Forget about skimpily dressed women running after cars when darkness sets in. The veterans in the trade say that is an outdated way of plying what is described as the world’s oldest trade in the 21st century.
Prostitution has taken on a new trend and is more sophisticated and lucrative. Players in the game have devised smart moves to operate without worry of being ‘tagged’ prostitutes or got by the long arm of the law.
When darkness sets in, some streets in the city turn into a red light district, with prostitutes lining up at various strategic corners to hook up with male customers. But these are the ones who still do business the old way as others have moved on to the ‘corporate’ prostitution level. My journey into the world of prostitution took me through Nyamirambo, Remera, Kimihurura and eventually Gikondo. Ladies of the night have become bolder. They hit the streets as early as 7pm depending on the day although on Friday and Saturday, they can be found in specific bars as early as 5pm.
It wasn’t until midnight on Thursday morning in Nyamirambo that a call came through from a contact telling me about Annet (not real name) who works at a bar in Gikondo. Annet was willing to let me in on the world of prostitution and how it has evolved over the years. Having been a prostitute for ten years, Annet understands how the field works; she started out on the streets before becoming a waitress where she continues to ply her trade.
I talked to a patron I found at the bar opposite I&M Bank branch in Nyamirambo. I started off with some casual talk and proceeded to buy him drinks before bringing up the topic of prostitution. I asked him if he knew a place where I could find prostitutes. He was quick to tell me they are available outside the bar and across the road depending on the prostitutes I was looking for.
His reaction aroused my curiosity. He even made more hair rising revelations that some are prostitutes by profession while others, like house maids do it as a side job.
“House maids don’t make a lot of money so they engage in prostitution as another way of making money. Most of them work during the day and go back home. So, at night they come out to make some extra money,” said the patron as he sipped on his favourite Primus beer.
House maids have added competition to the trade. Some of them actually live with their parents (they work and go home) but never reveal what they do. My new friend at the bar also told me that housemaids usually charge less compared to other prostitutes.
Sensing that maybe that was all he knew, I decided it was time to head to Gikondo. Relying on directions I had been given, I made it to the bar where I found a few patrons still having a drink. Using the descriptions my contact had given me; it wasn’t difficult to single her out. After taking my seat, a waiter came to take my order but I asked him to call Annet.
When she came, I introduced myself and told her about the person who referred me to her. She asked if I could give her 45 minutes to wind up with work. I told her it was fine and by the time she came back, I was the only client in the bar.
Annet is a 32-year-old woman who has been in the trade for the last 10 years. After promising to compensate her for her time, she opened up. Annet’s insight into the world of prostitution gave me a picture of the different classes of prostitutes. She says prostitutes nowadays vary depending on their targets.
“There are waitresses like me who double as prostitutes, there are those who line the streets, we have university girls and then the corporate class,” she said.
Annet used to be one of the ladies of the streets until she was arrested by police and spent a weekend in a police cell. When she got out she decided to get a job as a waitress but still does prostitution as a side job.
“This place gives me security. I have clients who come here and ask me to call them when I’m done with work. Although my work as a waitress is hectic, the pay is not enough which is why I have to find more ways to make money.”
Such waitresses target single men or even married men as long they can pay for the services. Usually for waitresses, prices range from Rwf 10,000 – Rwf 50,000 depending on how long she’ll be with a client and the type of bar where she works.
Street prostitutes are a common sight in Kigali. They can be found in Kacyiru opposite Top Tower hotel, Car Wash roundabout, Kimihurura near Sundowner, Chapter One, Lebanese, Ogopogo and Papyrus among other places. They are usually less expensive than bar waitresses. They charge between Rwf 8,000 – Rwf 15,000.
According to Annet, this new breed of prostitutes is smart. “They usually get their men through internet social networks like Facebook and even hang in high end places.”
According to Annet, looking cool is an important element for university girls because the ‘cooler’ one looks, the easier it is for them to hook a guy.
“These are girls you will find in club dancing provocatively. If she is all over you, she’s a prostitute and she probably chose the club purposely for a hookup,” says Annet.
She adds that they will probably ask questions such as “Where is your car?” She’ll even go ahead to ask if you have a house. They are usually afraid of lodges and hotels since they might encounter some people they don’t want to meet. University girls don’t come cheap, without a starting price of Rwf 50,000 with a couple of expensive drinks; the deal might go sour.
But the category that rules the rest is the corporates. Although Annet didn’t know details of this group, I tried to find out how it operates.
They hang out in top places, smartly dressed and handle themselves with esteem. They will never approach anyone but there are people who know them and those who can never tell. They are usually employed and can sustain intellectual conversations.
Yes, they are smart but their lifestyle leads them into wanting more. The beauty of going for a corporate prostitute is that nobody can tell that you are buying a prostitute; they don’t act like they are prostitutes. Their work is made through connections with big wigs in corporate circles and they are trustworthy.
