The African resistance to the mass male circumcision campaign

This page contains two guest articles about the grassroots resistance to the campaign to circumcise men and boys across Africa. The VMMC campaign (voluntary medical male circumcision) targets African communities with the goal of creating and maintaining an 80 percent male circumcision rate across the continent. Many men refuse circumcision, so in 2016 infant boys were added to the campaign. 

The first article is by Prince Hillary Maloba, a man from a traditionally circumcising community who is fighting against the mass campaign and is director of the grassroots organisation The VMMC Experience Project. The second article is by Kennedy Owino, a man from the non-circumcising Luo tribe who is trying to halt the practice being imposed on his people and is director of Intact Kenya.

By Prince Hillary Maloba, Director of The VMMC Experience Project

My experience 

I grew up as a young happy man without knowing anything to do with circumcision—until, at 12 years old, I was ambushed by thousands of men surrounding me with terrifying songs on circumcision, and told I was going to pay their tribal debt of circumcision. I was circumcised twice, which resulted in excessive bleeding, removal of skin and a deep wound that took a long time to heal. I was treated with cultural herbs which are more painful than circumcision. What I went through I don’t want future generations to experience.

Today, the rhetoric around male circumcision has become a disturbing exploitation. Contrary to what Africans are being told, circumcision has no value in protecting against any disease. It’s purely a lie that circumcision has any role in prevention of HIV. It’s a mother of pains, torture, death, and suffering for children and infants, a terrorist act, business of blood through children.

Circumcision seems like the answer to those working within the global AIDS response, because the number of people who can be targeted for circumcision business runs into hundreds of millions. Every year, millions of male children would be available to keep the programmes profitable.

So they changed the strategy to children from schools and infants born in hospitals. The more children you get from schools for circumcision, the more money you get. The more baby boys are born, the more money doctors get. Those involved acquire wealth through the blood business that is a circumcision campaign.

At first the promoters claimed they were only targeting sexually active adults in Nyanza among the non-circumcising Luo tribe in Kenya, and in Buganda Kingdom (eastern and northern Uganda); but quickly found out that most of them don’t want to be circumcised.

Yet the promise of profit is too much for some, like Luo politicians who were promoting circumcision in their region against their Luo culture and despite not being circumcised themselves. Ask Ken Owino, director of our partner organisation Intact Kenya, who is facing opposition from these giants in his community. Beneficiaries of VMMC are politicians, who accept financial packages to endorse circumcision, and those working in the global AIDS response.

So they changed the strategy to children from schools and infants born in hospitals. The more children you get from schools for circumcision, the more money you get. The more baby boys are born, the more money doctors get. Those involved acquire wealth through the blood business that is a circumcision campaign. 

Rebel with a cause 

Uganda was doing well in reducing HIV infection through a strategy called ABC (Abstain, Be faithful, Use a Condom) and was praised internationally. Then suddenly we heard over the media that Western scientists found that male circumcision reduces the risk of acquiring HIV by 60%, and that World Health Organization (WHO) recommends mass circumcision in Africa to end HIV among uncircumcised communities across the continent.

I wondered: How can this be true if the Bagisu, my uncles in Uganda and my own tribe do circumcise their boys and men, and Muslims do circumcise infant boys, and yet AIDS is killing them? 

As lies and fake news of circumcision were spreading like fire in the sugar plantation, with millions of dollars poured into the Ugandan and Kenyan governments to end HIV, with NGOs receiving huge donor funding, their target was primary school students, boys of four to twelve years of age. They move from school to school using WHO, UNAIDS, and the Ministry of Health government policies of lies: that by circumcising children, HIV will come to an end. 

Agents of VMMC partner with school administrations by giving them money to gather small boys and tell them that if they get circumcised they’ll never get HIV, and that AIDS kills only uncircumcised people.

As corruption carries the day in Uganda and Kenya, agents of VMMC partner with school administrations by giving them money to gather small boys and tell them that if they get circumcised they’ll never get HIV, and that AIDS kills only uncircumcised people. They use convincing language to trap these innocent children to go for circumcision. They are told further that after circumcision they will not be infected with HIV or penile cancer. They give children free sweets, some give toys, money, etc. Then they take these children in trucks to their circumcising centres. These children are circumcised, carried back to their region, and dumped there without further medical and social support. 

Bearing in mind that the parents of these children were not informed of these atrocities, they are shocked to see their children turn up at home circumcised. Unprepared to deal with the healing of their boys, many parents borrow money for further treatment of their children. I have met many parents who are furious with the VMMC agents - who are paid according to number of children they bring in for circumcision on quota-based commissions - for hijacking their children and circumcising them without their knowledge and consent.

