By Ogova Ondego
Since time immemorial, Profiles of Urban Prostitution says, prostitutes and influential people like politicians, judges, governors, congressmen, state legislators, councilors, mayors, lawyers, and priests have always been earnest bedmates.
“It is basically because national leaders have a stake in this social institution–that it becomes difficult, and sometimes impossible, for any government–to abolish prostitution from society,” writes Christopher J Bakwesegha, reminding Kenyans of the 2004 incident in which a National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) government minister, an assistant minister and a member of parliament were reported to have been among men picking call girls from Koinange Street in Nairobi.
Although the arrested girls were charged in court, no man–not even the said politicians–was arraigned anywhere in court for supporting prostitution.
Bakwesegha refers to the arrest of women without their male clients as “political persecution on the side of female victims of prostitution.”
Any attempt at eliminating prostitution should be done only by tackling the twin market issues of DEMAND and SUPPLY, he argues.
Saying voluminous studies have been done on virtually everything except prostitution, the writer argues: “It is bad and even dangerous to solve a social problem by merely shying away from it; but it is worse and even more dangerous to prescribe a cure to it without diagnosing the problem in the first place.”
The 125-page paperback is perhaps one of the best sources of information I have seen on prostitution, one of the world’s oldest trades recorded in the Old Testament and in the history of ancient Greek and Roman empires, and could as well be describing prostitution in Nairobi, Dar es Salaam, Johannesburg, Lagos and, I dare say, any African city.
Although meant to be a study, Profiles of Urban Prostitution: A case study from Uganda avoids any academic jargon, adopting an easy to read and understand style. Unfortunately, it may end up sounding like sex scandal tabloids like Bukedde and Red Pepper of Uganda in its anecdotal presentation of prostitutes with their clients.
The author not only identifies the kind of men who visit prostitutes and explains why but also attempts an explanation of how to combat the practice that he contends could be impossible to eradicate as it is increasing rapidly. Perhaps what one may find most disturbing is the hypocrisy with which the male-dominated society handles prostitution. Many men who publicly ridicule, despise, disown and spit on these flesh peddlers go to them secretly and pay exorbitantly for momentary carnal pleasures.
According to Bakwesegha, prostitution is caused not by biological and psychological factors but by socio-economic pressures exerted on an individual by urbanisation, industrialisation and migration resulting from the Western capitalistic system.
Women become prostitutes mainly due to the brutality of economic problems.
“If we cannot solve the economic problem of these marginal women, if we cannot find well-paying jobs for them, if we cannot close, or at least narrow, the glaring gap between the rich and the poor in our society, then it is inhuman for us to start persecuting them,” sociologist Bakwesegha argues.
He contends that ‘when a prostitute sells her sex to a man in order to obtain money to pay off her sister’s school fees, all that she is doing is to promote a socially desirable good (education) in society” and that when she ‘sells her body to a wealthy man’ hers is an effort in the direction of closing the gap between the poor and the rich.
Additionally, the writer says, one would not have the nerve to suggest eliminating prostitution from society if one were to seriously consider the types of men who visit prostitutes and why they do so: Some men may be deformed and therefore find it almost impossible to win love favours from normal able-bodied women and so the only open avenue to them would be that of visiting prostitutes. It matters not whether they be sex explorers, sexually frustrated men, men with sexual pitfalls and those too timid to approach women all find solace in prostitutes. It matters not whether they be university professors, grave-diggers, millionaires, beggars, politicians, priests, judges, thieves, medical doctors, or witchdoctor. Life without sex for all these men “would be harsh, brutal, and virtually impossible; and their general productivity could be seriously hampered,” Bakwesegha says.
Arguing that no systematic study on prostitution had been done at the time he wrote this book, the author says only such studies could provide reliable, valid and relevant data on which to act in regulating prostitution.
Besides grappling with the often amorphous definition of the term ‘prostitute’ and the forces that compel women to market their bodies and for men to buy them, Bakwesegha contends that “prostitution implies a multiplicity of sexual patterns” for pecuniary or material remunerations.
A woman who engages in extra-marital intercourses due to her partner’s sexual deficiency is not a prostitute. However an elderly man or woman (sugar daddy and sugar mummy) who notoriously chases about boys and girls with the aim of buying bodily services from them is a prostitute. A woman who leases her body for immediate material gain and one who marries purely for money and who confirms this by abandoning the partner whose economic status has deteriorated to squat with another partner with more money are basically the same. The only difference, perhaps, may be that whereas the latter receives pay all along, the former operates on a pay-as-you-lay basis. Whether the system is organised on long term or short term contacts, the function of the bodily behaviour involved is basically the same.
In this case a materialistic wife, mistress, concubine or girlfriend is no better than that despised Koinange Street call girl. Although a prostitute can be both male and female, it is easier to identify female prostitutes than male ones. One cannot help noticing that Bakwesegha appears to be rather liberal and sympathetic to prostitution. In fact, one may even be tempted to believe he is either a pimp, a sex explorer or a prostitute from the kind of highly personal anecdotes he presents: how prostitutes charge per round or sexual contact and how much, how the so-called high class prostitute is likely to be a carrier of sexually-transmitted infections as opposed to her low-class counterpart who thrives on tetracycline, how African prostitutes prefer Asian men (they take 3-4 minutes to come or just caress them but pay them generously) to Black Africans (they take more than 30 minutes to be through with just a sexual contact and pay them so little), and how two university students attempt to trick a Congolese prostitute into sleeping with them for one time payment and what happens when the prostitute discovers that the clean shaven man she has just slept with has paved way for his bearded colleague in the cover of darkness and demands at the top of her voice that the bearded one must also pay her for the conjugal service:
Lipa pesa sasa (Pay up now)
Shilingi saba-ine haraka (Sh70, fast)
Lipa sasa (Pay up now)
Hi vitu vyangu, hi (This thing of mine; pointing at her private parts)
Isi ya bure (is not free)
Utaniona mimi leo (I will teach you a lesson today)
Nyinyi watoto ya elimu mulipenda kutomba sisi Malaya kila siku bure (You university students like sleeping with us for free)
Isio mimi (Not me)
Lipa pesa yangu nende (Pay up I want to go)
Another incident is one in which another university student pays a prostitute Sh5 on the understanding he will be ‘fast’ to enable her rush back to her place. However the student, in the hope of getting a maximum utility from his Sh5, chews the root of Musongola tree that hardens and strengthens his member for maximum performance as it also delays ejaculation for as long as possible.
Then the writer, in a fashion not unlike that of the bawdy and lewd Luganda daily, Bukedde, describes the setting: In the first 20 minutes, “the bed was squeaking intermittently and the sobbing sounds inside the room became more distinct as time went on.” After about 30 minutes, however, the woman started complaining in Luganda:
Daali onzita (Darling you are killing me)
Siiiii, siiiiiiiiii, siiiiiiiiii, Banange omusajja anzitta (My friends, the man is killing me)
Omusajja anzise leero (The man has killed me today)
Nze ekintu kyo sikisobola, nvaako mangu, nkikooye (I cannot stand your thing, get off me, I am tired of it)
Omusajja alingansolo ono, banange (The man is like a beast, my friends)
Nvaako, gwe Omusoga (Get off me, you Msoga).
After about an hour, the prostitute demanded water and as the student got off her to get it for her, she bolted from the room!
Profiles of Urban Prostitution: A case study from Uganda has end notes, several appendices, tables and maps, and a bibliography that can form a good basis for study.
Bakwesegha’s Profiles of Urban Prostitution: A case study from Uganda was first published by Kenya Literature Bureau of Nairobi in 1982.