‘Reformed Surgeons’ Down Tools, Apologize To Kenya, Finland Governments

By Isabella Maua

Former female circumcisers from the Sabaot community in Mt. Elgon apologized to the Kenyan and Finnish governments on Wednesday while handing over their tools of work to the Kenyan government through Kopsiro ACC 1 at Kopsiro grounds.

In a chromatic but rather symbolic event characterized by all manner of traditional attire and musical instruments, the legendary circumcisers led by the Sabaot Supreme Council of Elders presented their knives, millet flour, razor blades, and herbs that were used during the barbaric cut.

Speaking before the Kenya-Finland bilateral program team from both countries, Professor Peter Chepkurui, one of the chairpersons at the Supreme Council of Elders, confessed that they have failed drastically on several occasions in the fight against female genital mutilation.

“Needless to say, many successive donors had not been able to convince our Sabaot community to abandon this backward culture because of the procedure and approach that they used,” reported Chepkurui.

He added that unlike the previous partners, Finland has been keen on changing the mindset of the Sabaot community by engaging the council of elders and the perpetrators of FGM, who are traditional women, and their effort has at last bore fruit.

In an exclusive interview with the The Times Newspaper, Juliana Chebor, a reformed female circumciser who is over 70 years of age, admitted to having practiced the ‘business’ for 17 years, and it was undoubtedly a lucrative one.

“In a typical season, that’s in April, August, and December, I could circumcise about six girls a day, charging up to Ksh.2,000 each, besides being given some goodies like fat meat and alcohol to take home,” she narrated.

Though she recalls how honorable she was in the community then, she droops as she throws to the ground her sharp but rather old knife, which earned her a title and a living before turning into a new leaf and embracing Christianity.

Jane Chepng’etich is a 62-year-old reformed surgeon from Chepkitale who shares the same experience with Chebor.

“With my 13 children, I started the circumcising job while expecting my third child; this wasn’t my choice, but I inherited ‘Musangwa’ from my mother, who handed over the mantle to me on her death bed.

‘Musangwa’ is a Sabaot word meaning a kind of cult or spiritual power that’s believed to be passed on to generations, and if one resists, they can die or get mad.

Chebor, on the other hand, admits to having inherited the vice from her aunt, but both of the women say the ‘Musangwa’ has never disturbed them since they downed their tools and went to church.

“The church has done me well; the only plea we have to the Kenyan and Finnish governments is to cushion us against these tough economic times; we need a reliable source of income now that we have completely abandoned FGM,” said Chepng’etich in a beseeching voice.

Michelle Ell, the program manager from Finland, couldn’t hide her gratitude as she received the knives and other tools from the reformed surgeons.

“We’re more than thankful to the Sabaot community, Bungoma county, and the government of Kenya for holding our hand through this tough but now successful journey of eliminating FGM and GBV in society and make families safe and happy,” commended Ell.

She further divulged that they’re currently working with a principle-based leadership program that has so far recruited over 400 men from Bungoma County, primarily to train men on how to manage families so as to tame GBV prevalence in the region.

Martha Ngoya, Kenya-Finland bilateral program county coordinator, together with Moses Chebonya, who’s the director of gender and culture in Bungoma County, applauded both governments’ unending support to endure zero tolerance for FGM, despite the vice being deeply rooted in the people’s culture.

Bungoma CECM for Gender, Eng. Agnes Naliaka, lauded the over 40 reformed practitioners in her speech, challenging them to reform the remaining women who couldn’t attend the event.

“You are our ambassadors henceforth; do not be worried at all because the government has had your plea, and we want you to venture into alternative income-generating activities where you can get money through women groups and affirmative action funds which ensures gender equality and equity,” advised Naliaka.

Gender Secretary, state department for Gender and Affirmative action who was the guest of honour, Madam Obonyo representing the Permanent Secretary in her speech promised the reformists that they’ll be equipped with financial knowledge and business know how to enable them benefit from enterprise funds and government loans of which they can apply and get money to start legitimate businesses.

Chebet and Temko, not their real names, expressed their utter disappointment in the crude action they had to go through three years ago and cursed the perpetrators for their uncouth culture.

“Even if today we witnessed the handing over of tools to the government, the scar and the excruciating pain we went through are embedded deep in our bodies and thoughts. We wish our body parts could be sewn back, but it’s impossible,” they said in unison as they tried to hide teary eyes.

The young women who held their about 2-year-old daughters vowed that none of their daughters or any girl they knew would ever have to endure the aftermath of FGM.

This renowned event was courtesy of Kenya-Finland Bilateral Programme on GBV prevention and Response also coordinated by Frederick Makokha and it works by engaging Custodians of culture like The Council of Elders.

As the fight against GBV and FGM continues to intensify, every person is urged to be part of this noble calling by reporting any suspected perpetrators or victims to the administrators to take up the matter since it’s punishable by law.

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