8 July 2007

Kenya: In Mombasa Pimps And 'Madams' Reign

Nairobi — With the entry of pimps and 'madams', the multi-million-shilling prostitution trade at the Coast has reached a new level of sophistication.

Behind the twilight girls and homosexuals who service locals and foreigners, are powerful cartels.

Prostitutes now offer 'home based care' where clients visit them in well-furnished apartments.

Pimps and madams have brought order into the sex industry by leasing houses in respectable neighbourhoods and converting them into posh brothels. They then recruit prostitutes, mostly college students and young professionals, to serve a list of classified customers.

Secrecy and confidentiality is the key to the success of their businesses.

With the advent of the Internet, the pimps and madams have networks as far as Europe, and have turned the Coastal region into a world recognised sex tourism destination.

High-class prostitutes

Clients arrive at Moi International Airport in chartered planes from the West, with a large number constituting pensioners out to enjoy their hefty retirement packages with teenage girls.

Prostitutes in this region no longer live in dingy, dimly lit shacks in slum estates. Mombasa is home to high-class prostitutes from around East Africa, who drive sleek vehicles and own several properties in up-market neighbourhoods. In the North Coast, many live in stylish houses.

There was a time when one could tell a prostitute by the way she dressed. But not anymore. Today's average prostitute dresses stylishly and could pass for a bank executive.

Good pay and high demand for sex services are luring students and unemployed youth - both male and female - into prostitution. And the demand for male prostitutes is high, with clientele being tycoons and politicians. The homosexuals say the trade is more addictive than cigarette smoking.

Some of the hotspots and estates have literally been taken over by prostitutes from Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda.

The hotspots, where girls as young as 14 engage in prostitution, are Mombasa Island, Shanzu, Bamburi and Mtwapa (North Coast), Kilifi, Malindi and Diani (South Coast) and Lamu, in the North Coast.

Many girls are driven into commercial sex by poverty and the promise of quick money.

Municipal Council askaris say upcoming prostitutes who render their services on narrow dark streets charge Sh100.

When she arrived in Mombasa from Central Province three months ago, Wanjiku* was a naive and humble 16-year-old. But today, she is a smoker, in the belief that it is sophisticated, and has three regular clients - a mzungu and two businessmen - who visit her Bamburi house every weekend.

Her house is tastefully furnished and has the latest electronic equipment. "I came to Mombasa in search of a proper job. But things got tough and I was almost giving up when I learnt that I could make a lot of money from my body," she says.

Rich prostitutes

Business is good for Wanjiku, who even supports her parents and relatives back home. "They do not know where I get the money from, and I am happy," she says.

During the week, she sleeps with three or two clients per day.

"My clients have different preferences. As long as they pay, I do not mind. I have watched many movies and read books, and can perform any sexual skill," she says.

Over 80 per cent of tenants in her neighbourhood are prostitutes.

Adjacent to Wanjiku's house lives Fatuma*, who drives a Toyota Rav 4. The 34-year-old reluctantly talked to us about her experiences.

"This business is like any other. I specialise in married men who are unhappy at home. I massage them, talk to them then sleep with them. I release their stress. I regularly service six rich married businessmen," she says.

Fatuma operates through a pimp whom she pays handsomely to get her prime clients, mainly married rich men or high spending tourists.

In her apartment, Fatuma has a home theatre, a maid, a dog and several DVD players. She also owns a hair and beauty salon at the North Coast.

"I started out in the streets before I learnt the secret to affluence. My arrangement with pimps has allowed me to work from home," she says in good English.

Fatuma enrolled for classes to improve her English and to learn two other foreign languages so she could get tourists of various nationalities.

"It is survival for the fittest. It is a dangerous business but because we have a well-organised association, we solve basic quarrels amicably. We also defend our members against outsiders out to encroach on their territory," says Fatuma.

In Mombasa's central business district, I meet Grace* who has two children and frequents Casablanca, the hottest spot in town. Grace reveals that she has been in the business for over 10 years and is still going strong.

Locals and foreigners frequent the club that is popular with high- class and middle-class prostitutes. Their numbers are soaring because the club is located in a convenient place and there are others alongside it.

The women, most of whom are members of the Commercial Sex Workers Association, operate under strict rules, to ensure they do not steal each other's clients.

Grace says the association ensures that new members are introduced to the rest to avoid conflict. "If the law cannot recognise us, we can as well regulate ourselves for discipline," she says.

The high number of prostitutes who visit a certain health institution offering free treatment for HIV/Aids related infections other and sexually transmitted diseases is proof that the flesh business is thriving.

A field officer at the facility says they see 30 to 40 prostitutes daily.

"We are the only institution that offers such services to prostitutes in the town," says the official.

The sex workers visit the centre to seek information on sexually transmitted infections or treatment.

Since 1993, 10,000 commercial sex workers have registered with the facility. "We give them membership cards with visit schedules. We also reimburse their busfare," he says.

The field officer, who goes around Mombasa creating awareness about the institution, says they have members from Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Rwanda. "Some are as young as 18 while others are as old as 40 years," he says.

Another prostitution hotspot but less glamorous is Msufi Mkavu in Mwembe Tayari, where dozens of sex workers live in small rented rooms and offer services.

Msufi Mkavu is equivalent to Koinange Street in Nairobi but with more aggressive twilight women.

Most veteran prostitutes leading stylish lifestyles confess that they started from low class areas like Msufi Mkavu, where they had to fight for clients.

Here, the twilight girls are ready to offer their services anywhere even in alleys or inside their clients' vehicles.

Yet another hotspot is Mama Ngina recreational drive, frequented by visitors and foreigners due to its serene beauty.

Big money

Police have arrested homosexuals including businessmen in the area for engaging in unnatural acts.

Ali* is a homosexual who operates from Nkrumah Road, and his feminine characteristics leave one confused about his sex. "I spend every weekend with four businessmen. I usually meet each at a time at Mama Ngina Drive or Nkrumah Road then we leave for another place," he says.

Ali says he is addicted to homosexuality and cannot stay for four days without having sex with a man.

"It is addictive. When I am desperate, I look for another male prostitute, to help ease the urge," he says.

Ali says he uses his earning to support his ageing mother.

"My mother knows what I do but cannot object because I have to put food on the table. The homosexuality market is now overcrowded," he claims. He says there is big money in the business especially for young boys, who are the preference of most clients.

"Foreigners pay between Sh30,000 and Sh70,000 per session," he says.

A plan by the Municipal Council Environment Committee chairman, Councillor Said Mathias, to rid the town of homosexuals and prostitutes is yet to bear fruits.

His action has sparked off outrage and anonymous letters warning him to leave the flesh peddlers alone.

* Names changed

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