FGM Campaign under scrutiny:Kenya


By Lorna Andisi 

Photo Courtesy

This year marks seven years since the law prohibiting the practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) was passed in Kenya-The Anti-FGM Act 2011; an achievement that was celebrated across the country and beyond. The significant move was to mark the beginning of emancipation if not reprieve for thousands of girls who were at high risk of undergoing FGM and probable early marriage; deep rooted cultures among certain communities in Kenya.
Alongside the new law criminalizing FGM, a specific institution was put in place; The Kenya Anti-FGM Board with the aim of coordinating activities and programs that would accelerate the abandonment of the practice. As part of its mandate, the Board and its partners has been instrumental in supporting directly or indirectly all programs geared towards rooting out the practice. Both government and non-governmental organizations carried out workshops to sensitize communities, judges, magistrates and the police about the law and the legal pathways. The media also played its role in creation of awareness. The public is currently more aware about FGM being a human rights violation and a good number of perpetrators are aware of the consequences that might befall them if caught.

The campaign also attracted support from different development actors. Both bilateral and multilateral donors curved in to accelerate efforts towards the abandonment of FGM practice. In particular, UN agencies made and followed through with commitments to elbow their support in actualizing the new law. This double advantage of the law and donor funds provided Anti FGM civil society actors working at both the national and mostly grassroot level the much-needed impetus to push through campaigns.

In the era of the world wide web and social media, the onslaught on FGM found useful collaborators. Activists mostly young people and key board warriors (bloggers & vloggers) bought into and promoted various aspects of the campaign. Creating presence and visibility, these new media activists propelled anti-FGM conversations thus keeping the campaign fresh and adaptable to the emerging changes.
Amidst these positive developments, there have been instances where the campaign faltered leading to poorly conceptualized and executed strategies, individual benefit, unclear outcomes and reverse capture. This article attempts to unravel some of these short comings. Material was sourced from individual interviews, Social media posts, personal experiences and various documented reports.
Insufficient Data
The Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) documents that the national prevalence of FGM has been on a steady decline from a high of 32 per cent in 2003 and 27 per cent in 2008/9 to stand at 21 per cent in 2014. However, these figures betray the fact that Kenya lacks a well-established FGM baseline or a monitoring framework.

Similarly, a briefing note published by UNFPA and UNICEF in 2015 showed female genital mutilation prevalence remained very high amongst the Somali (at 94%), Samburu (86%), Kisii (84%), and Maasai at (78%). This report however failed to indicate the prevalence of FGM in the other communities that carry out the practice.

The big question is, has any impactful gain in the fight against FGM been made? Whereas the KDHS numbers shown above indicate that there is a significant change, in the communities, this change is not reflected.

In most instances, organizations seemed to have data that only catered for their own narrow interests. Other cases pointed to lack of well aggregated data related to effects of FGM such as data on maternal mortality caused by FGM in specific practicing communities.

This lack of sufficient solid quantitative data indicates that organizations are spending donor resources that are not well backed by tangible evidence.

Furthermore, where data related to FGM has been captured, for instance prosecutions and convictions under the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, it has not been used effectively to influence budgets, improve programming and policy enforcement.

This lack of evidence-based programming is also a result of the low threshold set by donors, who are more interested in activity-based approach towards ending FGM as opposed to impact based.


Briefcase Organizations

With both the law in place and available funds dedicated to eradicating FGM, both national and grassroots organizations emerged with dubious intentions. Even though various quotas have had knowledge of their existence, it is until recent that the Chief Administrative Secretary (CAS), in the Ministry of Public Service, Gender and Youth: Hon Rachel Shebesh publicly condemned them and said that the government had launched a crackdown to nab them.

Similar media reports have also been made regarding the same issue.

Steve Letoo, 30, from Oloitoktok, Kajiado County revealed that he was shocked at how ‘a particular organization’ has been exploiting locals most of whom are illiterate. Steve being a little internet savvy said,

“I am always shocked by the kind of work this guy says he does on Facebook and twitter. It’s nothing but Public Relations. There is no significant work on the ground. He takes photos of poor girls and posts them on Facebook and twitter claiming he is supporting them. If you question him he becomes angry.”

Similarly, The Youth Anti-FGM Network Kenya was described as not only ineffective but also inefficient. The network launched in 2015 had a bigger vision of ending FGM in Kenya by bringing together young people from FGM affected communities around the country to consolidate efforts towards ending the practice out of the country but that dream is far from being realized. Its flamboyance on social media is nothing close to what the real network does.
According to a former member, the networks’ vision was quickly muffled after they ‘sold their souls’ to an Options UK program in Kenya. Though most of the members were opposed to the move that would jeopardize their vision, anyone voicing contrary opinion was quickly ousted from the group by the leaders. Currently the network is known to have two active members one based in Nairobi and the chairperson based in Garissa, Kenya. The chairperson has very little concern about fighting the FGM practice out of his community let alone the country. In flagrant case of abuse of office, the said chairperson is evidently absent pursuing personal interests. in essence, no significant impact can be measured since the launch of the network.


