They gather and sit in a circle under a tree at a trading centre in Kalpunyany village, Baringo County, one of the remotest areas in Kenya.
They are deliberating on a thorny issue that continues to face the region — female genital mutilation.
On a typical day, this group of morans would be discussing how to ensure that this age-old tradition is followed promptly as this would ensure they secure both themselves and their sons wives in the future.
But in the past few years, this has not been the case for these morans, who have been known to be hardliners when it comes to preserving such traditional practices. They have now come out strongly to wage war against female circumcision.
NO TO FGM
Mr John Karani, a father of four daughters, vows he will never let them undergo FGM.
The 42-year-old pastoralist says he made the decision after witnessing his sisters and aunts go through physical and psychological torment as a result of the cut.
“My father had many wives and daughters, who got married early after circumcision. They didn’t go to school and some died while giving birth as a result of injuries sustained during circumcision. So after school I learnt that these incidents were as a result of being circumcised, contrary to the initial misconception that it was a woman’s fault,” he explains.
Perhaps one would argue that his efforts are due to the fact that he is enlightened, having completed his O levels, but his sentiments are shared by Mr Lukudosia Elengai, a 35-year-old moran who has less formal education.
He barely speaks even Swahili, but this father of 10, including five daughters, is among the people waging war against the practice.
BLEEDING TO DEATH
“We have had cases of young girls and women bleeding to death, losing their children and dying during childbirth. We are thus ready to fight this vice,” he asserts.
But it hasn’t been an easy ride for these two morans who represent many others who have come out to wage a war against female circumcision.
Many times, they have had to endure being discriminated against due to their stance on this deeply rooted cultural practice. They have also been ridiculed by those who still hold this old tradition so dear.
“We’ve had to endure seeing our children discriminated against because they have not undergone circumcision. Of course it is not easy to convince people, especially the elderly, about the risks of female circumcision,” says Mr Karani.
But to anti-FGM campaigners, this is victory especially coming from men who are expected to guard the interests of their heritage.
Mr Karani and Mr Elengai are a reflection of how the fight against FGM has taken another direction, with men now taking up the war.
And it is through such efforts that Mr Julius Mukudia, the chairman of the council of elders in Tapat Ward, Pokot West, says FGM cases in Kapenguria have reduced by more than half.
“Apart from educating the masses, we have taken it upon ourselves to take legal action against those who still practice FGM. In my area, no cases of female circumcision have been reported, all thanks to tough laws,” he adds.
FGM CASES DECLINE
According to West Pokot County Commissioner Okello Apolo, cases of FGM have reduced, leading to a low school dropout rate among girls.
“We have witnessed 86 per cent transition from primary to secondary schools as per last year’s statistics. This year, over 140,000 pupils sat their KCPE exams and we expect the transition to remain high,” he says.
But despite these efforts to eradicate the vice, there is still a long way to go.
Although FGM cases reduced from 27 per cent in 2008 to 21 per cent in 2009 according to 2014 Kenya Demographic and Health Survey, cases of FGM are still rampant.
According to Mr John Wafula, a humanitarian programme specialist at The United Nations Population Fund, there are still those practising the vice in secrecy.
There have been cases of people conducting female circumcision during fake religious gatherings, thus managing to do it without raising suspicion from authorities.
Mr James Lokuk, the headmaster of Morpus Rescue Centre, a primary school that also operates as a rescue centre for girls who have escaped the cut and early marriages, reveals a new tactic of carrying out the vice.
“In this kind of arrangement, the girl is taken to a prospective husband before being circumcised.
Dowry is paid and then after some time, she faces the knife while in her husband’s home without raising any suspicion,” he explains.
Jessica* is a victim of such an arrangement. The 13-year-old girl is one of the youngest girls at the rescue centre.
Her story is one of resilience, having run kilometres away from a marriage with an old man. “My parents married me off to this man as they scheduled for my circumcision,” she says.
BLED FOR DAYS
While Jessica counts herself lucky, Chemoyo Lopuonyang had to endure the consequences of going through the procedure at the age of 13.
She bled for days after undergoing the cut.
“I bled for three days and had to undergo a blood transfusion at the hospital,” she says.
That was not the end of her nightmare, as the injuries she sustained would come back to haunt her in marriage.
“When I was getting married my vagina was nearly sealed up. So they had to make an incision and tear a bigger hole using a panga, and the experience was very painful,” she explains.
This was followed by a pregnancy that lasted for six months before her twins died after being born prematurely.
That’s not just it. While giving birth, she developed fistula, a condition that nearly threatened her marriage.
By good luck, she was treated and went back to her husband. She would later have six children.
DANGERS OF FGM
But her ordeal has not been enough to convince some people in her village about the dangers of female circumcision.
She says in some cases, the problem lies with victims who agree to have this procedure done on them.
“In Pokot tradition, a woman who has not gone through the cut is still considered a child, and normally no one wants to marry them or even when they are married, they are mocked,” adds Ms Lopuonyang.
According to Mr Wafula, there is need to implement an array of measures that will ensure female circumcision becomes a thing of the past.
“The solution ought to be holistic instead of only relying on force. There is need to make these communities understand the negative consequences of circumcising girls and women. There should also be advocacy at the national level,” he adds.