During the day, Kampala is abuzz with business, but when the night falls, it degenerates into a red light district, with prostitutes taking over on almost every corner.
Dan Muhenda spent two weeks on the streets observing the strange goings-on in the city and brings you the two faces of Kampala
Oh my God, is not exclamation enough when you get the chance to compare Kampala city centre before and after sunset.
During the day, it is business as usual, but as the night falls, evil takes charge. For the last two weeks, I have walked keenly on the streets during the night, seen weird business transactions, life threatening persons and moments that you never thought were part of the city.
During the day, there is nothing really shocking about the city. “All hell breaks loose at night and Kampala turns this is a supermarket of sex workers,” says 37-year-old Namuli, a newspaper vendor opposite Christ the King Church.
On Friday and Saturday night, places like City House along William Street and Top Pub, sex business commences as early as 5:00pm. Usually at this time, a handful of girls disguise themselves as stranded passengers, right from the Uganda Broadcasting Corporation gate all the way along Speke Hotel to Grand Imperial.
However, night clubs such as Ange Noir, Silk and T1 in Industrial Area, serious sex trade kicks off at around 8:00pm. Young girls around this lane deal with high class clientele. Their clientele are men in posh cars some with personalised number plates.
One Saturday, I was shocked when one tiny girl, who looked to be in her mid- 20s, was picked and dropped by five men in just one night.
Two of them looked fi t to be her father. As soon as the girl was dropped back by a client, she would re-do her make-up, sit for a while, possibly to gain some energy, and later stand on the pavement, waiting for the next client.
Who buys these girls?
For the 14 nights I spent trying to put this puzzle together, most men drive cars, only a few come on foot. The only difference is that those who come on foot usually have their sexual desires satisfi ed around the area where the girls ply their trade.
Those with cars whisk the girls away. Many of the cars have tinted windows, plus it is in the dark of night, so you cannot quite see who the occupants are.
While I walked passed Speke Road on a Friday, I asked the fi rst girl who welcomed me how much she thought she was worth. She asked for sh20,000. At City House, Maria asked for sh15,000. In industrial Area, most of the girls I talked to demanded between sh20,000 and 30,000.
Shockingly, if a client agreed to pay sh30,000, most of the girls would agree to have unprotected sex!
One Thursday night, I asked one of the girls where they usually take their clients who do not have enough money to hire a room in a lodge.
She said: “Be serious nawe, you see those wheelbarrows there? Those are the mobile lodges. Usually we tip those men around and they allow us to use that place for just a couple of minutes.
It usually costs us around sh1,000 to sh2,000, depending on one’s bargaining power.”
THE POLICE IS STUCK
Although prostitution is illegal in Uganda, sex workers continue to operate freely. The Kampala Metropolitan deputy spokesperson, Ibin Ssenkumbi, attributes this to the weak laws in place.
“There is no direct offence under prostitution. When the sex workers are arrested, they are charged for being idle and disorderly, and then they pay a small fi ne and are released,” Ssenkumbi says.
According to Section 167 of the Penal Code Act, any person who behaves in a disorderly or indecent manner in any public place, on conviction, is liable to three months imprisonment or a fi ne not exceeding sh3,000 or both.
Ssenkumbi says the Penal Code Act only talks about prostitutes as those who depend on income obtained from prostitution. “But how do you prove that someone’s income is from sex work? That is the dilemma we have. People do it openly.
The law needs amendment,” Ssekumbi adds.
Religious leaders want intervention
Pastor David Kaizi of Christian Ministries Kyambogo, says he is shocked to learn that Kampala has degenerated into a red light district
“I am so worried that the world is coming to an end. Parents are just worried about their little children, the little children are now also worried about we the adults because we have become monsters. Women are on the loose on the streets and shameless men are taking advantage of these fragile women.
“We need to pray hard to God to save us from this ‘spiritual cancer’ that is eating the world apart. Unless we come to God, nothing is going to get right.
Parents, church leaders and the Government should all come together and talk to these young men and women. Let us show them that putting their lives at risk is not the best thing to do with the body that God blessed them with.
“That body is God’s temple. We cannot afford to misuse it in prostitution or any other way that abuses God’s image.
As a country, we all need to pray for people still caught up in such acts, so that God can have mercy upon them. We can also visit and offer them professional counselling and show them better ways of spending their leisure time.
If we do not do that, then God will task us to explain why we left our countrymen and women to perish, yet we could have helped them.” Fr. Simon Lokodo, the ethics and integrity minister, however, says it is only a sign of immorality in society.
“What really drives sexual exploitation of women and girls is the demand from men to buy sex. If men were not prepared to buy sex, then prostitution would not exist.
Men create the demand and women usually in desperate situations take the easier way out and supply men with these services,” Lokodo says.
He calls for the need among parents and society in general to inculcate discipline, hard work and morals among their children.
Lokodo affirms that the Government strongly condemns and will continue to deal firmly with whoever is found promoting prostitution.
A recent study published by the Lancet medical journal has shown that nearly four in 10 sex workers in Uganda are infected with HIV the highest in Africa. The question of how to tackle this issue is quite controversial.
If the Government is to acknowledge use of safe sex among the prostitutes, then it should be ready to recognise the existence of such businesses.
Women activists, however, call for the need to have income generating activities for women so that they can be able to fend for themselves.
Additional reporting by Carol Natukunnda
Kampala’s shocking night life