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An Interesting Conversation

I had an interesting conversation this weekend with the daktari and his brother. Two deeply powerful subjects came up, almost in a nonchalant sort of manner.

First of all, the subject of mob justice was broached. Now, looking back, I must point out that one should choose their debate partner on a subject such as mob justice carefully, in particular if that partner advocates something like mob justice. Fortunately, I was talking to the daktari, a friendly and laid-back person, and we had a few beers to lubricate the conversation. I tried to point out that no one deserves to die for stealing, especially in a place with so much poverty that stealing is inevitable. As this wasn’t persuading the daktari or his brother much, both of whom still thought it fine to torch someone for stealing a cellphone, I tried to talk to them about economics. I informed them that while I understood that when people have nothing, $50 cellphone is worth a lot. How wrong I was. It’s not about the value of what is stolen, that could be $5 or $500. What causes people to lynch thieves here is the principle of the matter.

Even though both guys agreed that the real problem with mob justice is people falsely convicted and killed (indeed, a trick of gangs in Nairobi is to turn the person calling after the thief into the thief), they couldn’t be convinced of the problems of mob justice. Eventually I accepted a difference in culture and understood that I wouldn’t be able to change their minds about this issue. Such is the way with politics.

An issue that we agreed more on was female genital mutilation, an issue that is very much alive here in Kenya, and even common in some tribes. It’s mostly found in the north, especially with the nomadic tribes from Somalia and tribes that have interactions with them. I recently read an article, written in such way as one might find a social article about which clubs are popular, titled, “A New Experience.” It was about men who were experiencing the pleasure of marrying a woman who hadn’t been “cut.” This really applies for Muslims here mostly, who are allowed by Islamic law to have up to four wives. Other non-Muslim tribes involved in this practice include the most famous Kenyan tribe, the Masaai, whose traditions I’m not familiar with.

Anyhow, the article deals with one man, whose first two wives had undergone the barbaric practice of FGM, and consequently couldn’t enjoy sex at all, finding it useful only for reproduction. He learned his lesson with his third wife and specifically chose her for not having been circumcised, and his life was great henceforth.

Another section of the article highlighted a meeting of Muslim scholars who were discussing the practice and its place in today’s world. They seemed to agree that not only is it not based on the Koran, but is not practiced by Muslims worldwide and seems to exist, and I quote, “to control a woman’s sexual desire otherwise “the women might go wild”.” Then apparently the scholars discussed the many possible health problems not to mention the psychological effect of this practice. In the end, no one was willing to condemn it. No one was willing to speak out against it.

No one was willing to state the true purpose of FGM—to subjugate women further, and to compensate male perversity by punishing women.

As for the daktari, he’s had many women come into the clinic for childbirth, where he would first have to cut open the stitches placed during FGM so they can deliver. If you are unfamiliar with this practice, I encourage you to learn more about it, and you will see the dilemma faced by women here.

As for a solution? Not a western one, I think, because this practice is engrained into the culture here. You can’t come and tell people to stop just because it clashes with your ethics. There is a ceremony, there is a cultural significance, that causes this practice to continue, as well as be encouraged often by women themselves. That ceremony will have to be compensated. Fortunately, that is happening, slowly but surely, where Kenyans are showing people that they can still have this “rite of passage” without any surgical trauma.

In the meantime, often as I see the many Somali women here, I wonder whether they were forced to undergo FGM, and my sympathy is unlimited for them.


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