can be feminised, and once that is achieved, brutalisation and violation is an easily justified next step.

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