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Saturday, 13 August 2016 18:41

Why Kenyan media always misreports traditional circumcision

Written by Alexander K. Opicho
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Alexander K.  Opicho Alexander K. Opicho Credits: hellopoetry.com

The reason why the media in Kenya has been always negatively reporting traditional circumcision is not known. Maybe it is out of our sheer cosmetic disposition or illiteracy in literature and anthropology about the cult of male circumcision. So far no one knows why the local media in Kenya has remained un-supportive to the cult, hence a premise that perhaps it is due to some outright stereotype on the side of the media. This can be so given that most of the reporters painting traditional circumcision as repugnant are women or men but from those communities that don’t observe the cult of male circumcision.

My concern for this media irresponsibility is eked on the news that the Kenyan media is currently broadcasting about traditional circumcision going on among the Babukusu and Bamasaba communities of the eastern Africa. These two communities observe Embalu or the cult of male circumcision, which they occasionally operationalise during August to December of every leap year. However, whatever the media in Kenya is currently doing about the cult is nothing else but cheap propaganda with intentions to make the cultural practice look filthy.

There are many unfounded stories circulating on several platforms with false messages like an initiate losing a whole penis during the operation and so forth. My take is that the media houses in Kenya must consider retraining their news reporters on how to remain objective when reporting on matters that influence inter-cultural relations.

The problem of failed surgical operation in Kenya is not only encountered during traditional male circumcisions. It is also very common in hospitals. It is currently on record that more than twenty children are crippled after going through an anti-poliomyelitis jab under the auspice of a qualified medical doctor in Busia County. Similarly, a clinical officer in Nairobi was covered by the CCTV cameras raping his patients after injecting her with a sleep causing drug and so forth. Surprisingly, the media has not been outright in condemning these as social banalities.

It is the time for media people to learn from other professions on how they write about Africa, especially when it comes to writing about African history, culture and traditions.

African literatures have to be saluted for remaining objective and factual about African traditional civilizations. Even the most revolutionary and transformative of all the African writers like Mariama Ba, Margaret Ogola, Flora Nwapa and Naquib Mahfouz were never sarcastic and indignant about the cult of male circumcision. Good example of literary respect for the cult of male circumcision can be seen in the two literary luminaries of African literature, Taban Lo Liyong and Okot P’ Bitek. They both come from ethnic backgrounds that don’t observe the cult of male circumcision, but remained objective and unbiased in regard to African practice of male circumcision throughout their writings. It is only the Kenyan media that wants to entice westernized modernity by showing their continent as domain of repugnance. This is evident in all the print media in Kenya.

The cult of male circumcision in Africa is a well covered area in African literature and other studies in the social and natural sciences.

For example, during the International Conference on Literature and Cultural Studies at Makerere University in August last year, Circumcision, Pain and Masculinity among the Bamasaba was exhaustively covered to an extent of being appreciated as an indisputable social value of personality formation. Fred Makila in his Outline History of Babukusu traces the practices of male circumcision to this community for the past twelve centuries.

Thus this cult is not a new cultural practice at trial and error stage.

Masizi Kunene glorifies the cult of male circumcision among the Zulu in his Shaka the Zulu and again in the Anthem of Decades. Chinua Achebe in The Education of a British Protected Child identifies the practice of male circumcision as a basis of establishing the age-grades among the Igbos. This is also what Sambu presents in his Kalenjin Egyptology. Imbuga dramaturgically points out the values of male circumcision as the stage of development at which one forms his character in The Fourth Trial just the same way David Maillu explores the theme of sexual discipline, masculinity and  circumcision pain in the Broken Drum. And similarly Makokha J S uses poetry to justify the social value of traditional male circumcision. This is openly evident in his poem, Call to Manhood, published online at African writer.com.  

Literary implication of all these is that it is only the media in Kenya that is hurriedly championing for dismissal of heroism and other social values that come with the observation of traditional male circumcision. It is mechanically doing this without suggesting neither cultural nor institutional alternative for the communities involved.

Modernity based on the Western industrial values cannot define an African man or an African woman, hence it is at this point that one easily gets positive lessons from the words of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie that she is ‘un-apologetically an Igbo and follower of Igbo superstitions’ during her recent public talk in the United Kingdom about black lives matter as an epitome of the vice racial discrimination. At this juncture Chimamanda is unconsciously echoing Ali A. Mazrui and Le Kwan Yew who share the same position that Westernizing an African makes her poor in terms of self-confidence. What an African needs is self dignity through honest and decolonized intellectualization.

Unlike deliberate derogation perpetrated by the media in Kenya about a botched cut, African societies that observe cult of male circumcision have a spiritual explanation for all the cases of failed surgery during the cut.

The causes of the mishap vary from evil machinations through voodoo, unappeased ancestors, bad eyes under polygamous environment or previous sexual misconduct of the initiator. This is not evidence of repugnance but an ontological explanation of the good and bad eventualities that occur during traditional operation of male circumcision in Africa.

Alexander K.  Opicho, writes from Lodwar, Kenya

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