Prostitution is one of the two oldest professions in the world, the other being espionage. In Uganda and parts of the world, it is looked upon with disdain. In Kampala, both the city authority and the police have tried to fight the trade in vain.
According to Kampala Metropolitan Police deputy spokesperson Patrick Onyango, the Force does not carry out raids to arrest sex workers anymore since the president stopped them from arresting people for being idle and disorderly.
“What we do now is just to disorganise them by chasing them from a particular location. Therefore, we do not have figures of how many they are on the streets, although some NGOs working with them may have such information,” Mr Onyango says.
Former Ethics and Integrity minister Miria Matembe, during her tenure, did her best to fight the trade. However, the sex workers have remained.
Speke Road has for a long time been known as Kampala’s red district. With new developments and the expansion of the city, the red district’s coverage has also been expanded.
Kampala’s red district is divided into social strata, just like the ordinary life in Kampala. The capital’s hotel triangle with time extended to cover the entire red district of the high end sex workers. As you move towards the lower end of the city, so does the service providers. As different suburbs of Kampala mushroom so do the centres of attraction for prostitutes. This development has helped decongest the city centre but also opened up other “business venues” for these ladies.
Kabusu Road in Rubaga is the division’s red district, right from the Nabunya-Kabusu road junction. The several pubs compacted together a few metres off Nabunya Road on Kabusu Road before the roundabout are a centre of attraction targeting the patrons of these pubs.
The poor lighting on this section of the road gives the ladies of the night good cover.
At the round-about, between five to seven girls line both sides of Stensera Road downwards towards Pope Paul hotel, possibly because of the darkness on this side of the road as compared to the opposite direction.
The pattern is broken by the Nile perch frying spots near the market, but it picks up as one approaches a hangout joint towards the end of the road where it joins Masaka Road. Here, they are doted on both sides of the road. A slow drive along the Kabusu Road reveals that these nighttime road decorators appear mainly to be in their late teens or early 20s. As I slow down, a salon car Premio goes ahead of me and stops where three girls are standing. In less than two minutes, one of the girls enters and the car is swallowed by the darkness.
The city centre’s red district has gone through some kind of evolution. With the demise of what Matembe once referred to as sex city (Sax Pub) on Luwum Street, the centre of action shifted to William Street. The stretch behind Church House down to the roundabout near Pioneer Mall is the epic centre of the lower part of the city. It is here where the trade is at its highest.
As day gives way to night, so does daytime business give way to prostitution around this place. The different types of shoppers and traders during the day are replaced by women of all shapes, shades of skin colour, sizes, tribes and nationalities. Some stand, while others sit on any available item, either in small groups or individually. They are punctuated by boys in their early 20s standing behind charcoal stoves roasting sausages, chicken, meat and chapattis, with some selling sachets of spirits (waragi). There are also women vending tea – talk of bringing service nearer to the people.
Some two bars near by are the point of attraction. One of them has been closed down twice because of a shoot out over one of these ladies, which claimed lives.
The chicken and sausages roasters also double as pimps around this place, as they seem to know the women even by names. As I park to observe what is happening, one of the boys walks over to the car and asks. “Boss, tukoze tutya, nkoko oba oyagala kudigidamu nkufunileyo omupya,” (Boss, what can I do for you? Do you want some chicken or someone to have fun with? I can get you someone new).
I move down further to the lower part of Kampala, along Wilson Street down to William Street up to the Mbarara lorry park. This is another hub for prostitutes.
In the upper part of Kampala, mainly in the city’s hotel triangle, which stretches from the Ternan Avenue, Speke Road round-about, down to Nile Avenue to Kintu Road back to Ternan Avenue, these are upper end night spots. Here, the sex workers are also more sophisticated in terms of appearance [dressing] as compared with their counterparts downtown. The ones on the upper side of Kampala are dressed in shinny high-heeled shoes with marching clothes. There are those who just stand along the road, not necessarily near any hangout. These won’t mind throwing obscenities at you should you stop a distance away from them and show them it is not them you are interested in.
