By Gwada Ogot
Circumcision remains a most contentious practice since its recorded introduction in Egypt, about 2400 years ago, and attracts diametrically conflicting positions, between those who eschew the practice, and those who don’t.
Though three narratives are popularly used to explain circumcision- medical, religious, and cultural- more as validators than root causes- circumcision discourses routinely attract ethno-cultural and political profiling, religious stereo-typing, and notably, instances of intellectual gerrymandering and bluster.
The theory of circumcision however submits that circumcision was occasioned by a single dynamic – lack of fresh water - and subsequently the unhygienic conditions arising from irregular ablution.
Irregular ablution occasions, bad odor, thrush, cystitis, and other poor sanitation infections, which diminish libidos and stifle sexual concert with the main malefactors being unwashed and accumulated smegma or poorly managed menstruation.
Relatedly, non-circumcising groups are commonly settled around large fresh water bodies, as those which practice circumcision are settled far from fresh water bodies.
Circumcision is also exclusive to Abrahamic religions- Islam, Judaism and Christianity, which trace their origins to the Middle East- a largely desert area with low rainfall, while religions such as- Hinduism and Buddhism- which originate from river Valleys, make absolutely no mention of circumcision.
Indeed, the prescription of mid-teen-age years for circumcision is preemptively designed, to prepare teenagers for healthy relationships devoid of any stigmatising claims of uncleanliness or sexual deficiency from partners.
Likewise, associating circumcision with courage is a social construct premeditated to forestall high incidences of fleeing surgery without anesthesia, as well as to obligate compliance.
Regular sunshine is another critical factor. It is vital to the production of Melanocyte Stimulating Hormones (MSH) and the feel good neurotransmitters- dopamine and serotonin- which boost sexual appetite and elevate reproduction. Both are produced more in the brain during sunnier periods.
As such, dwellers in areas with regular sunshine are likely to be more sexually driven than their counterparts from the colder regions, a more credible account for the higher incidences of HIV-Aids in sunnier areas than the incredible World Health Organization linkage of the foreskin to the spread of HIV-Aids.
Furthermore, cold weather causes shrinking of the penile shaft, thereby impeding sexual appetite and fulfillment, a cocktail of factors possibly accounting for the instances of heavy alcohol consumption and high crime rates- especially crimes of passion- common to these areas, as manifestations of sexual frustration.
The practice of circumcision in two neighboring nations- Uganda and Kenya- vividly illustrates the connection between water and circumcision.
Uganda covers about 241,139 Km2, with 44 000 Km2 being under open water or swampland, through a spread of 24 lakes and 18 rivers.
Of the nation’s 63 communities, only two circumcise- the Sabiny and Bagisu. Both are settled in the Mount Elgon area, a distance away from any major natural fresh water body.
Even in the highland regions of Western Uganda, none of the communities within the Rwenzururu mountain ranges culturally circumcise, because their water supply is guaranteed by 12 lakes and eight rivers.
This scenario sharply contrasts with that of Kenya.
Kenya covers about 580,367 km2 of land, with only 11,227 km2 being under natural water bodies. Of her total 10 rivers and nine lakes, four are either alkaline or saline, Elementaita, Bogoria, Magadi, and Nakuru.
No wonder, only three of the nearly 70 communities in Kenya - the Luo, Turkana and Iteso do not circumcise- an almost reverse position to Uganda.
All are settled in north rift valley and Lake Victoria basins- locations of the main natural fresh water bodies in Kenya- even though the Iteso also fall within the vast Kyoga swampland that stretches from far beyond Usuk in Eastern Uganda to Western Kenya.
To the North of Africa – the harsh desert conditions of the sprawling Sahara compel circumcision; just as in Southern Africa- the expansive Kalahari Desert- situations re-affirming the central role of water in circumcision.
So for all the 2,400 year controversy about the root causes of circumcision, is it water that ultimately explains why some communities practice circumcision and why others do not?
Gwada Ogot is a researcher and elections expert and has conducted over 21 election observation missions across sub Saharan Africa.