AP/International Herald Tribune Examines Male Circumcision in Kenya Following Political Violence
The AP/International Herald Tribune on Friday examined male circumcision in Kenya in the wake of the disputed December 2007 presidential election that resulted in political violence. Kenya is rolling out its first no-cost male circumcision program at public health facilities throughout the country in an effort to curb the spread of HIV.
A study conducted in Kisumu, western Kenya, by Robert Bailey, an epidemiology professor from the University of Illinois, found that male circumcision significantly lowers a man's risk of contracting HIV. The study, funded by NIH and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, was one of several that led the World Health Organization to include circumcision in its HIV prevention policies last year, the AP/Herald Tribune reports. The study also prompted the Kenyan government to form a task force to promote voluntary, medically safe circumcision.
However, the procedure has become "entangled" in politics after supporters of President Mwai Kibaki, whose Kikuyu tribe practices male circumcision, "clashed" with supporters of opposition leader Raila Odinga, whose Luo tribe does not practice the procedure, the AP/Herald Tribune reports. During the post-election violence, rivals of Odinga, who now serves as prime minister, said he was not a "complete man," and many Luo were circumcised against their will, the AP/Herald Tribune reports.
Although the violence has subsided, Bailey says it has made the new power-sharing government reluctant to take a stance on the circumcision issue. The election violence also initially delayed the launch of the task force's program. Since then, the Luo tribe's council of elders no longer prohibits circumcision, although it maintains that the procedure goes against the tribe's traditions and that it might promote promiscuity. "If you want to do that on your own, no one will question you, but it is not our custom," elder Odungi Randa said.
According to the AP/Herald Tribune, no-cost circumcision programs are under way in Rwanda, Swaziland and Zambia and other countries where a large percentage of the population traditionally does not practice male circumcision (AP/International Herald Tribune, 5/23).