Nairobi Star (Nairobi)
Joyce Joan Wangui
10 January 2012
Since the historic secession from the North mid last year, Juba has seen a surge in trade and a massive construction of new structures, as it scrambles for recognition in the global map. The city has attracted people from all over the world including humanitarian workers, consulates, traders and those in hospitality industry. The new economic euphoria, coupled by an unprecedented cross border immigration is now flourishing the world’s oldest profession-prostitution.
Commercial sex workers are drawn from neighboring countries including Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, Eritrea and the DRC. They are thronging Juba for one mission- to make quick money. Even the previously naive South Sudanese and several Northerners (young girls and women) have been lured into the trade in a bid to earn a living and sexual freedom.
In a bid to revamp a country reeling from a protracted 21 year old civil war, it is a catch 22 scenario for foreign traders who want to export anything that can be sold in Juba-including sex. The upsurge in sex trade, mainly booming along the border areas and in the main city has necessitated the influx of brothels, mainly operating as sex camps. Among the brothels that have made house hold names include, Gumbo, Rock City, Jebel, Customs and Airport road among others, all located within Juba town. Kenyans known to be entrepreneurial by nature are flexing their muscles in the lucrative business. Rock City Lodge is home to about 200 and 400 Kenyan sex workers, according to statistics by a Juba-based NGO, Confident Children out of Conflict, who mainly target travelers and tourists.
Although prostitution is illegal in South Sudan, many girls engage in the trade in hide-outs masquerading as lodges. An official from the South Sudan Aids Commission who begged anonymity admits that containing the vice is an uphill task because it has also lured under-age South Sudanese girls sell their bodies for a living.
“Prior to the stability of South Sudan and the signing of the CPA in 2005, prostitution was largely associated with foreigners. It is regrettable that our very own girls now engage in transactional sex work due to the influence from their foreign peers.” He cites poverty and lack of education as the major contributors to commercial sex. “You see, most of these local girls are homeless and without any family, and since they can’t get descent jobs, they resort to prostitution.”
Foreign girls turning tricks are increasing in number. Statistics from a US-funded organisation, Family Health International puts the number of sex workers to between 4000 and 10000, which is also inclusive of locals.
“I thought that I was going to help my aunt in her restaurant situated at the Jebel market. She had linked me up with an agency in Nairobi’s river road area who helped me with a passport and visa as well as other logistics to enable me travel to Juba.” The young girl, who allows me to use her real names but not photograph her, says upon reaching Juba, she only worked at her aunt’s restaurant for one week. She would later be enrolled in a brothel to work as a prostitute.
“I could service five male clients in a night. They never paid me anything as the money went to the brothel owner who I referred to as ‘mum’. Janet talks of the sexual violence that surrounds the brothels. “The clients do not care if you are there voluntarily or otherwise. Some even insult you while others beat you up.” She says that the issue of protection is a mirage as some clients refuse to wear condoms. “Sometimes when you tell a man to use a condom, he points a gun at you. Then after finishing with you, he will mock you and leave the room, ready to ‘slaughter’ another girl,” she says.
Janet’s case represents scores of girls who are not in a position to negotiate their sex work, or even to benefit from the money they have been earning. Hers is a classic example of involuntary bonded labour. An action research carried out by a Juba-based NGO, Confident Children out of Conflict (CCC) notes that ‘Pimps are the business brokers or -managers of prostitutes. Usually the prostitutes are highly dependent on them for their protection. Financially, they are usually dependent on them too, even to the extent of bondage. They manage the flow of clients to the sex workers and recover a large part of their earnings as rent in return.’
She decided to export her skills into Juba because, according to her, Nairobi is not lucrative any more. “There are so many of us at Koinange street and with the harsh economic times in Nairobi, people are wary of spending on sex.” In Juba, she can make a whooping 1,335.77 SDG ($500) in a week and this she does by sleeping with different men at different lodges. Triza’s clients include rich Dinka men, expatratiates but on a grey day, she can offer her services to truck drivers who pay her a paltry 20SDG per sex round.
Juba’s sexual landscape is a far cry from Nairobi’s Koinange street. Whereas Nairobi girls are known for positioning themselves at noticeable pick-up points along the road, or operating in palatial homes in leafy suburbs, in Juba, the sex business is mainly in dilapidated sex camps. I visited the Gumbo Business Centre, which also serves as a transit area for many trucks that deliver goods into Juba thus making it strategic for many travelers in need of lodging.
Gumbo is lined up with numerous brothels masquerading as lodges. These are skewed structures mainly constructed with tin and papyrus and the numerous rows and rows of them have given birth to a sprawling slum. Never mind the dilapidated set up of the place, with open sewers full of filth and rotten garbage, for this is where money changes hands for female bodies. In here, the business of sex is under the strict guidance of pimps (brothel owners) thus making it less lucrative for the girls. It is here that you also find under age Southern Sudanese who cannot afford to solicit for sex in Hadikas (night clubs).
Kate lives a double life. During the day, she works in a salon and at night, she is a ‘call’ girl. She has so mastered the art that she is able to spot a man with a rich pocket. “You know here in Juba, so many wealthy people are coming for business and after a hard day, they need some quality time,” she says with a smile. Kate decries the deplorable life of the sex camps where exploitation is rife.
She says that lodge owners capitalize on the trade at the expense of the girls, “We do the donkey work but get peanuts. If I rely on the sex camps I will be so poor, so I have to up my game by soliciting for men in night clubs and sometimes at the border.” She however admits that the influx of twilight girls in Juba has reduced their earnings.