Misappropriation of Funds

Another significant shortcoming relates to grassroots organizations that have been known to misuse funds meant for saving girls from the cut. In Loitoktok Kajiado, we unraveled that a popular Community Based Organization whose founder is conspicuously missing from the community after embezzling almost 1M shillings received from The Girl Generation grant kitty, monies that were meant to run a project aimed at bringing together morans to dialogue towards the end of FGM in Loitoktok. He represents many more individuals who walk scot-free after committing such crimes.


The conversation that started a few weeks ago with the above tweet has revealed that there is a lot of business going on in the disguise of advocacy to end FGM. It sparked a lot of reactions from locals and even the international front and especially complaints that these organizations are exploiting girls and women. Here are a few reactions:



What is apparent is that trips and conferences are viewed as an avenue by campaigners to earn per diems, tour the world, shop and mingle in the name of ending FGM.
Another emerging issue relates to the programme design whereby significant amount of funds were expended on operational costs in donor countries rather than on actual programme work in recipient countries. Case in point was the Global Media Campaign, which has an office in the UK but has no physical address in Africa. This not only creates a distance between them and the communities where they supposedly work but also complicates activists’ relationship with regulatory authorities.
Deceptive Strategies
Whereas there have been some strategies designed to end FGM that actually proved to work with much felt/measurable impact on the ground, others ended up creating more harm than good. This was especially with regards to top down strategies that either lacked community input or were not community led. In essence, the campaign against FGM was more opportunistic and not strategic. This was especially true for a number national CSO’s which stumbled on the campaign only to later abandon FGM programming and targeted communities altogether. Among the most prominent was Maendeleo ya Wanawake which changed course mid-stream in 2013, thus denying the campaign its vast grassroot network.
Narrating a deceptive strategy, a village elder, Peter Lemaiyan 78, Samburu East, expressed disappointment about an incident that took place in December 2017. According to the elder, girls from his community were ferried to an apparently very big alternative rites of passage ceremony without his knowledge. He also said that the girls’ parents were unaware that their girls were going for the ceremony, only to be misinformed that it was normal vacation studies. On learning about the occasion at their return, he became very angry and ordered for their cut the very night. Defiant girls were cursed and up to date he has not lifted the curse that he cast upon them.
He said that local administration officers across Samburu are aware and also benefit from the so called alternative rites of passage ceremonies and the games involved. He has warned activists from his community to disassociate with the two big organizations that claim to be saving girls yet they are using them for their own gains.
Speaking to a local activist and survivor from Samburu who asked for anonymity, she said that such phoniness has made it hard for genuine activists to be trusted by locals thereby making their work so difficult. She however urges NGOs to consider working with activists on the ground for they know best what can possibly work in their respective communities.
Parsanka Saiyanka, an activist from Kajiado terms the same strategy deceptive, a lie. He says;

“It’s unfortunate that this is being driven by big NGOs here. The community knows that the girls are already cut. This makes them think badly of us, that we are not genuine. It’s a very selfish way of doing things. Anything cultural cannot be fixed this way, it must be dialogued”

My investigation revealed that a recent ARP ceremony in Indupa, Kilonito, Kajiado West that claimed to have ‘saved’ over 300 girls from FGM was a lie, the locals are very aware that only 2 girls in the whole village are uncut, and it’s only because they have not attained the right age, for FGM here is 100%.
Another major concern regarding anti-FGM campaigns stemmed from the temporary nature of activities characterized by short bursts of intensity that quickly fade. In this regard, numerous conferences have been organized in the name of “sharing experiences” which never cascade to the micro level where it matters. This is because a lot of the anti-FGM actors prefer to work in silos and with a lot of opacity.
According to the Paris Declaration on aid effectiveness, two of the major objectives of good aid include;

  • fostering recipient’s ownership of development policies and strategies;
  • improving aid transparency and mutual accountability of donors and recipients.

The emerging scenario in the anti-FGM campaigns point to a lack of ownership of strategies because of poor conceptualization, lack of research and over reliance on dubious grassroot organizations/ individuals not based in the respective communities. The anti-FGM campaign has also created a less transparent relationship between donors, implementers and communities. In effect, donor funding has fostered strong resentment of genuine development aid organizationsand actors in practicing communities. This is contrary to the principles of do no harm.

What this brief has unraveled has ended up raising more questions than answers. The scrutiny of the anti-FGM campaign in Kenya was not meant to be exhaustive as that would require more time and resources. Some of the questions that would require further interrogation are elucidated below;


➢Does the Anti-FGM Board, an institution mandated with regulating and coordinating activities and programs that are meant to drive the practice away have the requisite capacity?
➢Do donors carry out audits and perform due diligence before dispatching funds?
➢Do funding models consider the amount of money lost before reaching the ultimate beneficiary?
➢Do most of these programs have a sustainability model or are they just touch and go thereby exploiting communities?
And finally, do anti-FGM campaigners really want FGM to end? Does it mean that if the funding stops then the campaigners will stop doing their work in the communities? What motivates anti-FGM campaigners to continue doing their work?

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