What you need to know:
- Lemoile has been threatened by community members for going against tradition.
- For his determination and courage, he was given a government award during this tear's Mashujaa Day celebrations.
Francis Lemoile’s primary role as a Samburu moran (warrior) is to protect his community from all external threats.
Among the Samburu, young men become morans between the ages of 15 and 20 and stay as such until they are in their 30s, when they graduate to elders. They are then allowed to marry.
As a moran, Lemoile was tasked with protecting the community from cattle rustlers and other forms of insecurity, but in a rare gesture, he took on another role — of saving girls from the deeply-rooted cultural practice of female circumcision. He still does it even now, at 35.
Despite the ban on the cut, the practice is rampant in Samburu.
Lemoile’s journey has been difficult. He has been threatened by community members for going against tradition.
However, for his determination and courage, Lemoile was given a government award at the 2020 Mashujaa Day celebrations. He was feted for sensitising the Samburu community on HIV/Aids and female genital cutting.
It’s not easy taking on multiple roles of herding livestock, settling grazing disputes, and providing security to the community, as well as fighting the female cut, but Lemoile manages it.
Dressed in typical Samburu warrior outfit — the distinctive red cloth with bright beads — Lemoile manoeuvres tough terrain and thorny vegetation in Samburu East to campaign against female circumcision.
“Everybody expected me to stick to my roles as a schoolboy and as a moran,” he says.
Done in secrecy
After secondary school, Lemoile embarked on campaigns to end the female cut. Because it’s outlawed, it’s done in secrecy, putting many girls at risk.
For a long time, Lemoile was determined to change the perception that an uncircumcised woman is promiscuous, and is likely to stray from her marriage.
In fact, women in the community see female circumcision as a means of curbing the spread of HIV and Aids, while the morans believe FGM is a useful practice that keeps women chaste.
“I was lucky to have gone to school so I could not be carried away by myths. I’d seen many complications from the cut.
Girls often bleed to death. FGM is dangerous and ruins the lives of girls, and I thought it was important to take the initiative and work to end the practice," he says.
Anti-FGM campaigners in Samburu have always cited men as the biggest hindrance to the fight against FGM, because they reject women who are not circumcised.
Safe Samburu Initiative
But Mr Lemoile works through the Safe Samburu Initiative, which aims to end FGM and child marriages through community action and education. The initiative uses traditional songs to spread messages about FGM.
“I have played a great role in the campaign to end FGM and have taken the initiative and spoken to fellow morans,” says Mr Lemoile.
In the community, warriors are respected and have influence. Samburu warriors and elders, play the most decisive role in defining the cultural identity of the community and Mr Lemoile says enlisting them as allies in the war against FGM is important to ending the practice by 2022.
He adds that in many communities where the practice is rampant, the key to change lies in transforming perceptions and attitudes of cultural gatekeepers such as the elders.
Mr Lemoile believes that laws alone are not effective in eradicating the deeply-rooted culture among the Samburu:“We must involve local communities in this fight.”
Through the Safe Samburu Initiative, Mr Lemoile has trained about 3,500 social groups on HIV and FGM.