Interview with an intactivist in Kenya

Recently, the African Circumcision Advisory Committee acquired a new member, Kennedy Owino, a Kenyan native. Owino is a member of The Intact Network and helps run its chapter in Kenya. Recently AVFM interviewed him in order to give readers an idea of just what is happening on the ground in Africa.  What follows is a transcript of that interview.
Robert O’Hara: Tell us about yourself and the organization you work for, The Intact Network, and its Chapter in Kenya. How did you get involved in it?
Kennedy Owino: I was reading a local daily newspaper, The Standard, last year where the International AIDS conference which took place in the US was covered. It was reported in the paper with pictures of people who called themselves intactivists. The group was against male circumcision as a measure to prevent the spread of HIV/Aids, but instead advocated for condom use.
Robert O’Hara: Ok, so it was the issue of circumcision as a means to prevent the spread of HIV that got you interested? You were skeptical of its application as a preventative measure?
Kennedy Owino: Really, I got interested in the circumcision issue because it’s being done to children and adults just in the town where I live. I belong to a Kenyan tribe that doesn’t circumcise male children so this got me deeply interested in it
.
Robert O’Hara: So this is causing cultural tensions?  Can you tell us more about different tribal customs and how this program is making things awkward?
Kennedy Owino: The mass male circumcision in Kenya is mostly being promoted to the tribe which was not originally circumcising, even though  it’s also done countrywide as well. The program makes the culturally circumcising tribes to look superior in that their cultural practice seems to have some sort of medical benefit. The uncircumcised men (LIKE ME) are currently undergoing stigmatization.
Robert O’Hara: I see. Tell us more about the organizations that are promoting the program and their tactics, obviously they are using social coercion and cultural division.  What other methods and propaganda do they use?
Kennedy Owino: I know that the organization promoting mass male circumcision in my locality is called Nyanza Reproductive Health Society (NRHS). They have many pick up trucks which they use to ferry men and boys to and fro their clinics. Their campaigns are being taken to schools and some other people they have hired walk through the villages trying to “sell their product.”  Most of their employees work on a non-renewable contract basis, of around 6 months.
Robert O’Hara: How well compensated are these people? Above average pay for Kenya?
Kennedy Owino: The employees of HRHS are paid a lot of money, really above average. That’s why seemingly my online attempt to enlighten Kenyans has hit a solid wall.
Robert O’Hara: So, there is more than ample evidence that the three studies done in Uganda, South Africa and in your country, Kenya, were flawed and there has been a lot of criticism directed at them from very credible sources like the South African Medical Journal and others.  Is there any knowledge about this in the general population?  When word of this gets out is it suppressed by the NHRS and groups like it?
Kennedy Owino: Really, the truth has to be suppressed. The medical benefit of circumcision is being promoted through the media and whenever the name WHO accompanies such ads you just feel how Africans react by making arrangements and appointments with doctors on how their school-going children can be circumcised.
Robert O’Hara: So the idea that the WHO is an overriding authority on all things medical is, alone, enough to get people flocking to circumcision clinics then?
Kennedy Owino: YES! I don’t see any other major factor. People want AIDS out of Africa, and circumcision is the vehicle.
Robert O’Hara: I see, so it is the fear of AIDS that is making people so gullible in your opinion?
Kennedy Owino: Yes, really. The circumcision being promoted by NRHS, Ministry of Health, PEPFFAR, etc is for HIV/Aids to be kicked out of Africa, even some other “benefits” of circumcision like prevention of Human Pampilloma virus hygiene have also been quoted.
Robert O’Hara: To what extent are they saying that this is an effective preventative measure?  The Randomized Controlled Studies purport it to provide a 60% reduction in the probability of contracting aids (even though we know that isn’t true).  Are they telling people that it is a silver bullet, so to speak, that will end the AIDS epidemic in Africa?  Are they neglecting to tell people that condoms are still the best way to prevent AIDS if you are going to be sexually active?
Kennedy Owino: They say it does have the 60% protection rate, and also tell the circumcised men to use condoms. What they do not say is whether circumcision prevents male-female or female-male HIV transmission. So many married women do advise and convince their husbands to go for the cut thinking that it will protect them. However, what I’ve got here on the ground is that circumcised men do not like using condoms, circumcision seemingly is a bullet proof vest to them or others simply forget. Something horrible is already happening, I’m afraid the HIV rate will soon be on the rise.
Robert O’Hara: Information coming from Zimbabwe and Uganda already indicates that is the case. Tell me more about how gender and gender ideology come into play here.  They are using the husband/wife dynamic to convince men to get circumcised.  What about other gender relations pressures like telling women to shame men who aren’t circumcised?
Kennedy Owino: I had a girlfriend in college in 2010.She was from one of the circumcising tribes. The day I told her that I’m not circumcised marked the beginning of the end of that relationship! Today most women, even those from uncircumcising tribes do not want to have a relationship with uncircumcised men.
Robert O’Hara: So you could say that they are targeting young women with their propaganda in to frighten them away from uncircumcised men and this in turn persuades men to get circumcised?
Kennedy Owino: No, they don’t target women to persuade their husbands, but most women do say that uncircumcised men are “dirty” even before this WHO propaganda came to Africa. Then there’s the cervical cancer issue which make women see the male cut as beneficial.
Robert O’Hara: Can you tell us more about the NHRS, the organization that is getting the most funding for this program?  What is their ideology?  Is it a strongly feminist one?  Are they using their growing funds and influence to spread their ideas about domestic violence and feminist theories such as “Patriarchy Theory” and “Rape Culture Theory?”
Kennedy Owino: In fact what I got from the local  media in the recent past is that funding for NRHS was slightly cut for this year. It is the organization which is getting most of the funding for this program. I don’t see HRHS as feminist. Their sole work is to get rid of men’s foreskins. I’ve never heard of them promote feminism, or rape culture theory.
Robert O’Hara: Their name suggests that they are interested in reproductive health.  Where they around before the money started coming in?  If so what were they trying to promote before?
Kennedy Owino: NRHS came into existence only after the random controlled trials were done. It never existed before.
Robert O’Hara: So somehow they are conflating “reproductive health” with circumcision.  I will have to do some more research on them.  I think this will about do it Kennedy.  Thanks so much for you time
Kennedy Owino:  You are welcome.
It is important to note that in a report published by the Journal of Public Health in Africa in 2011, surveys were cited indicating that men were actually receiving printed materials telling them they would not have to wear condoms if circumcised. [1]  It is also important to note the previous articles published here at AVFM concerning the role of prominent feminists in the program. [2][3][4]   It appears, however, that the over riding factor is the distribution of money to organizations on the ground that promote and execute the circumcision campaign.  It is difficult to determine whether or not and to what extent feminist ideology plays a secondary role.
Sources:
[1] http://www.zimeye.org/wp-content/live_images/2012/01/44-419-1-PB.pdf
[2] http://www.avoiceformen.com/featured/28000000-african-men-to-be-coerced-by-u-n-to-make-the-cut/
[3] http://www.avoiceformen.com/featured/politics-money-and-ideology-whos-circumcision-plan/
[4] http://www.avoiceformen.com/a-voice-for-men/clinton-determined-to-push-28-million-circumcisions/

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