I was astounded to see an article last month about Prime Minister Odinga and other Lou government ministers promoting circumcision in their community and admitting that they had the surgery done recently. Odinga and others said they got circumcised because they believe it reduces the chance of contracting HIV. Researchers have said that circumcision may reduce contracting HIV by 40-60%, but condoms have a 90% protection rate. When I first heard of Odinga’s plea to his own Luo community about encouraging everyone to get circumcised, I wondered why does Odinga have to worry about getting HIV anyways? Is he not faithful to his wife? He is trying to set a good example for his people and admitted to this very personal medical choice to the world, but is he really admitting to something much more unethical? If you read my other article on Kenya, I’m sure you can tell that I’m not a huge fan of Odinga, but my respect for him has diminished even more after learning this news.
Circumcision is taboo in Luo culture and elders in the community feel that Odinga’s campaign to promote the practice is disrespectful. African traditions should be respected and honored, but African cultures should be able to progress like all cultures. I understand if people want to get rid of practices that are harmful (such as FGM), but the Luo shouldn’t start circumcising their people because they think it protects them from HIV, when it doesn’t. A Luo elder and pastor points out, “Other communities practise circumcision, but there is still a high prevalence of HIV/Aids…I don’t think it will be a solution to fight the spread of Aids.”
Personally, I think the Luo got it right the first time. I would never cut off a part of my child’s body because it is common place in my culture. A core philosophy in my belief system is to try to be as natural as possible. Being content with the way we are born is a beautiful thing. In 1975, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) stated in no uncertain terms that “there is no absolute medical indication for routine circumcision of the newborn.” In 1983, the AAP and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) restated this position. In 1999 and again in 2005, the AAP again restated this position of equivocation.
I hope the Luo elders continue to fight for the preservation of their culture. If not, what is the alternative? The Luo government leaders in the article are not only talking about babies or young men being circumcised, they are also recommending adult men become circumcised. For example, a near by tribe, the Luhya, do mass circumcisions during an annual festival. (Sounds sanitary, wouldn’t want an infection there.) Circumcision is not a compulsory policy of the government, but it is recommended. The BBC article says, “nearly 1,000 men have been circumcised since March and medical workers receive two days of training…” Two days of training!!! I would even question whether these procedures are better or worse for the health of the community as a whole. The article says that Odinga is the Chairman of the Luo Council of Elders, but it seems he is leading them astray on this issue. I hope the Lou elders flight for their right to protect their foreskin.