Christmas is the Christian celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, and for millions around the world, it is the biggest holiday of the year.
It gets one wondering; what is this season to a commercial sex worker? Is she greeted with, “Merry Christmas! How much?” Does she close for business in respect for the newborn child?
In Uganda’s capital city, commercial sex workers, who operate illegally on the streets and suburbs, have every intention of celebrating the season: with special arrangements for their expected customers.
On a recent Sunday night, I set out to visit them in some of their operation areas, beginning with those near Fairway hotel.
They initially mistook me for a customer and when I told one of them that I was a journalist who wanted an interview with a few of them, she became angry and called others who started insulting and chasing me away.
“You think we are here at this time of the night [it was midnight] to make money for The Observer? We only entertain willing buyers, not journalists,” said one of them, punctuating her sentiments with obscenities.
As I turned to leave, one of them asked if I was ready to pay Shs 10,000 for her time; she was ready to ‘entertain’ me for 10 minutes only. After I accepted the condition, she got excited and led me to Fairway hotel’s gardens.
When I offered to buy her a soda, she promised to accommodate me for another five minutes as a bonus, although she preferred a beer. When I told her my religion does not allow me to buy alcohol, she took the soda willingly. She asked if I had a camera. I told her I didn’t, but she frisked me to prove my lack of ‘ammunition’.
Telling me she was Anita Mbabazi – a name I did not believe was correct – she said she was a first-year student at Makerere University who was dealing in sex trade to get pocket money for her university upkeep and get a better livelihood because her mother was a single parent who could not afford these in addition to the tuition fees.
“I would not have gone through this calendar year if I was not dealing in commercial sex work. I began this business from Nakulabye for three months but the price there for short games was so low that I came here where our chairperson demanded for Shs 300,000 for me to be accepted at this place as a member,” Mbabazi told me.
For the last nine months, she says she has been able to feed herself, shift to a better hostel around Makerere and buy luxuries such as a television set.
“Unlike at Nakulabye where one takes you for a night at Shs 20,000 and ‘short’ goes for Shs 5,000, here a night goes for around Shs 50,000,” she said, seemingly proud of her ‘investments’. “A whole weekend a customer can pay you between Shs 100,000 and Shs 150,000, Friday inclusive and if you are lucky, a foreigner can part with $100 (Shs 250,000) for the same period.”
At this point, their chairperson who Mbabazi introduced as Sarah joined us and jokingly asked why I had trespassed in her territory. After apologizing and offering her Shs 5,000, she gave me details of their Charismas package.
Bad Black their inspiration
According to Sarah, this package which she refers to as “take-away package”, is meant for well-off clients starting on December 25 to January 1. Starting on the very day Jesus Christ was born to save the world?!
Sarah says the prices have doubled this festive season and in addition to the payment, a customer must be willing to take the prostitute to one of the entertainment places. I guess their way of working without missing out on the happening programmes...
“This kind of arrangement might help some of us to become richer. Don’t forget that our former colleague Shanita Namuyimbwa [aka Bad Black] got rich from this area when she bumped into the British millionaire who bought her for a night at Shs 300,000 and the duo later became real lovers,” Sarah, in her late 20s, said.
There is a self-accommodation package too.
“Because of police harassment, some of us who have our own residences are willing to take our willing clients at our homes where one pays us double the normal price. Like me, I have a vehicle which he must be willing to fuel and we take time off to an entertainment place of my choice. These two packages expire on January 1,” Sarah, who has been arrested nine times and charged twice before a KCCA court, added.
Climax package, on the other hand, is meant for clients who only intend to use them for only Christmas, Boxing Day or January 1. The price tag on their bodies is still double the normal season and terms and conditions – which include strict condom use – apply.
They have what they call the Risky package, meant for clients who want sex without protection. Basically, for clients who are suicidal and those who think they have nothing to lose. According to Sarah, some of the sex workers have HIV/Aids and are willing to have unprotected sex with HIV-positive customers at a much higher fee.
“During a sensitisation workshop, we were told that some people have dangerous HIV/Aids and that sleeping with various men can reduce one’s life, but still some of our colleagues do it at a higher fee because to them money comes first,” added Sarah.
I proceeded to Nile avenue where a lone sex worker near Uganda Broadcasting Corporation told me she was stranded because she had not received any client by that time – around 12:30am. For reasons unknown, buyers seemed to be rejecting her ‘goods’. She requested for Shs 3,000 to take her back to her Namasuba home.
“Unlike other years, there seems to be more poverty this year. At around this time last year, we were making money. I am fed up of this condition but I am still forced to do it because of my child whom I am looking after and if I get a willing man to take me with my child, I can get married,” said this commercial sex worker, who referred to herself as Lisa.
Along First street near the New Vision offices, one Natukunda complained of police harassment.
“If you are lucky, they will ask for a bribe, but at times they take us to police stations and the rude ones force us into unprotected sex in a cemetery along Jinja road; others just steal our money and let us go,” Natukunda added.
However, the Kampala Metropolitan Police boss Andrew Felix Kaweesi referred to these allegations as wild and said police is planning to arrest and charge these sex workers. Their plans and special packages for the festive season may be in vain, if the police plans for them are anything to go by.
“Commercial sex work is an illegal trade and we shall join hands with Kampala Capital City Authority [KCCA] to arrest and charge them for we have reports that they rob people at night,” said Kaweesi.
At a recent press conference, KCCA executive director Jennifer Ssemakula Musisi said that just as the authority now arrests those buying merchandise from illegal vendors and charges them with abating crime, they will do the same to men who buy sex workers. Musisi was supported by Kampala Resident City Commissioner Mpimbaza Hashaka.
“I became a victim of these women and I support their total removal even for security purposes,” Mpimbaza, who is head of the city’s security, said without elaborating how he “fell victim”.
At the infamous Daido building opposite Makindye military barracks, a few commercial sex workers lurked around because the building is still under renovation. They were unhappy that their clients had taken their “
“business” to Kabalagala and Ggaba.
While at Kabalagala’s Kataba, a place notorious for prostitutes, this business begins as early as 8pm, the “cheapest commodities” were found in Ggaba.
“For us, we are like the Chinese; we don’t send away customers. We offer short services [for] between Shs 3,000 mostly to boda boda cyclists, and Shs 10,000 for fishmongers and other well-off clients. A night goes for Shs 20,000.
We have no problem with the police and local council authorities in the area because our landlord has compromised them,” said one Justine. Whereas Ben Kiyimba, one of the LC I officials in Ggaba mission, denied this allegation saying removal of these sex workers is a KCCA and police affair, the police O.C Ggaba could not comment as he was reported out of the station.
The Ggaba chairperson, one Mumbejja, says each client must pay Shs 10,000 to the landlord one Masinde, who also runs a bar called Cheers in the area. However, kickboxer Titus Mugume, who is also one of the escorts of Col Jackson Bell around whose residence these sex workers operate from at Agali Awamu road in Ggaba, said there was need to get rid of them as they abuse passersby at night using obscenities.
Well, a merry Christmas to you all, for what it’s worth!