We have Rwandan porn stars in our midst. They work in a sophisticated closed circle and are so discreet that getting information about them or tracing their footsteps is as hard as seeing the eclipse in the next 50 years.
An investigation by The New Times has established that a well organised network is running an underground porn industry which stretches from Kigali to the neigbouring countries.
Who are the people behind this network, how do they recruit and who is their target. How bad is the situation?
Is it a multimillion dollar business like the porn industry in the west?
These are some of the questions we tried to unravel in the investigation we got a hint about two months ago.
Early this year, a friend and I were hanging out at a bar in Nyamirambo near a place called Mirongo Ine.
Then suddenly we decided to relocate to another bar that seemed more fun. When we got inside, I was shocked to find out that it was a strip tease dance bar.
Taking a quick look around the room with deem lighting, I noticed a woman breastfeeding a child and as if that was not disturbing enough, there were two kids walking around aimlessly and the crowd didn’t seem bothered by the presence of the minors. I brushed it off as another aspect of immorality that comes with development in urban cities, like prostitution.
But last week, this incident came back to haunt me. I was tipped off by a source that there is an underground porn world in Kigali that is slowly gaining momentum. So I decided to move around Kigali to find out how available X-rated DVDs are and if these movies are shown in the presence of minors at local movie theatres.
I started with a local cinema in Remera, Muri Corridor, where at 11:00pm, it is common knowledge that anything, whether action, romance or adventure, is put aside for X-rated DVDs to be showed.
Looking around, it was not difficult to figure out that there were a few minors but after asking a few individuals, I was told that several of them have their parents running bars around the area and usually send them there as they tend to customers.
I found another movie hall showing pornography in Kajagari II near the Military Hospital. People were not concerned that there were young girls between 15 – 17 years moving around. However, the girls seemed more interested in serving people the tea and snacks that they had ordered.
Sensing that there might be a bigger problem than I had anticipated, I set out to find out more.
An encounter with a source
After consulting several sources, I got a hint of what I might be looking for but it was nothing like I had thought it would turn out to be. In the course of my investigation, I bumped into an old friend that I have used many times as a source in my line of work. We started catching up and among other things; we talked about my current mission. He told me that he could show me something that could be of help to me. He asked me to go to his place.
It was at his place that he showed me a pornographic movie of two Rwandan girls and three guys that was shot in Uganda. It was more shocking when the girls started speaking Kinyarwanda. I asked if he could get me a copy but he couldn’t although he said that he would convince one of the girls that is actively involved in the porn business to give me her story.
Having known each other for quite some time, it was easy to trust him. He called me early Monday morning to tell me that the girl had agreed to talk and he proceeded to give me instructions on how to handle myself. “No recording, no writing, just listen to her story and grasp as much information as you can. I’ve told her that you are interested in joining the industry but want to know how it operates,” he said.
22-year-old Anita (real name withheld) is actively involved in the world of pornography that has up to now been just a rumour. I met Anita in the early hours of Monday morning at a restaurant in Nyamirambo; she is petite and has plaited hair, her skin is dark and she comes off as any other innocent young girl looking ahead to a bright future.
How she joined
“After completing secondary education in 2011, I started by helping out my sister who runs a bar in Kajagali, Kanombe opposite the airport and that is where I started to get exposed to sexual innuendos from drunk patrons because that is how some clients preferred to tease me.
Although I always thought that it wasn’t serious, I was shocked one day when this particular client came up to me and offered me Rwf 50,000 to just sleep with him. I had not held that much money in my life and I thought to myself, if I have been sleeping with my boyfriend, why not? Besides, my boyfriend won’t know.
After my encounter with that guy, we became friends for some time and I trusted him. A brief period later, he told me how he makes money and encouraged me to join him. He didn’t explicitly explain everything to me but since I was desperate, I decided to give it a try after a lot of convincing. He introduced me to a lady who was referred to as ‘Madam’.
We met the woman at her home in Kicukiro and looks like she is in her late 40’s. She runs a couple of boutiques in town is tough and strict on the girls especially when it comes to maintaining silence. When I met her, she first took a good look at me like an inspector at a crime scene. She asked how old I was, to which I replied, 19. She said that I looked older than my age.
She asked me to tell her my childhood story and how I came to meet the guy who had introduced me to her. After going through all the details, she said I was the perfect candidate since I didn’t have any strong attachments to anyone or family.