They are usually contacted on phone or through email. Their prices are exorbitant and range from almost $200 per night going upwards. Some of them are even taken on trips abroad or neighbouring countries depending on the deep pockets of the client.
Although prostitution is illegal and steps are in place to curb it, it is pretty obvious that there’s more work to be done because the players are getting smarter at the game.
What measures are being taken?
In general, according to research from Rwanda Biomedical Centre there are between 11,000 and 12,000 female sex workers country wide. Basically, for us what we do is to help enforce the campaign strategy put in place by RBC in the fight against HIV/AIDS. We provide training for the people under our care through programmes such as, use of condoms, financial empowerment, giving them hands on skills so that they can be able to do something useful when they complete their rehabilitation programme. Most of them have left the trade and some are happily married. In regards to the new trends in prostitution, we are aware of high end prostitution but that is difficult to contain since most of them join willingly and it’s their choice. Although we are trying to ensure that they also have access to adequate health services but we mainly help the vulnerable.
Aimable Mwananawe, National Coordinator, Ihorere Munyarwanda Organisation (IMRO)
I have been a prostitute for 10 years
“My dad died when I was 12 years old during the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi and my mother also died in 1998 when I was 16 years old. We used to live in Huye district, Southern Province where we owned a small piece of land.
After my mother’s death, my maternal aunt said she would look after me and I moved into her home.
Everything was good at first but soon she made me her house maid. I would sleep on the cold floor, go to bed hungry and wasn’t even allowed to step in the living room. I eventually dropped out of school. I tried to talk to some relatives but my aunt told them that I had bad manners and I was even sleeping with boys around the village.
With no one to look up to, I escaped from the village and found my way to Kigali in search of a job. I used to spend the whole day walking and at the night I would sleep at the door steps of St Famille church. I had few clothes and I always looked dirty since I used to walk long distances.
One day as I was walking, I met a group of three girls and asked them if they could help me with Rwf 50 so that I can buy a doughnut for supper. As the rest of the girls ignored me, one of the girls turned and handed me a coin. She proceeded to ask me where I stay and I told her at the church doors.
She asked me to follow her to her place which was at Muhima. I spent the night there and for the first time since my mother died, I felt like someone loves me. In the morning, she gave me clothes and breakfast. I narrated my story and she was touched.
She told me that it was difficult to find a job but told me that I could join her in prostitution. It was difficult for her to explain to me what she does but she did. She also gave me a week to find a job so that we can complement each other’s income. Days went by and I started to feel pressure mounting on me, she would feed me and even give me transport to move around looking for a job.
After a week, with nowhere to turn to, I decided to join her. The experience was harrowing and it is still difficult to narrate it. My friend was killed in car accident in 2006.
I have been working as a prostitute for 10 years. Most of my customers are good people who have never assaulted me. However, I have had a few bad encounters; some have slept with me and refused to pay whereas there’s one who tore the condom tip without my knowledge and had unprotected sex with me.
Most of the sex workers I know have had something similar happen to them at least once, but we can’t report anywhere. I hope that maybe someday I will get away from this life and get something better to do, but right now, it’s my only source of income.
Why is prostitution on the increase?
Most girls who join prostitution do it as a choice. You find they actually have other options but they choose prostitution. Most ladies who have engaged with high end customers can never be convinced to quit, simply because they are accustomed to a good life that comes with no sweat. However, there are also those who are driven by poverty and as long as poverty is here, then we shall always have prostitution. I don’t think there’s a definite solution to this problem, because I have seen girls with jobs joining prostitution. Now that is where the problem is, some do it for fun because it comes with rewards. I would just advise them to be careful and always use protection.
Prostitution will always be there because some men just want to try out things they’ve never done with their wives and feel ashamed to ask. Besides, when tourists travel, they don’t do it just to look at buildings, some of them want local women and that is where the corporate prostitutes come in. Most guys nowadays don’t want to go through the whole process of dating and end up going for those they can pay and get over with. It may sound absurd but unfortunately that is the bitter truth. The fight against prostitution is actually becoming difficult by the day because the people involved are now the elite who use smart moves.
I think girls have to accept that life is not all about good things. Yes, you have to work hard to earn that flat screen, a good car and even a good job. They should stop thinking that life can be built in one day; it is a process and the earlier it is worked on, the better the chances of reaping good rewards. Wait patiently for a man who is worth your body rather than sleeping around and ending up with HIV/Aids.
Life is full of challenges but the only way to solve the challenges is not by creating more problems. Some of these men are evil, what if he stabs you in the room or takes you on a trip and you end up being sold into sex slavery? Would it be worth it? Girls should try to work hard if they want respect in society. It has become common for girls to feel like it is fine to trade their bodies for favours but remember no one will ever give you respect if you don’t earn it.