Reviewed by Dibussi Tande
For over a decade, the issue of female circumcision or “Female Genital Mutilation” (FGM) has occupied a choice place in human rights campaigns, particularly in the West where it has been integrated into feminist discourse, with FGM mutilation being seen as a perfect symbol of the oppressive and brutal weight of patriarchal traditional African societies. As one report states:
"Female circumcision is an integral part of the societies that practice it, where patriarchal authority and control of female sexuality and fertility are givens... Although the societies that practice circumcision vary in many ways, most girls receive little education and are valued primarily for their future role as sources of labor and producers of children."
This discourse of oppression has greatly influenced the attitudes and approach of activist groups and organizations seeking to eradicate this practice. Often, they have adopted a confrontational, accusatory take-no-prisoners approach which has alienated potential allies. In many cases, this approach has led to indifference, defensiveness and even hostility – sometimes from women groups who view the issue in terms of “protecting tradition” and a necessary “rite of passage into womanhood”, and not in terms of “male domination”, “violence against women”, or “ritualized child abuse”. As Frances Althaus points out in the above mentioned report,
"Efforts to eliminate female circumcision have often been unsuccessful because opponents of the practice ignored its social and economic context. In some cases, external intervention has strengthened the resolve of communities to continue their genital cutting rituals as a way of resisting what they perceive as cultural imperialism."
While some still continue in the confrontational approach, many human rights and activist groups involved in the anti-FGM campaign are adopting new strategies based on collaboration, education and sensitization - usually with the help of local NGOs with a better grasp of the socio-cultural context in which the practice occurs.
It is this new approach that gave birth to Nkuma, an AFRICAphonie tele-film on FGM which premiered on Spectrum Television (Cameroon) on Women’s Day, March 8, 2007. According to the film’s director George Ngwane:
“Our approach in the tele-film is to find common ground through dispassionate dialogue between those who firmly believe that FGM is an initiation rite of passage to womanhood and those who see it as a violation of human or woman rights”.
Bessem (played by Marvis-Claire Imbolo), is hounded by her in-laws because of her inability to have child. Later she finds out during a visit to the doctor that her inability to conceive is the result of FGM from her childhood. She then goes on a crusade to educate elders and women in her village about the long-term medical and other consequences of FGM, and to stop the planned annual initiation ceremony.
Things don’t go as planned as women folk put up a fierce resistance against what they perceive as a misguided attempt at imposing modernity and alien values on their hitherto peaceful village.
Nkuma is a simple but interesting film which shows that FGM is a complex issue which is more than just about the sexist agenda of patriarchal Africa. It also has the merit of steering away from off-putting preachy and moralistic discourse aimed at shaming traditionalist to change their ways. The film demonstrates the complexity of the fight against FGM by showing that in many instances, the most vocal proponents of FGM are the women folk, and that they, more than the men, need convincing about the demerits of FGM.
Beyond the obvious clash between modernity and tradition which underlies Nkuma, the main message is that education and not recrimination is the ultimate key to ending this practice. FGM is not necessarily borne out of malice or out of a desire to dominate, but mainly out of ignorance and the uncritical promotion of all aspects of tradition.
With Nkuma, Ngwane has once again demonstrated that film is indeed a powerful medium for tackling complex, sensitive and controversial social issues.
Nkuma available on VCD.
For additional information contact AFRICAphonie:
Telephone: +237 766-8479
Nshom Bali Nofuru
Namme Elive Ivan
Temeching Patricia Nkweteyim
Kome Mathias Epie
Director of Photography:
Assoua Achille Eteki
Executive Director and Producer:
Mwalimu George Ngwane