Both my parents died when I was still young. She told me that if I wanted to be part of her team, I’ll have to stay with her. It was difficult for me to explain that to my sister but I wanted the money. I told my sister that I had gotten a well paying job in town at a boutique. She asked a couple of questions but seemed not bothered at all although she told me that she was happy I wasn’t going to work in a bar again.
I found out that most, if not all girls, are recruited the same way I was. They mostly look for girls between the age of 19-22, beautiful and vulnerable because they are easy targets since they are usually in need of money. Madam usually does the orientation herself. It consists of HIV/Aids testing, telling us what we are expected to do, the sex styles involved and how to keep clean. However, she doesn’t usually talk about oral sex, although it does happen but usually it’s too late to turn back and in most cases, the girls don’t mind it.
During orientation, we were given money to shop for clothes, Madam would take us out regularly which I think was a way of making sure we don’t start doubting the ‘good life’ that lay ahead of us.
Travel arrangements and arrival
After building some confidence in us and letting us socialize, it was time to process our travel documents. We were 5 girls in my group; each one of us was given Rwf 30,000 to process travel documents (Laissez Passer). After getting our documents - with the reason of travel being ‘to visit relatives, we left for Uganda in September and we were in Kampala for two weeks before I came back to check on sister since I had not bothered to tell her because I thought she would try to stop me from travelling whatever the reason was. Together with Madam, we left Kigali at 5:00am and reached Kampala at around 2:30pm.
At the bus stop, we found a driver with another woman waiting by a van which took us to a hotel along Bombo road in Kampala. After freshening up and relaxing, we were told that we would be divided into two groups. At midnight, one girl and I were taken by Madam to the upscale area of Muyenga whereas the other three girls were taken by another lady referred to as Nnalongo to Bugolobi, a Kampala city suburb.
The house in Muyenga was nice and had a tall wall fence.
We found three guys drinking beer and Madam made the formal introductions. We were given alcohol at the encouragement of Madam who said that it was good for socialising with the guys and even to relax.
Madam left us at the house but promised to come back for us in the morning. The marathon started at 1:00am with each guy wanting to sleep with each of us. At first we were scared because we wondered how we would sleep with each guy but then Madam had briefed us about the things that we may have to do. To cut the long story short, it’s was as kinky as porn gets.”
As they get into it, the camera rolls.
Payment ranges from $250 - $500 which is between Rwf 172,000 and Rwf 344,000 depending on how many guys you are able to sleep with in any given month. When asked how much the Madam gets as commission, she said that the Madam doesn’t take anything from them.
How the syndicate thrives unnoticed
The syndicate also doubles as recruiting grounds for the Madam. This is how it works. The Madam is actively involved in a local business venture commonly known as Abapfubuzi. Madam connects good looking youthful guys to sugar mummies who take good care of them by giving them money, cars and opening up small businesses for them.
For this, Madam requires these young men to lure young girls into her business since they can easily attract these young girls. These young men, most of whom are said to be the corporate working class, initiate them into this circle and as Anita reveals, “Once you are in, there’s no easy way out unless you escape like some girls have done.”
“This syndicate is strong. It has connections in most universities here and that would be easy to identify you if you escape. People who bankroll this whole project are afraid that when a person quits, they’ll publicly talk about what happens.”
However, there’s a secrecy rule that one has to observe once they join. Besides, no one was hoodwinked into joining; it was voluntary at least for me and maybe for the other girls because apart from those that escaped, I haven’t heard anyone complain,” Anita says.
Why come out now?
Anita says that she’s telling the story because this underground world is growing by the day and the hazards are increasing.
“They have taken to recruiting girls as young as 18. Although I was recruited at 19, three years ago. I’m worried about my life. For example, we were tested for HIV/Aids when were recruited but when we got to our destination, they just presented documents of guys we were to sleep with ascertaining that the guys were not sick but we had no way of verifying the information. I don’t know if the results were real or forged. What I know is that I can never go for an HIV/Aids test or have unprotected sex with any other guy apart from the guys in industry.”
Anita says that she is still part of the industry which has since grown to include Burundi as another destination where some of these movies are shot but Uganda is the most popular destination. However she couldn’t confirm if the syndicate extends beyond Uganda. She says most of the girls usually decide to stay in Kampala but remain active. On her side, she comes home once in a while just so that her sister doesn’t get worried.