Outside the hotel triangle stretch is another haven on Kyadondo Road. This being a place patronised by expatriates and high class Ugandans. It is not easy to tell that some of the ladies here are “business women” but certain traits such as dress code and the boldness to come and ask to give you company betrays them. They are also learned, judging from the fluent English they speak.
The heart of Makindye’s night life is on the upper part of Mobutu Road and at the start of Lukuli Road, off Mobutu Road. Here, girls who appear to be in their early teens, are visible on the streets dressed in what they probably used to wear when they were eight years old. Standing in groups, conversing, they are quick to notice a slowing car and it becomes a jungle law – survival for the fittest. Whoever gets to the car first takes the day.
Some of them can be seen with sachets of liquor in their hands.
Like their counterparts in Rubaga, they seem to be just looking for a day’s meal. Their dress code and behaviour betrays them as people of the lower caste. As I hit the break, three of them come running. I size them up as they each try to talk on top of the other’s voice. Another one standing a distance away shouts: “Abo oba bakusela nsanga mumaso wali bwoba olima mu e tano”, meaning: “If those ones are expensive, find me ahead if you have Shs5,000.” As I am still trying to make out what they are saying, a boda boda rider comes and parks in front of me. In a split second, a girl mounts it and they are off.
Ntinda would easily claim to be the capital of Nakawa Division. Through the years, it has come to be a place that never goes to sleep with the various hangout joints coming up in what used to be a purely residential area.
They are more secretive and “professional” here in the way they practice their trade. You won’t find them half-naked like the ones parading themselves on Nile Avenue. They hang around happening places from the main Ntinda stage towards Bukoto, up to the Kafene Stage, close to Shell Bukoto. However, just like any other bar, there are bold ones that will come out to you to test the waters.
Corridors for lodges
“Man eateth where he worketh.” Whoever coined the phrase had a Ugandan night watchmen in mind. Some places, such as construction sites in the city centre and office blocks are turned into lodges at night. Some clients who do not want to incur lodge or hotel bills or fear to be seen driving into such places, finish their business from their cars. All they need is a “secure” parking.
A pimp at one of the places I visited offered to find a special hire outside, who hires his car out on self-drive to such places.
For between Shs2,000 and Shs5,000, one can have access to these parking lots or corridoes in places along Colvile Street, Clement Hill Road, MacKinnon Road, among other places. However, at these places, one enters at their own risk in case of police raids.
A chat with a guard at one of the malls explains: “Those women are looking for survival and so am I. When they get a client, they give me something small so that I can allow them use the corridor, provided they do not leave it dirty. They give me Shs1,000 per entry.”
The word Kayungilizi was introduced as street lingua for the real estate dealers. But it found its way into this old profession as well.
At some hangout joints, there are young men who pimp these ladies. Along Nile Avenue, one such young man is very tactical in his approach. He seemed to know that the place is a crucible of tribes and may be from experience, he knows which ladies trade like hot cake. “Good evening boss, how is the evening?” he says as he pulls a chair to join my table. After breaking the ice, he delves into how this is one of the coziest places to be in Kampala because it has a big open space. As a man on a mission, I tilt the conversation on and he opens up freely. “Boss, that import from Rwanda is a good bargain I can assure you.
And she does not take spirits, only water and soda,” he assures me while pointing to a lady whose complexion is beyond being light-skinned, may be yellow. The pimps know which woman charges what – those who charge in dollars and those who charge in shillings, those who specialise in non-Ugandans, Whites alone and those who do not mind the race as long as the man can pay. He is quick to point out: “You have to be careful. Some of these women here are thieves and we know them. I can make for you the best choice in terms of character.”
The pimp service is not limited to Nile Avenue but unlike here, for the other two places I visit, they can easily pass for bar patrons. Their services do not come at a high fee – a beer or two works the magic. What was not ascertained is if a deal is done through their connection, how much the pimp earns from the ladies for their service.