Prostitution is Africa’s underground economy mainstay

January 18, 2016

I have always described commercial sex workers as the ‘alternative love makers’ who offers a plan B to ‘mainstream love makers’ who have become main source of stress to many male species who seek the services of the former. Prostitution has existed since the beginning of civilisation and it is part of our culture and community.Selling sex is illegal in mots countries. History, however, tells me that it is not unusual for prostitution to become legal, or at the very least tolerated by officials, to support national economies.Commercial sex industry in Africa has become the backbone of underground economy.Prostitution, whether either legalised or underground, has long been a reality and is big business in urban areas across Africa. A stroll along any major African city’s bustling downtown area at night and in other parts of the city will show how robust the sex trade is.African governments have been embroiled in a debate over the possibility of regulating the practice for decades but none has bore fruits. More recently, a certain African country arrested members of an online prostitution ring consisting of a pimp and six sex workers without disclosing to public, one of whom was an underage daughter of that country’s senior political figure and pregnant which could have led on disclosure of the arrests. Mainstream media in Sub Saharan Africa reports of covert prostitution as the tip of the iceberg, as evident in the rampant advertisements for sex services across Africa on the Internet or through text messages and by the power of the word of mouth.With the practice going unchecked, certainly due to rising demand, its impacts have given cause for deep concern to many.

Women from impoverished families and backgrounds, and children have become more vulnerable to forced prostitution in African countries. Despite the fears about spread of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV and AIDS looming large, prostitution across the continent remains unfettered.In East and Southern African regions, commercial sex business has never been officially recognised as legitimate by governments but it has managed to survive for decades as one of the main contributors to the economy of urban population.Recent studies show that prostitution consists of at least 870,000 brothels covering at least 27 countries in Sub Saharan Africa, employing hundreds of thousands of prostitutes each night. Due to its illegal nature there has never been any official data about the monetary value of transactions conducted in Sub Saharan Africa. However, locals and workers say that the industry could be worth billions of dollars.A pimp, who wished to be referred to only as Rhoda, told your blogger last year that transactions in her business could reach at least $100 per day from prostitution alone. This means that a city with 1000 commercial sex workers monthly turnover from sex alone could be at least $3 Million.The existence of prostitution in African cities has also triggered numerous supporting businesses like clinics, mini markets, sexual enhancement medicine vendors, parking lots, banks, rented houses, Internet cafes, small restaurants, boarding schools among others.Based on the assumption that income to consumption ratio stood at 60 percent in red light districts, the economic transactions triggered by prostitution could contribute around $30 billion to Sub Saharan Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP).But that is just from prostitution. If there are a lot of businesses in the area that heavily depend on prostitution, then the overall contribution from the industry to the Africa’s economy might be quite significant.

The history of the commercial sex workers and how they have managed to become an integral part of African society is unclear and has many different versions.Mombasa in Kenya has become one of the largest prostitution centers in Sub Saharan Africa according to one the recent studies though still much smaller than Lagos, Nigeria, going by traveler reviews online.The fact that Mombasa is located in the coastal region, the second-largest metropolis in Kenya that hosts an international airport and the busy Port of Mombasa, has also helped it grow significantly.In Dar Es Salaam Tanzania, sex workers there say their customers comes from all over the globe and from various institutions, including from the marines stationed at the port of Dar Es Salaam, and even the law enforcement agencies workers.The script is the same in Zambia where policemen and military men are known to visit red light districts in Lusaka and other major towns for sex where they use disguises because they are not allowed to be here except to join patrols.In South Africa, clients are able to tell if a customer is involved with the military or the South African police service. This is because in South Africa, clients from security agencies often have short hair with muscular figures and they always like to finish quickly because they do not want to get caught.Regardless of the opposition from local religious leaders and organisations, several Africans from different countries I have talked to regarding this topic, say it would be very hard to disregard its contribution of prostitution to the community as a whole.

A cab driver told me mid last year that every attempt to eradicate prostitution from his area had been futile. A couple of years ago, local member of parliament tried to remove prostitution from his city with crackdown on call girls but failed miserably. And just like others before him, he failed. There’s no doubt that prostitution can never be removed from African countries because thousands of livelihoods depend on its existence.Commercial sex workers’s significance and contribution to the community has been so significant that sex workers have become better known than those of white collar jobs. Africans do not want prostitution near their businesses or neck of the wood but those supporting the industry in one way or the other are increasing by the day.It is difficult for the governments to deal with prostitution. On the one hand, governments bears the responsibility of addressing prostitution so as to keep it under control and reduce its harmful impacts, which means it has to enforce a set of regulations. On the other hand, regulating prostitution easily fuels controversy because any government that tries to do so, is always accused of facilitating the sex industry.Given the unimaginable impacts of clandestine prostitution, African governments have to take action, although they may stir controversy. their inaction will not only leave the problem unsolved but will also exacerbate it.Sweden, a country I have been fortunate to visit couple of times, could offer valuable lessons on how to manage and regulate sex workers industry. With thousands of red-light districts popping up across the continent every year,regulations will be needed, such as declaring the area off limits to minors and requiring sex workers to undergo regular health checks.However, the bottom line is, no single underground economy can rival the commercial sex workers industry in Sub Saharan Africa.

Contador Harrison