The mass circumcision campaign is violating the rights of children through forced circumcision as a way to end HIV in Africa based on blatant lies. Serious complications and even deaths have been reported from both circumcisions carried out for cultural reasons on children, as well as from clinical male circumcisions on infants, children, youth and men. 

My work in anti-circumcision and HIV prevention 

Because we are in the midst of an epidemic of fake news, spreading blatant lies that circumcision prevents diseases faster than a virus infects, I believe in education as the key to changing long-established patterns of social behaviour. It can help in combating this propaganda from the WHO and UNAIDS that circumcision prevents diseases. It’s through practically oriented sex education that our children will have the awareness, skills, and knowledge to acquire the attitudes necessary for a healthy life without being circumcised. 

I work as Director of The VMMC Experience Project in Africa. I work in the hard regions where VMMC is a business with millions of dollars being poured in to circumcise children. Challenging this established system, you are regarded as an enemy of state policy and an enemy of those pushing this big business. We have received several threats, been chased, blocked from taking circumcision live videos or pictures in clinics or in village homes. Sometimes you become powerless when threatened often. We come for your assistance to escape forced circumcision.

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By Kennedy Owino, Director of Intact Kenya

The premise

Intact Kenya was set up to raise awareness that all sexes have equal rights to their own bodies, to advocate for fully informed consent for adult men wanting circumcision in response to the massive voluntary medical male circumcision (VMMC) campaign, to create awareness that children have a basic right to reach adulthood with all of their genitals intact and for them to have autonomy over their own bodies. At Intact Kenya, we believe that all human beings, regardless of age, sex, gender, ethnicity, size, background, family or ability to defend themselves, come into this world with the basic human right to genital autonomy, that is, to make personal decisions about what happens to their genitals in the absence of medical necessity.

In Africa, proponents of male circumcision have used all sorts of tactics to make their target clients perceive circumcision ostensibly as a medical intervention. They base their rationale on a series of flawed Random Controlled Trials (RCTs) that were conducted in three African States, after which male circumcision was given the green flag to undermine more realistic strategies to prevent HIV and AIDS, such as being faithful and consistent condom use. 

The tactics 

Vulnerable Africans have been brainwashed by the whitewashed circumcision information they receive from the VMMC campaign team. Women with intact partners have been exposed to the cervical cancer charade in order to convince their partners to surrender themselves for circumcision. Young men and women have been given circumcision information smothered with hygiene benefits. And with regard to teenage boys, the coercion has been wrapped up in enticements of free soft drinks, biscuits, loaves of bread and clothing. 

Consent form English.jpg

The ever financially muscular circumcision brigade has gone farther afield to circumcise newborn babies borne by gullible mothers, unceasingly proclaiming that it is better to circumcise babies because they heal faster from the circumcision surgery. Astonishingly, this classes male circumcision as the only surgical procedure performed on babies exclusively on the basis that it takes them less time to heal. 

The consent form

When circumcision consent forms are issued, either in English or Swahili, in most cases they are frivolous and only offer very few details, ignoring the legal doctrine of informed consent. The forms do not show whether the children in question consent to be submitted to the procedure or if their parents/guardians or representatives have been fully informed and understand what VMMC is, how it is done, its benefits, its risks, its alternatives or what to do before and after VMMC. Nor do they contain an emergency contact number and information about where to go in an emergency, or why it is important to still use condoms after VMMC. Strangely, in fact, the imperative word ‘circumcision’ is glaringly absent from these forms. 

The ongoing epidemic

Mass male circumcision was brought to the table to help avert the disaster of HIV and AIDS, which have ravaged several African countries. But over a decade since VMMC was rolled out in 14 Sub-Saharan African countries, HIV and AIDS still remain an epidemic in the continent, wiping out both the intact and circumcised populace. In fact, the majority of doctors in Africa genuinely do not believe in circumcision as a preventive tool in combating HIV infections in Africa, not least because many circumcised men have fallen victims to the scourge.

Disturbingly, HIV and AIDS is no longer simply a disease, but a multi-billion dollar cesspit of corruption, essentially funded by the United States, a nation which, while correlation does not imply causation, ironically has one of the highest HIV prevalences in the Western world despite having the highest rate of male circumcision. 

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Read more about VMMC in Africa in The VMMC Experience Project’s report to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child.

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