Prostitution is the world’s oldest profession, so they say. Whether or not there’s credence to this adage, the ‘thigh’ trade has continued to thrive ferociously amidst a litany of cultural, religious and moral biases.
For all the spite and ridicule they have to live with, prostitutes world over are known to ride on the fortunes of development and that’s why whenever there’s urbanization, they crop up.
With the surge in oil exploration activities in Uganda, hitherto lowly Hoima town has become one of the most sought-after towns in Uganda. Because most oil activities are centered in this Midwestern Uganda town located 225km from the capital, Kampala, many speculators have poured into the town with the hope that when the country’s 3.5bn oil bubble finally bursts, they will tap in on the abundant moneys stashed in this ‘black gold’.
“The people’s expectations are so high. In the last two to five years since the discovery of oil there has been an influx of people into Hoima. People still think that when the oil drilling begins they will just line up with jerry cans, get oil and then go and swim in money,” says Ronald Basiima, the deputy mayor of the Hoima Municipality, which was elevated from a town council in 2009.
“Since oil was discovered here in 2006, the social status of district has completely changed. There are several economic and social impacts,” says Hoima district chairman George Bagonza, who has been at the helm of the district seat for over 12 years now.
New Prostitution Dimensions
The other economic fortunes put aside, the oil frenzy has surely changed the prostitution trade in Hoima town. “About ten years ago, prostitution was not such a big deal in Hoima town,” says Jackson Wabyona, the chairman Bunyoro Oil and Gas Association (BULOGA).
Hoima municipality deputy mayor Ronald Basiima echoes Wabyona’s observation; “By the time I assumed office about two years ago we had about 100 prostitutes in Hoima, who operated more of an underground prostitution racket,” Basiima says.
“Today however, there are about 300 registered prostitutes but their total number goes to as high as 500.” Basiima noted that initially the municipality had ignored the prostitutes but then found it inevitable to regulate their services so as to mitigate crime associated with prostitution, as well as the spread of HIV/AIDS.
“As the municipality, we have put in place programmes to help these prostitutes who are now organized under a group known as HOPE. We extend them counselling and other related services through the Alliance of Mayors and Municipal Leaders on HIV/AIDS in Africa (AMICALL) programme,” Basiima says.
Why the surge in prostitutes
Save for the growth in prostitutes’ numbers, these ladies of the night have also changed modes of their trade. And the tag ‘Ladies of the night’ is more of deceptive when referring to Hoima prostitutes. Unlike before, today locals and bodaboda cyclists can direct you to where the prostitutes operate from even during day time.
“Within Hoima municipality we have five suburbs that are notorious for prostitutes— Kiryatete, Lusaka upper, Lusaka lower, Kiganda and Kinubi,” Basiima says. In the town centre, hitherto unheard of brothel services have cropped up.
The most famous is Sax Pub along Kyalisima road— which was established around two years ago, according to James Asaba, a bodaboda cyclist. Others include Executive Lodge, and Kabalega Lodge along Butiaba Road.
Hoima town has a very vibrant night life and this is what I noted during our filed visit for oil and gas reporting trainees sponsored by Revenue Watch Institute and African Centre for Media Excellence. Prostitutes are always on guard to offer company and service to the partiers and other clients— all it takes is a comfortable wallet; and neither time nor the chilling cold will matter.
A prostitute’s experience
Sarah Nabakooza, 30, has been a prostitute for the last ten years. She moved to Hoima and stationed at Sax Pub two years ago. Here, she has a small room from which she operates.
“On average I get four to five clients a day; although I can take on more if I still have the energy or when the money on offer is too good to resist,” says nabakooza, who was born in Mutukula to a Ugandan dad and a Tanzanian mum.
She says she started her trade at the Mutukula border but came to Hoima after colleagues informed her that there was a lot of money from the ‘oil men’ (as she calls them). “There are many bazungu (expatriates) here and indeed they pay us good money,” Nabakooza says.
Sex at Sax Pub costs between Shs10,000 to Shs50,000 for the locals. This figure shoots to as much as Shs100,000 to Shs200,000 for the expatriates, according to Nabakooza.
“We charge the locals Shs10,000 for a ‘short’ (which is 5 minutes of sex), Shs30,000 for a ‘long’ and Shs50,000 a night— but that’s provided the sex takes place at the brothel. Sex at the client’s home or hotel room comes with an extra fee,” Nabakooza says.
“The reason we charge highly away from the brothel is that there are many risks involved out there. Sometimes the man may refuse to pay you after using you or in extreme cases, harm you,” she adds.
“The bazungu pay us in dollars and they’re not stingy,” she says. Nabakooza says they make a lot of money from the workers constructing the approximately 92km Hoima-Kaiso-Tonya road which was contracted by Turkish company, Kolin InsaatTRISmSanayiVeTcaret A.S.
The road workers’ exploits with the prostitutes are in fact among the talk of town in Hoima— to the extent that prostitutes in Hoima have since been nicknamed ‘Abaturkey’ (or the Turks) by the locals.
Basing on Nabakooza’s testimony, the prostitution is booming in the town although the municipality authorities seem to be oblivious of the huge sums of money in this illegal trade. “We do not tax these prostitutes. What we’re currently doing is sensitizing them on safe sex and providing them with condoms,” says deputy mayor, Ronald Basiima.
He adds that through AMICAAL, the municipality has secured land on which they intend to build a hotel that they will use to provide an alternative job to the prostitutes and lure them out of prostitution.
Nabakooza says she is contented with the money she earns from prostitution and she is not about to stop now as she projects even better incomes when Uganda’s downstream activities finally kick off.
For now her thoughts are glued on waiting for clients in her small shack at the brothel; not laboring in any hotel. Whether Basiima and other district authorities succeed in retooling these prostitutes from the brothels and street to the hustles of the hotel business remains a question of time.
But for now, it’s evident that Hoima prostitutes are already reaping big from the oil frenzy.